a who’s who of the European tobacco retail trade gathered in Dortmund, Germany. We were able to meet up with André Oostrom, the director in charge of rolling papers for OP papírna—part of the delfortgroup and one of Europe’s fastest growing suppliers of RYO papers.
The RYO market is a growing industry, and one that differs from region to region, as well as not from nation to nation. He gave us a run-down on the market and OP papírna’s place in it.
TPI: Who smokes RYO?
AO: It’s varies in each market. In Holland, for example, about half of the smoking population smokes RYO. About 70 or 80% have smoked RYO at one time in their life. Even one of the previous Prime Ministers smoked RYO, of course never on television. It’s very accepted in Holland. In other markets, it’s a growing trend.
In most countries it’s small compared to cigarette smoking. In most countries it’s about 8-10% of smokers. On average it’s a blue-collar sort of smoke. Some countries even have an association with prison because RYO is—or was—the only thing prisoners can get, like Australia, United States and the Czech Republic. It keeps the inmates more quiet because they have something to do. (laughs) It’s just a theory.
TPI: It almost seems as if it’s a lifestyle choice. like you’re making a statement when you choose RYO.
AO: In some European markets that I know of, it becomes a form of self-expression. It’s the “in” thing to do. In some markets it even becomes a bit more complicated, because people automatically jump to the conclusion that you’re smoking marijuana—they’re just not used to it. But on a global scale—it’s perceived to be a poor man’s smoke.
With RYO, you generally smoke less, because it takes more work to prepare. It can also be difficult to learn—it’s not an easy thing to do. That’s the downside of RYO—you have to have some stamina to master it. And eventually you become used to the ritual. It’s a time for yourself, for reflection. And that’s the thing I like personally about it as well.
TPI: Tell us your Party in House line that you’re showcasing here at Inter-tabac.
AO: It was developed in the mid-90s in the Czech Republic to be an international brand. It was not developed specifically for the Czech Republic, but it was easier to start in Czech as a home base and move outward. At the moment we use it more to show what we are capable of for the private labels. We do sell it, but the wide range you see is to show the different types, the different sizes, the different papers.
TPI: What percentage of your business is private label?
AO: About 60% is private label. And 40% is our own brands, the majority of which we sell in Czech and Slovak Republics. We still command a very high market share in the Czech Republic.
TPI: So, is your international business mostly with private labels?
AO: Mostly private labels. There’s some Party In House going to about six or seven different markets. But mostly, for the private labels, we service wholesalers and traders that want to have their own brand. And of course some fine-cut tobacco companies and some retail stores that have their own label. And we service some smaller retail outlets.
TPI: When you say “retail” are you referring to mom and pop stores or franchises?
AO: We’re talking about retail shops, the coffee shops in Holland. We are happy with every customer as they say. Our normal minimum of production is two pellets, which is too much for a coffee shop, but we’re happy to supply one pellet, as long as they agree to buy the 2nd one later. All the other guys turn them away. So, they happily come to us, and we’re happy to supply them.
TPI: What markets are you looking at for your brands and for private label?
AO: For our market we’re primarily looking at the smaller markets. Of course the Czech and Slovak markets. But for the private label, we go to wherever the flow takes us. And we are wary about not supplying too many customers in one market. Our customers are going to get in each other’s way. And our customers aren’t helped with it, and in the long run, we are not helped with it. Of course if someone knocks on the door we’ll answer it, but we’re not actively looking for new Dutch customers at this point. One of the reasons we’re now looking at Germany. Germany is a very fragmented market. We are also looking at France. We currently don’t have any business in France.
TPI: How about Russia and the CIS nations?
AO: It would be very easy for us. Many of our employees speak Russian, but the market is very small. They have other low-price smoking options, and the market for RYO is very small.
TPI: How does the quality of your paper match up to some of the other competitor’s brands?
AO: We can make more paper qualities than our competition. As far as we know we can make the lightest paper on the market. We can make anything. We have four paper mills that specialize in tobacco paper.
TPI: Do you supply some of the niche papers—different colors, flavors, etc?
AO: We can do that. It depends on the technique you want. We can do it so it only releases the taste and smells when burned. The technique mostly used is printing on the paper. The challenge is when you get on the lower weight papers. You can print a color or flavor on it, or encapsulate it in the paper itself—so we can do both.
TPI: Are you looking at the global market world, or just moving further into Europe?
AO: Unfortunately no. We only have so much human resources. So we have to go step-by-step. But watch this space! We have the creative ideas and the highly motivated staff!