Three top executives of Cuba's cigar company discuss the status of their primary asset: Cuba's global brands
From the Print Edition:
Matthew McConaughey, March/April 2011
Every June, the head executives from Cuba's Habanos S.A. sit down with their distributors from around the world to create new cigars. This is the birth of the Edicións Regionales, or Regional Editions, as connoisseurs of Cuban cigars around the world know them. The distributors present their requests for special cigars that will be limited to their specific market, a kind of local brand extension for their loyal consumers.
"Each distributor is looking for something different, something for their collectors that is a little unusual," says Ana López Garcia, the director of marketing operations for Habanos, Cuba's worldwide distributor of Cuban cigars, during an extensive interview in Havana. "And each market can ask for something special."
Around the large conference table, the two other Habanos executives nod in agreement as they describe the creation of these limited-edition smokes, which is just one of the many projects they oversee every year: planning what cigars Cuba will add to its portfolio, what might be removed from the product line, and how Cuba's many cigar brands will be marketed to the global audience that enjoys them.
López is joined by Buenaventura Jiménez Sánchez-Cañete, the co-president of Habanos, and Gonzalo Fernández de Navarrete González-Valerio, the sub-director of marketing, at this interview on a rainy day in December. Oscar Basulto Torres, then the Cuban co-president of Habanos, had been called away urgently to visit cigar plantations in Pinar del Río with a Cuban government official. (A new co-president, Jorge Luis Fernandez Maique, was appointed to take over for Basulto Torres, who will remain in charge of Tabacuba, which oversees all aspects of tobacco production from the fields to the factories.)
What is clear is that this is a team charged with keeping Habanos at the forefront of the world's cigar market.
"We receive 30 to 35 requests for Regional Edition cigars every year," says Jiménez Sánchez-Cañete. But he adds that Habanos has begun to limit the annual new releases. The Habanos officials say they keep each ER exclusive to the region or country for at least two years, and do not limit each region to one Edicion Regional during that period. However, each distributor is required to purchase 25,000 sticks of each new cigar.
Habanos acknowledges that the program has become a logistical nightmare. Each cigar requires a different band and a different box, and since it is often a different size for a particular brand, it requires a new blend to keep the taste within that brand's normal flavor parameters. "We are trying to keep to the standard sizes and boxes," says López. She adds that each new cigar requires a new blending process. In all, it takes nearly a year from the approval for a new Regional Edition until it is ready to be shipped to the marketplace.
The Regional Editions, which were first introduced in 2005, emerged from the success of Cuba's Edición Limitadas, which were launched in 2000. Cuba has made as many as five Edición Limitadas in a year (there were none in 2002), and finally settled on three new sizes per year starting with 2005. But the philosophy behind them is different. "We know that collectors look for these Edición Limitada cigars every year," Jiménez Sánchez-Cañete says. And he notes that while many retailers sell them immediately, many others hold on to them to age and sell as collectibles.
The tobacco for the Edición Limitadas, according to the Habanos executives, is specially selected from higher primings of the tobacco plant so that they are generally considered to have darker wrappers, and then, all the tobacco is aged for at least two years before being rolled. Each EL stems from one of Habanos' major global brands, but they are produced in a new size for that brand, such as the Cohiba Pirámide in 2001, or the Montecristo Robusto in 2000. The 2010 ELs were the Montecristo Grand Edmundo, the Partagás Serie D Especial and the Trinidad Short Robusto T.
The executives declined to identify the new sizes which will be produced for 2011, but they did confirm that the three brands will be Cohiba, Ramon Allones and Hoyo de Monterrey.
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