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Summer, 2007

Following the RYO Road
By Jonathan Bell

A look at RYO: from its roots in the Benelux to markets around the globe.

A relatively small area of terra firma produces and/or markets an inordinately huge weight in roll-your-own and make-your-own tobacco products, shag, and associated items. These are consumed regionally, nationally, and exported throughout Europe and even around the world.

There are numerous tobacco product factories in these kingdoms and duchies—in Belgium, Luxembourg, and The Netherlands—processing and packaging RYO tobacco blends. This list is not complete, but to name some think of Heintz Van Landewyck in Luxembourg; of Stubbe, Gryson, Flandria, and Torrekens in Belgium; of Biggelaar, VCT, Heupinck & Bloeman, and Holland Tobacco House in The Netherlands.

Imperial’s Dutch RYO tobacco factory alone produces far more than all the others in this region combined. It with its fellows crowns the Benelux community as the world’s production powerhouse in shag smoking blends.

The RYO Road through the region makes for many stops of importance and interest. The following accounts profile only a few of these, and the brand gallery of photos is but a quick taste from the feast in new and innovative products one finds along the Benelux RYO road.

Success stories are not easy to come by in the tobacco business of our times. Gryson, however, has achieved this. This is all the more remarkable as it has a relatively short life as a major tobacco product manufacturer. Gryson was created in the 1980s from a grouping of small regional RYO shag producers and only attained national Belgium presence by 1990. It began exporting soon thereafter. To chart its growth, consider that its original nucleus of production in the ’80s was at about 90,000 kg per year. In 2006, Gryson production passed 2.3 mn kg.

From sourcing RYO product to various Flemish communities in Belgium and Northern France in 1990, the company has risen to ship more than 65% of its product abroad, and to 40 national markets on five continents.

In sum, in less than two decades what was a purely regional and virtually anonymous producer of RYO has leaped to quite significant status, ranking now among the top 10 RYO blend marketers in the world.

Demand for its brands has meant an ongoing series of production facility expansions, now being furthered by the completion of a new plant in Werwik, Belgium. This new RYO factory provides Gryson with 17,000 sq meter of product-related space.

The Orlando brand can be cited as surely one main element in the Gryson story. Orlando has been a sales winner wherever it has been introduced, and has enabled the company to further expand market share by launching its other brand families in the wake of such success.

In addition to Orlando, Gryson now sells its Domingo, Djembe, Arizona, and Fleur du Pays brand families far and wide.

As for most recent brand family developments, Gryson has been focusing on the Domingo and Fleur du Pays lines with the addition of aromatic blends to the Domingo family, and of new package formats for Fleur du Pays No. 1 (blonde) and FDP No.2.

The Domingo family is now extended to nine products, and the new aromatics blends include cherry, vanilla, strawberry, mango, and menthol entries.

Fleur du Pays is maintained as a premium line of “natural tobaccos,” meaning its two blends on offer contain a strict minimum of additives. For FDP, Gryson has introduced a 40 grams unit, plus tins of 100 and 200 grams. New in 2007 is a 500 gram zip-bag concept. The brand continues its strong expansion in Spain and France.

This family owned and managed company, now operating from new manufacturing and management facilities in Kruishoutem, Belgium, has found its place internationally as a source for the wide range of its own RYO and cigarette brands, as well as for private label production.

Although specialty cigarettes (colored, flavored, in shoulder boxes, etc) have proven to be a continuing success for this company, with worldwide sales—in particular of its Ziganov brand family—RYO was first at its core and seems to remain there.

This abiding strength in RYO product is partially due to its ongoing renown for RYO blending expertise. Here, Flandria’s reputation helps explain its large private label business. Now Flandria is also seeing expansion in demand for its own RYO brands (the Marshal and Flandria brand families). Most recently, the company is finding particular success with its Flandria brand on the Spanish market.

Holland Tobacco House

“HTH” is owned by one of The Netherlands’ renowned RYO men, Hans Heupink. The Export Manager is Peter Hilbrands, and he does have much to export.

Although HTH is less than five years old as a company, already its RYO and MYO brands have found demand abroad. Company brands include The Limit, and Oxon. The Limit range is now in 12 exports markets, the Oxon range is available in three foreign markets.

The company’s focus is also on private label sourcing and on selling ‘semi-finals’ (cut rag, filler blends for cigarettes and cigars, etc.). For this HTH has initiated a new factory in Denekamp, including a complete leaf line to assure its total independence as a private label and semi source.

The factory for leaf processing, blending, and packaging was customized for optimum versatility and flexibility. This permits the company to run small and large orders, and work as a supplier to major RYO/MYO market players. Resulting from this, HTH offers the spectrum of current rag blends—classic Zware, half Zware, American blend, Virginia, and Expanded Tobacco blends (in a choice of American or Half Zware). As to flavors, the growth segment of the times in RYO and MYO markets everywhere, HTH can produce to order with a current list of more than a dozen selections.

In the area of packaging, the company is also directly in tune with current demands. Its packaging lines can produce pouches in formats from 10 grams up to 50 grams; tins from 60 grams to 300 grams. HTH has its ISO 9001- 2000 certification.

Heupink & Bloemen
Known to many as “HB,” Heupink & Bloemen is a major RYO blend player. Its new, vast production facility in Outmarsum, The Netherlands, produces enough RYO product to make HB the largest privately owned RYO manufacturer in the entire Benelux region.

The market horizon for HB is global, with company presence throughout Europe and Asia. HB leading product markets are The Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, France, Spain, Portugal, Germany, and Japan.

HB makes both RYO blends and cigarettes. It produces its own brands as well as private label. In sum the company holds more than 100 tademarks and is making more than 300 different product references.

The company successfully progresses with its cigarette production, signified by the launch last year of its Pink Elephant brand, and by the continuing worldwide popularity of its Black Death cigarettes (especially in Asia). Cigarettes represent about one-third of HB product shipments. The other two-thirds are for RYO and MYO productions.

Currently the growth in RYO-product sales are a driving force at HB as they perform robustly on numerous markets. Black Death, for example, has already become a cross-over brand to RYO tobacco, with vanilla and now chocolate flavorings (as an accessory, Black Death rolling papers have also been run-away hits in some markets). Black Death RYO has found strong markets in Japan and Greece.

But the company’s real power in RYO are in its two mainstream brands: Look Out and Arbo. Arbo is the manufacturer’s leading brand in its home market, but Look Out is HB’s best selling RYO brand family, and its European-wide market winner. Available in pouches and tins of 40, 50, and 200 grams, Look Out is traditionally blended as either a ‘classic’ or ‘Zware’ shag.

Heupink & Bloemen has recently upgraded the package imagery look on all its RYO product range. For the company, this follows the current trend of RYO consumer expectations for packs that look like leaders, even as they might cost less. This policy links HB to its target consumer group—mainstream buyers. In domestic and export markets, HB is seeing growth in the higher end RYO spectrum.

Ever imaginative, versatile, and changing, VCT remains one of the tobacco industry’s most interesting companies. It has found strength in the international tobacco product and smoking accessories business in part by never ceasing to bring surprise after surprise to market.

What are some of the VCT treasures of the moment? Previum brand RYO blend of blonde, expanded tobaccos: this product offers consumers volume smokes, per the expanded tobacco technique, for less. By at least one measure a buyer can get as many as 285 RYO cigarettes from a 200 gram unit of Previum.

Ravelli brand, a pure Indonesian clove RYO blend, which VCT believes is a true one-of-a kind product on the RYO scene of the moment.

The Issu miniature handheld smoke-filtering device, is finding an audience for basically smoke-free smoking. The Issu is a bold, flashily designed smoking accessory for those consumers facing up to the smoke-paranoia issue. [See more of Issu at www.issu.com.]

The Fast-Filler make-your-own machine is quite new and quite hot in sales. This small home unit can, with a simple push of a button, make up to 25 cigarettes in three minutes. It works with any kind of tobacco, with virtually any kind of tube brand on the MYO cigarette tube market. [The product site offers a good profile of this accessory; www.fast-filler.com.]

Smoking Blunts are also new at VCT, and are also selling faster then distributors can be found for them. Made in the Dominican Republic, these cigar-sheet RYO ‘papers’ come in an array of 10 flavors, including such true exotics as Champagne, Bourbon, and Rum. Smoking Blunts are also produced in a unique dual-pack concept of their own.

Tobacco Products International - Summer, 2007
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