Each year as we enter spring, there are a series of exclusive cigars released for the Tobacconists’ Association of America (TAA) member retailers by leading manufacturers. Since 2014, Cigar Coop has covered these releases. Over the years, I’ve seen what should be an elite series of cigars by leading manufacturers for some of the nation’s best retailers to lack excitement and buzz. It’s something this author has been critical of. This year, I’m offering suggestions on what should be done to help elevate the excitement levels on these cigars.

If you aren’t familiar with the TAA, this is how it’s been described:

The Tobacconists’ Association of America, Ltd. is a trade organization established in 1968 by visionary retail tobacconists. By providing education, communication, research, advocacy, and member discount programs, The TAA works with our members and the industry they support to offer the tools and relationship building opportunities needed to maximize professionalism and success.

While I am the first one to admit, cigar impressions on social media are a bit overrated, they are still important. If you are a cigar enthusiast, ask yourself, “Who is doing a better job at promoting their cigars: Privada Cigar Club or the TAA Exclusives?  Smoke Inn’s Event Cigars or the TAA Exclusives?  Protocol Cigars or the TAA Exclusives.” In all three of these cases, the answer in this author’s eyes is not the TAA Exclusives.

The numbers don’t lie on Cigar Coop. Despite extensive coverage, our audience is not showing an interest in these cigars. In 2022, out of the 500 most read-articles on Cigar Coop, only FOUR were related to TAA cigars – that translates to just 0.8%.  Again, I would expect more sizzle and juice given who makes these cigars and who these cigars are for.

Manufacturers will tell you they sell out of these cigars.  While many TAA retailers do a good job at selling cigars, a potential buzz around the TAA Exclusive Series should be used to boost the industry as a whole.  Below, I offer my suggestions on what I think can be done here.

Deliver the Best Cigars

If the TAA Exclusive Series is to be an elite one, then very simply the cigars that are being incorporated into the series should be the best of the best.

Some companies choose to release special and exclusive blends.  Some companies choose to release special sizes. The questions that should be asked are: 1) Does this special blend stand up to the best blends offered by a company; 2) Does this special size bring something unique to the table?  Since I’ve been covering TAA cigars, many times the answers to these two questions have been “no.”

I also would avoid bringing back vintage or heritage cigars for this series. There should be a level of innovation here. While I like the concept of giving a release to the TAA a year in advance before releasing to all retailers, I don’t think the series should be used to “test the market.”  Cigar makers know how to make a good cigar, and they should bring their best foot forward.

Reduce the Number of TAA Releases Per Year

For 2023, Cigar Coop estimates over 20 manufacturers will contribute to the TAA Exclusive Series. This is way too many in this author’s mind.

One argument against my position is that the cigars are used to fund the TAA, and in turn, the TAA has been making contributions to Trade Associations such as the PCA. Ultimately I think there comes a point of diminishing returns.  Twenty cigars are too many. I’d prefer to see it no more than five, and the fundraising could be made up in other ways (ask for more than 50 cents per cigar, or sell a bigger allocation of cigars).

The idea of reducing the number of cigars can add an element of competition to the TAA Exclusive Series, and the TAA can truly select the best of the best that they want to include in the annual series.

Implement Minimum Production Counts

While TAA cigars are limited in terms of both production and distribution, they should not be impossible to get.

Ultimately every retailer should get a workable allocation of boxes to sell. One can argue the more limited the allocation, the more it becomes a unicorn. While I am certainly advocating for sizzle and buzz, I don’t think 1 or 2 boxes per retailer is the answer either. In addition, if a workable amount of boxes is allocated, it can help raise more funds for the TAA.

Improve the Announcement Process

Very simply put, this is an absolute clusterfuck each and every year.

First up, the TAA needs to decide if they want the manufacturers to announce these cigars or if they want to announce these cigars.  Right now the way I understand it is manufacturers submit information to the TAA on their releases, with the intent of unveiling them at the TAA’s annual convention. The problem is that prior to the TAA convention, some manufacturers will also announce the information, and some manufacturers will not. In some cases, when I have asked for information, some manufacturers have told me they want the TAA to make the announcement.

There also is a quandary. Many manufacturers do not want to invest marketing cycles on limited cigars like the TAA. At the same time, while the TAA contains some of the best retailers, when it comes to product marketing, this isn’t their core competency. The TAA has worked with a PR firm the past few years, but as far as an announcement process, it still seems very much out of control.

I’m not just talking about press releases here. The TAA needs to also deliver a stronger overall social media campaign. This is where I see Privada Cigar Club, Smoke Inn, and a small company like Protocol lap the TAA in this arena.

Trivia Question: Can anybody name what C.L.E. or Rocky Patel’s TAA release for 2022 was? The fact that probably most would stumble on this answer tells me the TAA needs to do a better job promoting their cigars.

My personal recommendation here is for the manufacturers to provide information to the TAA as prescribed by the TAA. Let the TAA then schedule the announcements for these product launches prior to the TAA Convention. Depending on how many cigars make up the series, I would announce one or two a week leading up to the TAA Convention. If a manufacturer cannot play ball by the TAA’s rules, then they should not be a part of the TAA Exclusive Series.

Improve the Rollout Process

Much like the scheduling of the TAA announcements needs to happen, a schedule on when the cigars ship should be attempted.

Scheduling is tricky in the cigar industry. Production delays are often very common, but in the case of the TAA cigars, I believe attempting a schedule at staggering the releases throughout the calendar year will do a better job of keeping TAA impressions fresh and in everyone’s mind.

Improve Packaging and Merchandising

If you want to have an elite cigar, then steps should be taken to package and display it appropriately.

The cigars should be in nice boxes. They don’t have to be elaborate, but they should be nice boxes. They should have nice bands (the use of a TAA logo band on many cigars is a nice touch). Bundles and mazos should not be an option here.

I also think TAA cigars should be displayed prominently in a retailer’s humidor. I’ve seen a special TAA cabinet at one retailer. This not only helps give the cigars the love they deserve, but it also helps promote the retailer as a member of the TAA.