America’s Insatiable Taste for Cuban Cigars
Posted: Feb 2, 2009 9:55am ET
We smoke a lot more Cuban cigars than you think we do. For years, I have been telling people – including CNN and other news organizations in interviews– that Americans illegally buy about 8 million to 10 million Cuban sticks a year. But I am way off.
Sources at Habanos S.A., the global distribution and marketing company for Cuban cigars, say that the official number they use internally is double my estimates. Yes—Habanos officially estimates that Americans account for 20 million of the total 150 million cigars the Cubans export each year.
But the shocker is that some of the top people in Habanos believe that the real figure these days could be as high as 50 million cigars. Or, to put it another way, one out of three Cuban cigars sold each year might be bought by Americans.
A heavy hitter in Habanos told me that they he spoke to top cigar shops in key cities in Spain, France, Switzerland, Germany, Belgium, Great Britain and others around the world and most reported that between 20 and 50 percent of their sales went to Americans. They visited the shop, telephoned or faxed their order, or used the Internet to get their cigars.
This whole conversation started when I asked him “what market do you see the biggest growth potential in this gloomy economic situation?”
“The United States,” he said with a big smile on his face.
I almost fell out of my chair at lunch. We were each smoking a Montecristo Maravilla, which was part of the Colección Habanos series in 2006. The cigar was phenomenal. It showed wonderful aromas of cedar, nuts, and cappuccino that followed through to a fresh and rich palate that increased in intensity with each puff. It was so Montecristo with the cedar and creamy character. This was a great smoke that I scored 95 points, non blind.
In between puffs, my friend gave an example of how Americans can affect the sales of a market when things go wrong. He said that when the United States started the war in Iraq and France didn’t support it, duty free sales in France dropped from 4 million Cuban cigars to 2 million in on year as Americans stopped traveling to France. “It was a big decrease for us,” he said.
It makes me wonder what will happen to the global market for Cuban cigars when the trade embargo is finally dropped. Inevitably, sales in all those cigar shops around the world from Mexico City to Montreal to London to Milan to Dubai to Hong Kong to Sydney will drop. Americans will be able to buy their Habanos at home, so why would they bother buying them anywhere else?
“We think that the first year we can sell up to 100 million cigars in the United States,” he said. “And then it will peak out at about 50 million cigars.”
What an amazing year that first year will be when Cuban cigars are finally legally smoked in the United States. But we aren’t doing too badly at the moment--even if Cuban cigars are illegal.
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