Few brands have the staying power of Zig Zig, which has been around for more than 140 years, and has become ubiquitous as an accessory in the smoking category. Their rolling papers are instantly recognizable by the bearded guy on the packaging wearing a Tunisian chechia hat and puffing a hand-rolled cigarette. Favored as papers, wraps and cones that deliver a consistent, slow burning smoking experience, Zig Zag has earned a loyal following among make-your-own cigarette enthusiasts and cigar aficionados around the world. Now, with mainstream attention turning from tobacco to cannabis, we caught up with Lorenzo De Plano, Vice President of the New Ventures Division at Turning Point Brands (TPB), the exclusive North American distributor for Zig Zag, to learn how the company is positioning the iconic brand to take its leading player status in a new and evolving market.
Smoking nowadays means different things to different people. Do you see Zig Zag as a brand that appeals to both tobacco and cannabis smokers?
TPB views the world as how we can create the best products and services that people want across the entire spectrum of smoking. We’ve been expanding our non-tobacco portfolio dramatically in the last two years and deployed more products into the market than we did in the last ten. A lot of what we’re trying to focus on is that alternative category.
Are you branching out beyond traditional rolling papers?
Our accessories business is growing substantially every year, and recently we’ve introduced a lot of different SKUs ranging from grinders to rolling tips and terpene infused cones. We kind of ride along with the proliferation of cannabis legalization. Our terpene infused cones are a perfect example of a product that represents a unique way to fill the retail shelf that can really enhance the smoking experience with respect to whatever people choose to put in them. We’re also looking at [traditional rolling products] to see what we can do to make them more interesting. We recently introduced our take on the palm category using the palm leaf substrate and flavored capsules in corn husk tips. It offers an alternative for consumers who don’t want the thing they’re smoking to be based off of tobacco.
With the myriad of rolling paper choices available, how important is brand recognition?
We’ve done a lot of consumer studies and we’ve found that with respect to the paper category what drives a consumer to purchase one product or brand versus another is quality, ease of use and price, which surprisingly scored lowest on the list. It’s like when you buy a burger; you don’t ask how much the fries cost. As it relates to Zig Zag, if people have a great experience, it’s very typical that they’ll become loyal to the brand.
How is TPB boosting brand awareness for Zig Zag with a new generation of smokers and cannabis users?
We’ve really been focusing on developing the brand through unique partnerships. As an example, we collaborated with a high end fashion brand called Amri on a limited line of fashion merchandise that was sold at luxury stores on Madison Avenue and Rodeo Drive. We’ve also had professional athletes, like Dwayne Wade and Trent Alexander-Arnold, and musicians, such as Mick Jagger and French Montana, wearing Zig Zag apparel which was really cool to see because it’s very rare for a brand to appeal to such a wide spectrum of audiences. We’ve been blown away by the receptivity consumers have had towards those types of partnerships because they really illustrate the nostalgic and ephemeral connection that people have with the Zig Zag brand.
Speaking of music, I was browsing YouTube and came across Zig Zag Studio. What’s that all about?
The whole point to Zig Zag Studio was to enhance the brand experience and recognition by creating a platform where we could partner up with unique creative minds, whether musicians, photographers, or graphic designers, not simply to feature our product in their work, but to collaborate on content that shows the soul of the Zig Zig brand, which again is about building great experiences. It’s been really successful with millions of views.
How does TPB work with retailers to promote Zig Zag products in their stores?
We’re one of the few companies that has a territory sales force where we actually go location by location. Any customer can request that a territorial sales manager visit them directly to help merchandise their store and give them strategies on how to optimize their sell-through on specific SKUs. We also have a guarantee where if there’s any issues we’ll take the product back free of charge –- these kinds of policies help offset the potential risk of taking on new products.
How has the popularity of vapes affected the market for rolling papers and accessories?
The reality is that consumers are going to use different types of smoking products for different types of situations. The implementation of new form factors can adversely impact different categories that have been around for a while. The way we respond to that is by coming up with unique and creative ways to adapt with the times and evolve the brand accordingly. Within the next year there’s going to be a lot of exciting announcements from Turning Point Brands related not only to Zig Zag, but other brands in our catalog including Stokers [smokeless tobacco products] and Solace [nicotine salt products and vape devices].
What effect do you think federal legalization (if enacted) will have on smoking products?
You’ll see a proliferation of different types of products and stores entering into the market. Ultimately, the consumer is going to drive sales and stores will have to decide what products they want to carry.
But each state may still have their own set of rules, correct?
Yes. Our office is based out of Los Angeles, California, and as you know, the state recently enacted a tobacco flavor ban that will impact all sorts of different products ranging from potentially cigars all the way down to vape products and menthol cigarettes. Within that environment, making sure as a retailer that you have the right products on your shelf is increasingly important.
Broadly speaking, our goal at Turning Point Brands is to service all smoke shop needs and provide an easy to use and professional and streamlined distribution channel. Our focus is to work with our wholesale and retail partners to help them navigate the different types of markets and environments and to create solutions that they can use to fill up their shelves as the market and landscape evolves.