Made in the U.S.A.
Over the years, many hookah brands that were based in the U.S. have since shifted their operations overseas or discontinued their business altogether. Keeping up with today’s economics and business landscape has forced many companies out of business—but not Fantasia. RJ proudly states that Fantasia is one of the few hookah brands left in the U.S. that manufactures its products within the country. RJ says he knows of many brands that ship in products from other countries or have components like flavors made overseas that they later repackage as their own. That’s not how Fantasia does it, and this is what sets it apart from other hookah brands and products on the market today.
“In our plant, we start with the raw tobacco; that’s the first item we touch,” says RJ. “It gets cut and aged in barrels before we go to the mixing [process]. We have a full-on 100 percent manufacturing process: It’s all here in the U.S.A., which no other manufacturing plant or brand in the U.S.A. can actually claim. Our focus right now is to sustain those capabilities and that model so that we can truly be made in the U.S.A., as our packaging says.”
RJ carefully points out that Fantasia isn’t trying to produce more than the next company. Instead, his business’s focus is on quality. “We’re not trying to be the one that’s in everybody’s face, or in everybody’s store or in everybody’s lounge. We’re just trying to maintain our quality of where we’re at now so that people understand that we do have a consistent product and something that you can be confident in.”
It’s hard to choose one particular product as being Fantasia’s best-seller, RJ says, but Fantasia’s Ice Series is very popular among retailers and consumers. The Ice Series includes a wide range of flavors, from Ice Mint to Watermelon Ice to Fantasia’s signature flavors, such as Adios, Magic Dragon and Rainbow Burst. Confidence in Fantasia’s products, as well as its customer service, has helped the company remain active and competitive for over 15 years now. To help instill confidence in its products, Fantasia has a generous guarantee on its products. It will take back purchased products, no questions asked, making it a no-brainer for those who are curious about Fantasia and want to try its products with very little risk.
“If you don’t like it, then we’ll give you your money back,” says RJ. “Just tell us what will make you happy. The last thing we want is somebody purchasing products from us being upset about their purchase, whether they didn’t like the flavor or the amount that they paid. We’d rather have you just try the product for free and be convinced and become a loyal customer of Fantasia and be part of our group.”
All of the ingredients used to make Fantasia’s products come from a trusted source and are certified. The company uses certified glycerin and honey and flavoring from U.S. suppliers. Its tobacco leaf is purchased from Europe and contains a blend of a French and German tobacco leaf. While all of these ingredients may cost Fantasia more money, using these high-quality ingredients is key to Fantasia sustaining both the quality of its products and their production. Nothing is used in Fantasia’s products that isn’t inspected and put through a rigorous quality control process. This, in RJ’s opinion, is what gives Fantasia the competitive edge over many other hookah brands on the market today.
Retailers can be confident in Fantasia due to its careful consideration and attention given to ingredients as well as its long business history. Since many of its products were already on the market prior to Feb. 15, 2007, Fantasia has products that are grandfathered and not subject to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) premarket tobacco product application (PMTA) process. Fantasia has also submitted several of its newer products to the FDA for review and is awaiting approval on those, but retailers can rest assured that Fantasia’s products aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.
Caught in the Crossfire
Retailers may be on the fence when it comes to hookah, questioning the category’s vitality in today’s marketplace. With the continuing attack on flavors, tobacco tax hikes and regulations in general, does hookah really have a future in the U.S.?
“The market looks very good,” RJ responds. “You’ve got your consumers that love going out and going to the cafes and lounges where they can smoke and hang out with people. Then you have other consumers who purchase products to take home. The consumption and smoking of hookah isn’t like cigarettes and vaping where you want to get that nicotine fix or you want to get that buzz. Hookah tobacco is generally high in sugar and low in nicotine, and people consume it for the flavor. They consume it just to be social while hanging out with people, and that’s really the main purpose. I don’t think socializing and hanging out with your family and friends is going away anytime soon. I think the future looks pretty good for hookah.”
Flavors will continue to play a key role in Fantasia’s products, although RJ acknowledges the hookah industry is caught in the middle of the government’s ongoing attempts to regulate flavors in other tobacco product categories.
“I think we’re caught in the crossfire of those wanting to abolish flavors completely because of the vape, cigarette and cigar industries,” he says. “Hookah tobacco makes a fraction of the percentage of sales when it comes to tobacco. This is just something we’re innocent bystanders in, and it wasn’t intended for us.”
RJ isn’t letting the current regulatory fight slow him or Fantasia down. He and his team are continuing to expand Fantasia’s availability, getting its products into more retail outlets and into the hands of consumers who place more value on quality than they do price point. Smoke shops currently are Fantasia’s No. 1 retail outlet, but other retailers, such as novelty stores, convenience shops and gas stations, are also having success with Fantasia’s various hookah-related products. Retailers are also often willing to carry Fantasia’s products because of the company’s no-risk guarantee that will allow them to send anything they don’t like or sell back to Fantasia for a full refund.
Although the rollout of new releases may be slowed because of the FDA’s rules and regulations, RJ and his team continue to monitor the market and track consumer trends, looking for a reason or cue to expand Fantasia’s hookah and shisha offerings—and maybe even to produce more hookah accessories. Retailers who are curious about the company and who want to learn more about Fantasia and its products have the opportunity to do so in person at this year’s Tobacco Plus Expo (TPE22). It shouldn’t be too hard to find Fantasia’s booth. Just look for the giant smoke-blowing hookah. Fantasia’s sales reps will be ready to answer any questions and address any issues that may have gone unaddressed because of the pandemic.
This story first appeared in the January/February 2022 issue of Tobacco Business magazine. Members of the tobacco industry are eligible for a complimentary subscription to our magazine. Click here for details.
– Photos courtesy of Fantasia Distribution. Story by Antoine Reid, senior editor and digital director for Tobacco Business Magazine. You can follow him on Instagram @editor.reid.