This week Cigar Coop will be bringing you coverage from the Tobacco Plus Expo in Las Vegas. It’s the first trade show of 2020 for the premium cigar industry. This will be Cigar Coop’s first year covering TPE. We’ll break down what to expect and ponder some questions going into the show.

General Information

What is TPE?

TPE stands for Tobacco Plus Expo. It is a business to business trade show that covers  tobacco, vape, and alternative products. While it’s called an “Expo” it is a trade show and its not open to the public.

Where and When is TPE 2020 Being Held?

January 29-31, 2020
Las Vegas Convention Center
Las Vegas, Nevada

TPE has traditionally held its Trade Show in January in Las Vegas and has positioned itself as the first major tobacco/vape/alternative Trade Show of the calendar year.

Photo Credit: Cigar Coop

How is TPE Different than the PCA/IPCPR Trade Show?

The PCA/IPCPR Trade Show tends to focus on premium cigars and pipe products. TPE is broader in scope including vape, alternative and convenience store products as well as their accessories. In recent years, TPE has been putting an increased focus on the products that have been traditionally showcased at PCA/IPCPR – premium cigars and pipes.

The other difference is that the PCA/IPCPR is a trade show put on by the Premium Cigar Association (PCA – formerly International Premium Cigar and Pipe Retailers Association). PCA is a trade organization focusing on premium cigars and pipes. TPE is hosted by Tobacco Media Group (TMG), which is a subsidiary of Kretek International focused on media and events. Kretek is a corporate entity that is focused on tobacco and alternative products. Among many of Kretek’s subsidiaries include Phillips & King (a distribution company) and Ventura Cigar Company (a premium cigar company).

While premium cigars will have a presence, most of the booth spaces are smaller than those offered by the PCA. The elaborate booth setups that have become a staple of PCA will not be as present at TPE.

What are the Incentive Programs?

TPE has offered various incentive programs to select retailers, media, and manufacturers. These programs have included offsetting travel and ticket costs, and for manufacturers, cost savings if they introduce new product.

The purpose of these programs is to generate growth of TPE. By offering incentives to retailers, it increases the pool of buyers. Incentives to the manufacturers are designed to draw more exhibitors to TPE, and incentives to media are designed to increase coverage.

What is the Schedule?

The schedule is below. Click to enlarge.

Image Credit: Tobacco Plus Expo


Questions to Consider for TPE 2020

Is TPE Really Targeting to Overtake PCA?

As Kretek International has withdrawn from the PCA 2020 Trade Show, my opinion has become a firm yes.

As discussed above, TPE has been making a push into the premium cigar side. It’s positioning itself as a lower cost, and eventually higher ROI, Trade Show held earlier in the year. It’s offering incentives to retailers, manufacturers, and media to help meet these goals. Over the past couple of years while this push has occurred, both TPE and PCA/IPCPR have pretty much maintained a coopetition between the two entities. Both have maintained that this coopetition is good for the industry.

During this period, Kretek International had a large trade show booth at previous IPCPR Trade Shows. Most likely, IPCPR has dealt with Kretek investing in its own trade show because Kretek was still buying booth space. At the same time, I (and other industry people) felt there was something not right about TPE/TMG employees being on the trade show floor – particularly in 2019. When we talked to PCA Executive Director Scott Pearce on this, he opined that all parties were still participating within an ethical matter, so there was no cause for alarm.

Things all changed when Kretek pulled out of the Trade Show this past week. PCA lost a big exhibitor. Kretek has stated the reason they pulled out of the PCA Trade Show was due to differences with that organization. While no one came out and said it, it’s clear Kretek is putting all of its energy into its own Trade Show – the TPE. With Kretek out of PCA, I don’t foresee coopetition continuing at this time.

What Will Be the Level of Trade Activity for Premium Cigar Companies?

The incentive programs will most certainly bring exhibitors and retailers into TPE. The smaller footprint of TPE will likely create a perception that this will be a crowded area. It will be interesting to see how this will translate to sales.

I don’t have an expectation that more orders will be taken. It’s a smaller footprint and there will be fewer people taking orders. I’m sure the companies will lower revenue projections of sales from TPE.

My big question will be what the retail community will do; will the retailers use TPE to place orders or will they use it for more socializing/relationship building with manufacturers, or both?

Will the Incentive Program Produce an Exciting Set of Products?

When it comes to premium cigar companies releasing new product, the IPCPR/PCA Trade Show has had an overpowering edge. The IPCPR/PCA Trade Show is a much larger trade show in terms of size and scope and as a result, many cigar companies have focused on that Trade Show to launch the lion’s share of their releases. IPCPR/PCA has typically taken place in the early part of the summer.  With TPE making a big push into the premium cigar space, one key component to making that a success is the showcasing of new product. In order to accomplish this, TPE announced an incentive program to exhibitors to bring new product to the show. Companies participating in the program and launching a new product would receive a five percent discount on booth space plus additional priority points for future booth space.

The product incentive program appears to be working. While the number of products being launched for TPE 2020 is not even close to what will we be seen at PCA 2020, there still is more new product than ever being showcased.

I had reservations about the incentive program when it was announced. I was worried we would have “mazo-world”… lots of cigars plucked from the factory and wrapped in paper bundles with catchy designs. The good news is I haven’t seen a lot of that. The bad news is the products being launched are simply not compelling as a whole.

For starters, there are several relaunches going on. While Drew Estate is launching one of its unicorn cigars, the Liga Privada Unico Serie Year of the Rat, it’s going to be an event-only offering for Drew Estate Drew Diplomat retailers, so that is not going to be widely available.

Then there is Southern Draw Cigars and they are doing something that is on the surface perplexing, but in reality, it’s a smart business move. The company is launching a Lancero offering in its Cedrus line. While I’m sure this is a quality cigar, I don’t see retailers doing handstands to bring this in. The TPE audience simply isn’t one for a connoisseur size like a Lancero. However, if the company was going to release this anyway, there is no harm launching it at TPE. Who knows, Robert Holt may win them over with his Lancero.

There are some smart launches. Fratello and Altadis both have bundle offerings – something that can appeal to the TPE retailer. There is also a cigarillo/tin offering from AJ Fernandez Cigars – another smart move.

What About the Big Four Pulling Out of PCA?

The news about Altadis U.S.A, Davidoff of Geneva, Drew Estate, and General Cigar Company pulling out of the PCA 2020 show is well documented. What has been much quieter is that all four companies are exhibiting at TPE. From all accounts, these four companies were planning on being at TPE before the exodus from PCA occurred.

Of the four companies, Drew Estate has the largest size booth by a landslide. They have secured 1500 square feet plus a “Drew Estate Lounge Experience” on top of it. Davidoff of Geneva and General Cigar Company have secured 400 square feet each, and Altadis U.S.A. has 200 square feet.

I’m not expecting much of a change in terms of what is released at TPE.  Drew Estate and Altadis U.S.A have made product announcements and its definitely fewer products than have been seen at PCA. At press time, General Cigar and Davidoff of Geneva have not made any product announcements.

What Will Ventura Cigar Company’s Presence at the Show Be?

As I was writing this article, the section was changed when Ventura’s parent company Kretek International pulled out of the PCA Trade Show.

I mentioned above that TPE is owned by Kretek International. Ventura Cigar Company is a premium cigar arm of Kretek. It has gotten some push over the past few years. There have been a couple of brand acquisitions, and the company brought in industry icon Michael Giannini to be Ventura’s General Manager. Originally it was sold by Phillips & King, the distribution arm of Kretek, but last year a decision was made to have Ventura utilize its own sales force.

Along the way, something was going on in Kretek. This led to layoffs within Kretek, and that hit the Ventura Sales force. It appears now Phillips & King would absorb Ventura sales responsibilities again. This has led to a lot of questions on the future of Ventura. While Ventura has stated it isn’t going anywhere, the questions are not going away.

Some think Ventura’s success is tied to Kretek’s commitment to premium cigars at TPE. I don’t think that is the case because Phillips & King sells a lot of cigars. If the commitment went down for cigars from Phillips & King, then I would be concerned.

Whether Kretek was in or out, I still think given Ventura’s problems from last year that TPE 2020 is going to be a litmus test for Ventura. On the positive side, Ventura has one of the more intriguing releases at TPE 2020 with the Archetype Master & Pupil – two releases coming out of the Joya de Nicaragua factory. On the other hand, there are still questions about Ventura’s future and because Kretek pulled out of PCA, it leaves TPE as the only major U.S. trade show Ventura will exhibit at.

For those who follow Ventura Cigar Company, there are questions: Will Foundry ever be integrated into the company’s portfolio? Are there more releases planned under the Cuban Cigar Factory brand? What is the future of the Case Study project? Will we see more projects from Indiana Ortez?

The bottom line: the more Ventura does at TPE, the more likely these questions will go away.

What about Media at TPE 2020?

A lot of people always ask me why I include this section in the Trade Show Coverage. Simply because Cigar Coop is online media. It is our core competency and we feel strongly we should talk candidly and objectively about the media angle.

Over the past decade at the IPCPR Trade Show, there has been a perception of tension between the IPCPR and the online media. There was tension in 2019 when an ill-timed email was sent out to the media on the eve of the Trade Show strongly suggesting all booth visits be done by appointment and encouragement to conduct interviews off the trade show floor. Other than that, most of the tension I’ve seen with media and IPCPR have been isolated incidents between the organization and media outlets or general complaining about lunch tickets.

At the same time, there have been things media has asked for from the PCA/IPCPR that are being addressed by TPE. Most notably has been early trade show floor access, in order to get our photography done. With the IPCPR Trade Show, media has been told this was not possible due to insurance reasons. With TPE, the early media access is even on the schedule!

With TPE 2020, many media will be present under the incentive program known as “Hosted Media Program.” This has included incentives designed to reduce costs, and at the same time make the media feel more comfortable and welcome. Media will also have access to a special lounge area. It appears these incentives have been enough to bring more media to the TPE Trade Show than ever – including Cigar Coop.

One thing that I had high hopes for going into TPE 2020 was the press release portal for attendees. Now 72 hours before TPE opens, there are only two entries in the portal – and neither are from cigar companies. Even as bad as some cigar companies are when it comes to distributing press information, there have been several that have been sent to the media. I would have thought these would have made it to the portal. They didn’t. Ultimately, I still remain perplexed at this industry when it comes to disseminating its press information. The portal seems like an ideal system here for companies to send this information and for media and attendees to access. I guess that would be too easy.

Will the Weather Play a Factor at Some Point with a January Trade Show?

For anyone to say the risk of weather is not something to be concerned about when it comes to TPE being in January, I would say that person is naive.

January is the heart of winter storm season – and while there isn’t a major storm forecasted, it doesn’t take much these days for winter weather to wreak havoc with the airports on the East Coast or Midwest. Plus these days it only takes a dusting of snow to shut down schools and businesses. The bottom line – bad weather in other parts of the country could significantly impact attendance.

While the 2020 edition of TPE might not face this challenge, we can be sure it will be a problem sometime in the future.

PCA has been under fire for many years for hosting their trade show in the summer. In the past when the show was in August, I always felt it was too late because that is the start of hurricane season. While I do think PCA needs a better time of the year for its show, I don’t like the risk the winter months bring. I also think it would be wise for TPE to move its show outside the winter months.

Who is Expected Not to Exhibit at TPE?

Based on the information published, here are some of the better-known companies that will not be at TPE. This is not meant to be a complete list and a more comprehensive up-to-date list can be found on Developing Palates.

  • Ashton Distributors
  • Bombay Tobak
  • Cubariqueño Cigar Company
  • La Flor Dominicana
  • Leaf by Oscar
  • Quality Importers (XIKAR)
  • Quesada Cigars
  • Padrón Cigars
  • Recluse Cigar
  • SeiBel Distribution (MLB Cigar Ventures & Matilde Cigars)
  • Viaje Cigars
  • Warped Cigars

Is TPE a Viable Alternative to the PCA Trade Show?

This is the big question I have as a media member coming into 2020. I can imagine most media members have the same questions. I won’t speak for all media, but I don’t see any scenario where TPE 2020 will have more sales than PCA 2020. Attendance isn’t going to be a fair comparison because there are attendees from the non-premium cigar segment. I do see us paying close attention to the foot traffic in the premium cigar and pipe section, and looking at the activity levels. That ultimately will be the barometer to see if TPE truly will challenge PCA.