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Commentary: Impressions from the 2015 Premium Cigar Trade Show in New Orleans

21 Jul 2015

StogieGuys.com has been covering the annual International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers Association (IPCPR) Trade Show for nearly ten years now. To kick off our post-convention coverage—which will certainly include lots of details, commentary, and reviews—I wanted to first provide my high-level impressions. So I’m summarizing some of those today. (I chose the word summarizing carefully here; we’ll likely expand on some or all of these topics in future articles.)

IPCPR 2015

Before I get started, though, I’d like to make a few comments. First, this year my colleague and I chose to simply share brief Facebook updates (which were embedded here live). We wanted to keep our hands as free as possible for note-taking, picture-taking, materials-gathering, walking the huge floor, networking, and—of course—smoking. So while we’ll concede our coverage thus far is less than comprehensive, we feel this strategy will result in you getting the complete picture over time, rather than a regurgitation of everything all at once. Besides, let’s face it: These days there’s no shortage of cigar information websites, many of whom do a good job getting all the new release info out there quickly. We encourage you to read widely and patronize our peers.

Second, bear in mind I’m organizing my thoughts while on a plane home to Chicago from balmy New Orleans. I haven’t yet had time to read the coverage and commentary from other media outlets. For all I know, what I have to say today may already have been written and published elsewhere. Maybe not. But please do not mistake any consistency in my impressions with plagiarism; if today’s commentary is very similar to other thoughts you’ve already seen, that really wouldn’t surprise me. After all, we all attended the same show.

UF-13 on Bourbon Street

Overall Attendance Seemed Down

The New Orleans setup is more spread out (and rectangular) than the Las Vegas site, which seems square and more compact. Even so, it’s safe to say attendance seemed lacking this year. Several cigar makers lamented this off the record, while many others claimed their sales were higher than anticipated (a running theme: “Yes, attendance is lower, but the serious buyers are here.”). A few hypotheses for the lower numbers include higher costs to attend, a feeling that attendance is less necessary than it used to be given how quickly info spreads via the web, and the oft-heard claim that New Orleans is a less exciting, less accessible venue than Vegas. Word is the next three Trade Shows will be held in Vegas. My take? Aside from the humidity, New Orleans is a fine host city with ample convention space, easy access to lodging, great cuisine, and no shortage of nightlife.

The Sheer Number of Exhibitors Was Staggering

I heard the number of exhibitor booths was up to nearly 350 this year. I couldn’t help but have the thought that looking at the floor directory map was almost like peering directly into the cigar bubble. For an industry facing a tremendously perilous political climate it’s surprising to see the volume of new releases, new manufacturers, and elaborate booths (the most expensive of which were upwards of $300,000). If any single person can claim they visited every booth, I’d be surprised and impressed.

Cautious Optimism Concerning the FDA

Our comparative advantage in the cigar media space is thorough, well-informed coverage of the political challenges facing premium cigars. So we went out of our way to ask as many cigar makers as possible what their thoughts are, how they’re preparing, and what they think the most likely outcomes are. With the very real possibility of every cigar introduced after February 15, 2007 being made illegal by the U.S. government, it was interesting to hear so much cautious optimism. Major themes from cigar makers include: operating business as usual until the new regulations are announced; confidence that an exemption for premium cigars over $10 (or a similar price) will be adopted; and confidence that the date will be moved to the date the regulations are announced or enacted. Fun fact: IPCPR estimates 85% of cigars currently held in humidors were introduced after February 15, 2007.

Little Talk About U.S.-Cuban Relations

This was the first Trade Show since officials in Washington and Havana have made strides toward normalized diplomatic relations, yet few seemed interested in discussing the topic. I don’t expect anything to change vis-à-vis the embargo anytime soon. Still, I was anticipating more hype about the possibility of Cuban cigars in the U.S. (or Cuban tobacco within cigars imported into the U.S.). Again, the common theme among cigar makers was business as usual until otherwise notified. But I have to think some outfits are excited about the possibilities, while others are likely lamenting the escalation of trademark wars, new competition, and added complexities.

Most Exciting Cigars

Sobremesa

I’d prefer to not speculate about which new releases will be the hot best-sellers. If you want this kind of analysis, I suspect you won’t have trouble finding all sorts of opinions. But at the expense of almost certainly failing to mention several cigars that will likely wow me, I can share with you the new smokes I’m personally most excited to try. They include Sobremesa from Steve Saka’s new Dunbarton Tobacco & Trust (pictured above), Henry Clay Tattoo, CAO Pilón, Kilo, Neanderthal SGP, Partagas Aniversario, Padrón Dámaso, Undercrown Shade, AVO Synchro Nicaragua, Pinar del Rio’s Connecticut Valley Reserve, and El Güegüense from Nicholas Melillo’s new Foundation Cigar Co.

Stay tuned for lots more from the IPCPR Trade Show, plus a flurry of reviews.

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Drew Estate

3 Responses to “Commentary: Impressions from the 2015 Premium Cigar Trade Show in New Orleans”

  1. Reggie Tuesday, July 21, 2015 at 8:28 am #

    Nicely written.

    Hard to tell if the industry still isn’t really taking the FDA as seriously as they need to, or if everyone’s just overly optimistic when talking to the cigar media. I could see why a cigar maker might not want to tell you, “Well, we’re all fucked.”

    • Mike Wednesday, July 22, 2015 at 2:22 pm #

      I’m far from convinced the FDA will take such a drastic step. As I posted before, all cigars on the market will continue to be available for at least 2 years after the regs are approved and new blends can continue to be introduced during that time.

      With cigarettes, the FDA has approved very few new blends (and that is a big problem) but they have pulled an even smaller number from the market. I don’t think much will change before the rules are in full effect — and that’s presuming lawsuits don’t delay them.

      If they really believed they were screwed, who better to tell than the media that cover cigars? No one else has readers willing to fight to keep them in business.

  2. Wiggy's Wednesday, July 22, 2015 at 10:09 am #

    It was a good IPCPR event; not as robust of an event population as last year, but nonetheless the intangibles (conversations, education, experience, etc.) were readily available to be enjoyed. The RoMa Craft Tobac happy hour on Saturday night was a great experience; all sharing good smokes safely above the churning, raucous crowd of Bourbon St. below.

    Speaking of smokes: Whenever it is that you get to trying the CAO Pilón, please let us know what your thoughts are.

    ~In Tabacum Veritas~