The 2019 Tobacco Plus Expo, or TPE Show as it’s referred to, held at the Las Vegas Convention Center in February, represents the last true tobacco show in the U.S. While attendance seemed strong from both the retail and distributor communities, finding actual tobacco products seemed like more of a challenge than one might imagine amid a sea of new CBD products.
The tidal wave of new products that appeared to exceed more than half the show floor not only created an opportunity for making new friends, but also generated excitement among attendees and made the show fun. Rather than rehash the usual lineup of speakers or the mainstay product lines, let’s focus on what was new and interesting; moreover, these are some of the items or products that likely deserve some consideration from retailers looking to expand their revenue stream and offset some of the declines the industry faces with cigarettes.
Cannabidiol, known as CBD, appeared everywhere across the show floor, and in virtually every delivery format one could imagine.
CBD is derived from the hemp plant, but it does not contain Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is responsible for the hallucinating effect of marijuana. While CBD won’t make you high, it is said to reduce pain and anxiety.
With the signing of the Farm Bill recently, industrial hemp — and CBD — became legalized nationwide.
With this legalization, CBD products have flooded the market. The show floor contained CBD in capsules, lip balm, body cream, vape juice, gummies, edibles, drinks, and even in the raw flower from the hemp plant for those who choose to smoke out of a pipe or a CBD cigarette. Retail prices generally begin around $5 and can go all the way up to the hundreds of dollars for a single sale.
While there are certainly some long-standing companies selling CBD like Phillips and King, many entrants into this category are brand new to the business and seemed somewhat challenged on how to approach traditional retail with things like fact sheets, displays or practical point-of-sale (POS) items. Those shortcomings will eventually be addressed, but for now, retailers should ask basic questions to ensure they partner with companies capable of providing the support necessary to sell the products successfully.
Into the Light
The event also overflowed with glassware and smoking accessories. Once considered the ‘dark side’ of the tobacco business, the continuing expansion of both medical and recreational marijuana has pushed these categories to the forefront of retailer needs. Veteran smoking accessories exhibitors at the show experienced busier booths, and it appeared many had expanded their offerings of these types of items. The booths featured grinders, pipes and all sorts of gadgets — intended for smoking tobacco, but the dual-use appeal to the products did not go unnoticed. While it will likely be a long time before we see large glass pipes in convenience stores, these products are slowly creeping into the c-store world, and that penetration will only get stronger over time.
Overall, the show floor buzzed with excitement and a new energy.
The recent breakout in the market into CBD has generated a lot of enthusiasm and interest in new products, and created a key reason to not only attend the show, but to actively work the trade show floor.
Additionally, what appears to be the inevitability of legalized cannabis caused retailers to take a second look at some exhibitors they might have ignored in the past.
There seemed to be an acknowledgment that it’s time to familiarize oneself with this category that had so often been ignored.
Steve Sandman has worked in the tobacco industry for more than 30 years, most recently as president of Republic Tobacco. His extensive experience includes product management. He can be reached at (812) 569-1388.