Cigars have been enjoying a revival in recent years, boosted by younger smokers and emerging cigar markets such as China. We spoke with Martin Kaufmann, Oettinger Davidoff’s Senior Vice president of Europe and Global Travel Retail, on his recent trip to Hong Kong to learn more about trends in the cigar industry and how Davidoff is taking on a new generation of consumers.
How have Davidoff’s customers changed in recent years? Can you tell us about the new generation of cigar consumers?
Cigars have typically been seen in the older days as something for the more established gentlemen. That has changed a lot. The majority of our new consumers are actually coming in the age bracket of 30-plus and they are from very different walks of life. For the younger generation, it’s not all about an origin—it’s more about discovering different taste experiences from different parts of the world.
Do trends like social media and pop-up stores play a part in travel retail?
Social media definitely plays an increasing role. We’re in a highly regulated environment, so it’s less of us talking about ourselves on social media, and more of aficionados and consumers talking about us. It’s very important that we provide the content and the experiences so that they have stories to tell.
Pop-up stores is something we haven’t done yet, but we have a couple of projects coming up where we’re going to test this in Europe.
What kind of experiences do you try to create for consumers so that they’ll talk about it on social media?
Pairings are an important part of cigar tastings, and it’s not only about spirits or wine, but also pairings with fine food. So we do a lot of collaborations with gastronomic tours, with star chefs and special menus. We have the Chefs Edition, which was actually created by cuisine chefs. And that entire experience makes people talk—it’s really all a lifestyle, more than a product.
How do multi-sensory experiences get translated with travel retail in airports?
It is quite dependent on the environment. For example, we might have the ingredients on display, such as pepper to show it’s spicy, and we often have leaves on the ceiling. In some locations we can provide a full fledged multi-sensory experience, like the new walk-in humidor we just opened in Paris.
What cigar trends are you seeing worldwide?
It really depends a lot on where you’re looking at. In the US, for example, very big formats are a trend. In other parts of the world, short smokes have been popular for a while, where you only have maybe 20 to 30 minutes [in a smoke], and that is something we don’t see so much in Asia. It has to do with the maturity of the market—whether you have a well established cigar culture, or a younger market where cigars are still developing.
Which products are doing the best in Asia?
A lot of Asians are traveling, so when we talk about travel retail, you would find, for example, Chinese travelers all over the world. Gifting remains very important for Chinese travelers. Over 50 percent of cigars that are bought by the Chinese are actually for gifting purposes. That would be way less if you look at the US or Europe, for example.
How do you engage with Chinese customers?
We try to educate about the category in customers’ home countries. That’s really where it starts. Ideally, we want people to have an idea of Davidoff and cigars already before they travel.
We also do specific city and country special editions, such as our zodiac editions that come out every year. Being on WeChat is a breakthrough for us, and of course our brand ambassadors play a role—they can speak Chinese, but they also know how the Chinese shopper wants to be approached. We do a lot of research to understand how Chinese consumers think.
Do you think that cigars should be grouped with other kinds of tobacco?
I think that cigars couldn’t be more different from cigarettes. While it’s all tobacco, there’s a very different motivation as to why you smoke. Most cigar smokers don’t come from cigarettes. It’s more comparable with drinking wine or champagne. It’s very much a luxury good, and I don’t think cigarettes have anything to do with that type of market.
Lastly, what is your personal favourite cigar blend?
There are so many great cigars. I like the Winston Churchill very much, specifically when we relaunched it a little over two years ago. The Millennium blend I love a lot. My personal favourite, independent from those I’ve tried on testing panels, is the Davidoff Nicaragua Robusto format. That is definitely my favorite.