Vapor World Expo in Chicagoland
Bonnie Herzog, Tobacco and Vaping Industry Specialist at Wells Fargo Investments After last week's SFATA conference at the University of Chicago, vaping honchos stayed in toddlin' Chicagoland for the Vapor World Expo in nearby Rosemont, where you're allowed to vape. The event continued through Thursday, allowing professionals to make contacts, and to continue making liquids the hot new item in the vaping industry.
A featured speaker was Wells Fargo cig-watcher Bonnie Herzog, who keeps a close eye on investment matters in the tobacco industry. Herzog has been singing the praises of "Vapors/Tanks/Mods" (VTM) products for some time now and shows no sign of changing her tune. When asked to account for the extraordinary potential of the VTM market segment, she lists not only "superior product performance" but also "fierce customer commitment to the category." Clearly she believes that the vaping community is a vital factor, perhaps the vital factor in the direction of the industry. "Points of distribution" play a central role in Herzog's analysis, and she keeps an eye trained on convenience stores ("c-stores"), which have been a primary outlet for the old e-cigarette technology. She does not expect cigalikes to disappear from c-store shelves, but she calls the rapid growth and solid performance of VTMs a "wake-up call" for marketers. This is a challenging market for c-store proprietors, requiring "a high level of customer interaction and education" on the part of store personnel, now competing with the kind of expertise one finds among counter staff at vape shops. Nonetheless, VTMs have a presence already on c-store shelves, and it is a growing presence.
Other trends Herzog notes include a move toward high quality liquids produced in the USA and elsewhere in the western hemisphere. She also decries low levels of loyalty to particular liquids or flavors – vapers like to shop around when it comes to flavors, something Farsalinos also noted in his talk on flavors on Monday at SFATA. Herzog expects liquids to be "commoditized" or narrowed down to a manageable list of branded products. She also hears the thundering tread of Big Tobacco's approaching footsteps into this market.
Big Tobacco was refreshingly absent from the exhibitors' list at this "business-to-business" Expo, and even the high-rolling brands of e-cigs (NJOY, Victory, Mistic) apparently had little or no perceptible presence on the exhibit hall floor. This conference seems to have been a chance for little companies to get into the act, and there are hundreds of such little companies.
Also on the program was a panel discussion moderated by the editor of the journal Tobacco Business International, Jennifer Gelfand, and featuring the panelists Cynthia Cabrera, SFATA's Executive Director, consultant Tom Kiklas, co-founder of TVECA (the Tobacco Vapor Electronic Cigarette Association, formerly just the ECA, a significant name change, given the developments mentioned above), Linc Williams, co-founder of the American E-Liquids Manufacturers' Standards Association, Bill Bartkowski, former President of Ruyan America and currently President of the research group VapeAria, and Arnaud Dumas de Rauly, the President of FIVAPE, the French Vapor Trade Association.
Everything about this Expo shows that as it enters its second decade, the vaping industry is making an important turn in a new direction, away from e-cigarettes and toward personal and personalized vaping systems.