By Bob Tate
We’ve been intrigued with rumors circulating around the pipe community that CAO might become the new distributor of Dunhill pipe tobaccos in the USA. There have been comments that CAO would increase its presence in the pipe tobacco business in 2010, rumors of new tobaccos, possibly bringing back the old CAO tobaccos, CAO meerschaum pipes and possible Dunhill distribution.
We had a great conversation with Tim Ozenger, President of CAO International (he’s a very friendly and accommodating chap). We talked about the aforementioned rumors and a few other things. Find out which rumors are true and which are not. So without further ado, here is our conversation with Tim:
PipesMagazine (PM): Tim, at the beginning of 2009, there were a lot of rumors that CAO was getting out of the tobacco pipe industry. Is it true that CAO made the decision to no longer be involved in the pipe industry or was it more related to Scandinavian Tobacco Group merging with CAO and there being a switch from Dan Tobacco to Scandinavian Tobacco Group?
Tim Ozgener: Well, Scandinavian Tobacco Group acquired CAO and in the acquisition they stated that they were in the cigar business and were not interested in pipes, although they are the largest producer of pipe tobacco in the world. So pipe smoking is still of interest to them, but they wanted us to focus more on cigars and pipe tobacco in the future instead of pipes. My father retired from the business, but still has some pretty tight relationships with some of the more important carvers in Turkey and he continues to purchase pipes from these carvers in Turkey. It was just made clear that that was not a part of CAO and more of, a kind of, personal decision. So my father has continued to receive pipes from these carvers.
PM: Towards the end of 2009, CAO introduced 4 new pipe tobacco blends based off of the Flavors by CAO line of cigars; Cherry Bomb, Moontrance, Eileen’s Dream, and Bella Vanilla. What prompted CAO to start producing pipe tobacco again and how successful have those new blends been?
Tim: As I’ve said, our parent company, Scandinavian Tobacco Group, is the largest producer of pipe tobacco in the world. So it was just natural given their resources that we should try and come up with our own pipe tobaccos and also given the success of our Flavors by CAO line. Those cigars were actually based on, initially, pipe tobacco flavorings and blends. Then they were converted into cigar flavorings as well, but we wanted to make them so that they were the Godiva of flavored cigars so you could taste the tobacco, but also have the subtle essence of the flavoring and certainly when you put it in your mouth you had some flavoring. So it was only natural to try and re-introduce those flavorings as pipe tobacco since that was kind of the genesis of the actual flavorings that we’ve used for our cigar line. That’s why we decided to do it and get back into it. We just introduced it and the quality of the tobaccos is excellent and we’re very pleased with it.
PM: So CAO is going to try and get back into the pipe industry?
Tim: Well, certainly pipe tobacco. It’s something that we’re interested in pursuing and hopefully these new aromatic pipe tobaccos, people will enjoy the quality of them. No matter what it is that we’re going to want to get into, we want to make it of a high quality standard. That’s how we built our business; just trying to improve the smoking pleasure for people because we find smoking to be a great way of de-stressing and relaxing and it’s kind of a your time to unwind. So that’s what we want to do. We want to provide products that maximize smoking pleasure and hopefully these pipe tobaccos will do so for those who are fans of aromatic pipe tobaccos.
PM: A lot of pipe smokers loved some of the old blends and based on the previous success of some of those blends such as Midnight Ride, Old Ironsides, & Patriot Flake, is CAO planning on bringing some of them back or does Dan Tobacco own the blending rights?
Tim: We worked with Dan Tobacco on there, we have a very good relationship with Dan Tobacco and they make very good blends there. But it’s certainly something that if we receive a lot of feedback or e-mail about, which our e-mail is CAO@caointernational.com, that we would welcome feedback if people would like to see us re-introduce those blends. If we hear enough requests about it, then we like to listen to our consumers.
PM: That’s great to hear. I know a lot of pipe smokers really like those three blends. So maybe once they read this interview, they’ll start sending some e-mails to you.
Tim: Which were the ones again that you’re hearing a lot about?
PM: Midnight Ride, Old Ironsides, and Patriot Flake.
Tim: OK, I’ve written them down now. So if they don’t move, you’re to blame Bob. [Laughter from both of us]
PM: Well, I would hold off until people start sending e-mails to you [more laughter]. I know that they miss them, especially the Old Ironsides. That’s the one that I hear a lot about. That was your most Latakia heavy blend.
Tim: That’s right, it was. It was pressed to.
PM: That brings me to this. For about the last 6 months or so, there have been a lot of rumors flying around the pipe industry that CAO will be the new US distributor for Dunhill pipe tobacco. Can you confirm or deny these rumors?
Tim: We had been hoping that that would be the case and we would have liked to have distributed those pipe tobaccos, but unfortunately it’s not up to us. It’s been something that has been BAT [British American Tobacco]; sort of, the ball is in their court. As of right now, we don’t have the green light to go ahead and distribute those pipe tobaccos. So as of now, all I can say is; that we would’ve liked to, we thought we were going to be able to, but we haven’t received the go ahead to do it from BAT. So I’m not sure where it’s at right now.
PM: Are negotiations still open with them for that?
Tim: Again, I’m not really sure where it’s at. The ball is in their court and we just haven’t received the approval to go ahead and start distributing.
PM: Is CAO planning on making a bigger presence in their line of pipes or are you just sticking to tobacco?
Tim: I think right now CAO would just be in the position of sticking to pipe tobacco.
PM: I’ve noticed that there are still quite a few CAO Meerschaum pipes floating around. Is that just old stock that you are moving through?
Tim: I mean certainly if people are still interested in Meerschaums and acquiring CAO Meerschaums, we still have them. And as I mentioned before, my father still has been receiving some pipes, primarily from Ismet Bekler, who is considered to be the star of Meerschaum carving. So if there was ever some demand for it, certainly the consumer can go to the retailer and ask them for it and the retailer can call us at CAO and we can help them in procuring Meerschaum.
PM: That’s great. What are some of the plans that CAO has for being more involved and re-establishing themselves in the pipe tobacco industry?
Tim: I think primarily, as we discussed, we would be looking more along the lines of how to grow the pipe tobacco portfolio; which is why I still encourage people to send their feedback and their request of what they would like to see in pipe tobacco, what they think is kind of a gaffe that’s missing out there. You know, it’s one of these things that we’ve kind of built our business on, listening and responding to our consumers needs, our retailers’ needs. So we do have that resource of having a wonderful factory to produce pipe tobacco.
But again, the feedback, we like to listen and respond to what our consumers have to say. If consumers e-mail and say we’d like you to release something similar to what you had in Old Ironsides, Midnight Ride, or Patriot Flake or maybe even something different, then we would be welcome to hear that kind of feedback. So I think that that would be a sort of a way that we would look at to try to gain some momentum utilizing a positive resource that we have in the ST (Scandinavian Tobacco Group) manufacturing facility that they have.
PM: Will CAO be releasing any new pipe tobacco blends this year?
Tim: Right now, we don’t have anything in the works. But that’s not to say that we may not release something that is for the trade show [Editor’s Note: the trade show is IPCPR in New Orleans in August]. But as of right now, we don’t really have anything on the plate. Although, I remember going around and seeing a lot of people smoking the Old Ironsides and liking that, so perhaps that might be something that we might look at re-introducing at the show. Certainly when you have an interview like this or when you, hopefully, hear peoples feedback looking for certain items, then it adds more fuel to the fire to try and introduce things that may fill a niche in the market.
PM: Since your talking about the trade show, will CAO be having more of a presence at pipe and pipe tobacco shows this year?
Tim: I don’t think that our portfolio is wide enough for us to have a presence at the pipes and pipe tobacco shows for the time being. So I think that, generally we have some retailers that come over there and offer our pipe tobaccos at such shows. But maybe in the future.
PM: What is your take on the FDA taking over tobacco and the new bans on flavored tobacco products?
Tim: Well you know that part of it can be a slippery slope. I don’t think that it’s good news for us in general. And certainly if we look and see what has happened in other countries, then there might be some more specific oversight and test that go with that and I think that things can change rather quickly if they increase taxes in Roll Your Own (RYO), then RYO product could be introduced under then guise of pipe tobacco.
PM: You know that that has already happened?
PM: And you’ve heard about the H.R. 4439 Tobacco Tax Parity Act of 2010 to raise the tax on pipe tobacco by 775% to be taxed the same as RYO tobacco?
Tim: Yeah, that was what was bound to happen once they found out that this kind of adjustment was made.
PM: I’m not sure if you are aware or not, but we have created a petition opposing H.R. 4439. By signing the petition, it will automatically find your representatives and send them an e-mail and after you sign it, at the end you can also have written letters sent as well for just $3.00.
Tim: OK, I’ll have to do that then.
PM: Let all of your employees and friends know about it as well. Right now the bill is held up in committee. But if this goes through, cigars are going to be next and it’s going to be a never ending thing unless we smokers and tobacco users start standing up and letting the government know that we’ve had enough of these unfair and ridiculous taxes.
Tim: Yeah. Look, if you were to go to a liquor store or anything and you are under the age of 21, you would have to show your ID before you bought a flavored vodka. I don’t understand why it can’t be the same way here. If you are going to buy a flavored cigar or pipe tobacco, why can’t you just show your ID to prove that you are of age so that you can make your own decision to buy flavored or non-flavored tobacco?
PM: Yes. That is the most logical solution to the problem.
Tim: Yeah. I don’t see why we can’t. There are probably a lot more people dying of alcohol related accidents.
PM: Yes, I agree. What is CAO doing to combat all of the newest anti-tobacco legislation?
Tim: We’re members of the CAA (Cigar Association of America), we also contribute to the IPCPR (International Premium Cigar and Pipe Retailers Association). We’re board members of the IPCPR as associates, which means distributors and manufacturers. I just came back last week from a meeting with the IPCPR board discussing legislation for 80% of the time. That is something that we’re very active in any way that we can in any sort of segment of the business. In fact, we have seats on the board of the CAA as well. We’re major contributors to these organizations. So we’re involved; I mean any sort of organization that also starts that are state led organizations, we are also very active and involved too. New York just started a state group (New York Tobacconist Association – NYTA) that we’re going to contribute to. So we’re very active. We’re very active within our state. We have great relationships with our politicians, whether they’re in the US Senate, State Senate, or US House or State House and those that are running for Governorship of our state. So we like to take a very active roll in the politics and how we can help with any sort of legislation that may be passing that could be negative for our industry.
PM: That’s really great to hear. Tim, thank you very much for your time and it was a pleasure talking with you.
Tim implied that if CAO received enough requests, they may bring back some of the old favorites in their tobacco line. So as they used to say in the old TV days, “keep those cards and letters coming!”
E-mail CAO with your feedback and suggestions at CAO@caointernational.com
[*Editors Note: The e-mail address that we previously had listed (CAO@caocigars.com) was incorrect. It must have been the old e-mail and is no longer active. The link has been updated to a working e-mail address which is CAO@caointernational.com. We apologize for the mistake.]