24 Jun 2015
In less than a month, the 83rd International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers Association (IPCPR) Trade Show will commence in New Orleans. StogieGuys.com will be on hand to cover the biggest cigar event of the year, as we have for seven of the last eight years.
In preparation of our coverage, today I wanted to list some of the key trends, issues, concerns, etc. I’ve been thinking about. These are just a few of the topics I’d like to learn more about. Following the Trade Show, I expect to be able to report back to you with my findings and impressions, and I hope you’ll share your thoughts as well.
The Impending FDA Threat
First and foremost, I’m anxious to hear what all the cigar makers—both big and small—have to say about the expected regulations from the Food & Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA threat has been looming for some time, but now it feels as though the guillotine blade is in position and ready to fall at moment’s notice. These days the peril is more focused and more concrete. As we reported on June 2, every cigar introduced after February 15, 2007 could soon be made illegal by the U.S. government. This would be devastating for consumers, tobacconists, and manufacturers alike. How is the industry preparing for the FDA to hand down its regulations? How much better positioned are bigger manufacturers than smaller boutiques who may not have launched any cigars before February 2007?
Former Drew Estate Executives Back in the Ring
There will be no new releases I’m personally more eager to try than the cigars from Nicholas Melillo and Steve Saka. Both were instrumental to Drew Estate’s immensely successful transition into the non-infused premium cigar market. Melillo has already announced the formation of the Foundation Cigar Company. His cigars will be made at the TABSA (Tobaccos Valle de Jalapa) factory in Nicaragua, using Aganorsa tobacco, which is also extensively used in Drew Estate blends. Former Drew Estate president and CEO Steve Saka is also expected to launch his new cigar outfit at the Trade Show, though there aren’t many details available just yet. You can bet the cigars from both Melillo and Saka will be highly sought-after—and the expectations couldn’t be much higher. How will their cigars perform? On the flip side of the coin, given the FDA threat, can you imagine a worse time to launch a new boutique cigar company? How are they dealing with that?
For what seems like years I’ve been lamenting the trend toward bigger, thicker smokes. I’m not sure you can even call this an emerging trend anymore. Monstrous smokes with 60-ring gauge (and bigger) proportions seem to be the status quo now. Virtually every new cigar line has at least one 6 x 60 behemoth. Yet the more I smoke cigars—and I think this is fairly consistent among dedicated cigar enthusiasts—the more I appreciate narrower formats (like lanceros) or smaller sizes (like robustos or coronas). I appreciate the focus, complexity, and concentration of a smaller format. In the past, when I’ve spoken to cigar makers on the subject, they all seem to lament this trend too. Generally speaking, they’d prefer to not smoke (or make) these huge sizes. The problem is they sell. How do they feel about these giant frontmarks now? Do they see the trend reversing?
President Obama’s recent executive order making legal travel to Cuba easier (and making it legal for visitors to import $100 worth of Cuban cigars) must have the industry buzzing with possibilities. Are we getting closer to the legalization of Cuban cigars in the U.S.? Would Cuban factories even be able to meet the new U.S. demand? Or are we all so enamored with Nicaraguan tobacco that nobody cares? The trademark disputes alone are enough to make your head spin (think of all the brand names owned by Altadis and General Cigar that are the same as Cuban brands). I’d like to hear what the various cigar makers have to think on the subject. And even though an outright end to the trade embargo is likely a long way off, it doesn’t hurt to consider the possibility of my favorite cigar makers in Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, etc. getting access to Cuban tobacco to use in their blends.
photo credit: IPCPR