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
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She also says the company is always re-evaluating the brands that are exclusive to the Casas. For example, the Bolivar Gold Medal, which was once exclusive to the Casas, is now sold at many retail shops. And, she says, the sizes of San Cristóbal de la Habana that are exclusive to Casa del Habanos are going to be taken out of production for at least a few years. "We always look at the year-to-year sales of our cigars, and the ones that aren't selling, we often take them out of production," López says.
She declines, however, to reveal any new cigars that might be headed exclusively to the Casas, and which of Habanos' more than 300 different cigars (brands and their sizes) that might be discontinued.
The focus on cigars extends far beyond just the sales performance of each vitola. After years of suffering widespread complaints about quality, especially in terms of draw, Habanos now says that every Cuban cigar is draw-tested before it is finished and shipped. Jiménez Sánchez-Cañete says that the first draw machines were put on line in 2002, and by the end of 2005 every factory in Cuba was using them.
"We are not saying we have solved every problem, but we have put that era behind us, and the complaints have been dramatically reduced," he adds. Jiménez Sánchez-Cañete also explains that every cigar is now frozen before it leaves the warehouse to reduce or eliminate problems with tobacco beetles.
Jiménez Sánchez-Cañete also cites an example of how the Cuban manufacturing helps ensure consistency in the characteristic blends of every cigar—the system of a "mother factory" for each cigar. He describes an event a few years ago when Habanos was finalizing the blend for Por Larrañaga Magnificos, a Regional Edition cigar for the United Kingdom.
Representatives from the U.K. came to Havana for the tasting with a Por Larrañaga from the early 1970s that was virtually the same size as the Magnificos. "We tasted that cigar too, and the blend was almost the same to the new one being made two years ago," López says. "How is it possible that we can keep a blend the same through a generation? It's because of the mother factories."
The executives also explain that while not every cigar of a brand is always made in the same factory, when production is assigned outside the mother factory, the master blender travels to that factory to go over the blend with the blending director there to ensure the consistency of taste. The mother factory blender still retains responsibility for the quality of the blend, according to the Habanos executives.
Counterfeits remain a big concern for Habanos, and the executives admit it is difficult staying ahead of the people trying to produce fake cigars, and at the same time to stop the sale of gray market (improperly distributed) cigars. "We are trying to educate the consumer on what to look for," Jiménez Sánchez-Cañete says.
He adds that every box leaving Cuba now has a code showing where it is supposed to go, and where it ends up. He says they have also stopped counterfeiting operations in several parts of the world, but six months later another pops up.
The biggest problem areas are in the Middle East and in Central America, but he says the new seals, which contain the code and have several new security measures that make it harder to duplicate, including a stronger glue and some embedded holograms and water marks, have been in use since April 2010.
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