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A Conversation with Hans-Kristian Hoejsgaard

President and CEO of Davidoff
David Savona, Gregory Mottola
From the Print Edition:
Saturday Night Live: How it Shapes Our Politics & Culture, September/October 2011

(continued from page 1)

Q: And do you consider Puro d’Oro white label too, even though it doesn’t have a white label?
A: It is you who call it white label, we don’t. It’s an American denomination.

Q: Ah, I didn’t realize that. So there is no Davidoff white label program?
A: It’s the Davidoff brand, and Puro d’Oro is the first one that doesn’t carry the white label.

Q: Now this was done before your time, but what do you think about this? [Points to a Davidoff Puro d’Oro cigar, which has a golden foot band, without the Davidoff name.] It was very eye opening to me, the word “Davidoff” doesn’t appear on the cigar at all.
A: As a marketing person, I’m not crazy about this. I’m more into the white label thinking, so I could easily see some brand identity case should be made in the years to come. [New cigars now] say Davidoff. Not on this one, but now printed in gold, very small, [will be the word] “Davidoff.”

Q: How has the Winston Churchill brand been received?
A: The Winston Churchill line, I think it’s fair to say, has been a struggle. I believe, and this was before me, there were some delivery and quality issues in the beginning, and as you know we only get one chance to make a first impression, so it was difficult to get back. Now we really have gotten over the infancy troubles, and we really think it has big,
big potential.

Q: You touched on stronger cigars a bit. But you also said American smokers like mild
cigars, based on your sales. Are we going to see additional stronger cigars out of Davidoff?
A: Yes, we will definitely see more of that. We will definitely see more tobacco from Yamasá [the town in the Dominican Republic where the Davidoff Puro d’Oro wrapper is grown].

Q: You’ll be growing more in Yamasá? It takes awhile to get there, right? 
A: It sure does. It’s a long haul, and there’s still a lot to do, but it’s very interesting.

Q: Do any other standard production cigars from Davidoff contain tobacco from Yamasá?
A: No. Whether it will always be like that, probably not, but for the moment it is.

Q: Is it strictly the wrapper, or is it also incorporated into the cigar?
A: It’s also incorporated into the cigar.

Q: What new cigars do you have coming out this year?
A: We have developed two special cigars for the 100th anniversary, and they’re very special, a pure, 100-percent Dominican cigar. Everything in the cigar is Dominican. And we are coming out with a toro limited edition for our own stores, and a robusto limited edition for our appointed merchants. Very exciting for us. On the 21st of June we have the official 100th anniversary, that’s the 100th anniversary of the Geneva store, which was the start of Davidoff.

Q: So 100 years ago in June, Zino Davidoff opened the store in Geneva?
A: Zino’s father [Henri Davidoff].  And Zino Davidoff said, ‘We do not have customers, we have guests. You have to treat customers as guests in your house.’ And that’s what he did. It’s about really being treated well. That’s what we want to recreate in this new concept. And you have to be able to find something in these stores that you cannot find anywhere else.

Q: Can you give us an idea of some of the things one might expect when they visit the new concept store?
A: We haven’t chosen the final agency yet, but it’s very much about bringing the Davidoff philosophy from crop to shop. We don’t give that experience in the store. I would like to actually bring Honduras or the Dominican Republic into the store, showing off all these things very few people actually see. A lot of multimedia, a lot of interactive technologies. It’s all about experience.

Q: What’s your opinion of smoking bans?
A: I think the smoking ban in this city has gone over the top. I think the park and beach ban is way above reason. Since the cigar business is so small compared with the cigarette business, we are very often treated the same way. It’s a very difficult speech to make, but it’s really something as an industry we have to try. For everyone you meet, cigars are something very different. It is pleasure, it is luxury. It’s not addiction, it’s not mechanical, it’s a whole experience, and that’s a message we have to get across. Can we get different regulations for cigars? We have to try. 

Q: Are there any places in Europe where the smoking bans are comparable to those in the United States?
A: Yes, France is very difficult. Holland. So we’re definitely moving in that direction. There is no discussion of parks and beaches. The whole notion of smoking places, bars or lounges, has become very flexible. In Switzerland, you can buy a membership for $10 per year and go to 165 bars and restaurants and smoke. But the ex-monopoly countries are tough.

Q: Can we touch on the different businesses that represent the Davidoff group? We know the cigar business.
A: That’s definitely the core business of the group. We also have a very significant business in Switzerland, which is Swiss-only, we distribute cigarettes, we are by far the leader in Switzerland in tobacco distribution. And then we have a very large confectionary chocolate distribution with it. We have 168 retail stores in Germany, tobacconists we swallowed over time. That’s a platform for us to build our brands. Then there’s a separate company, which has nothing to do with me, which has the licensing business: fragrances, Cognac, coffee and their own accessories line.

Q: And Davidoff cigarettes was sold?
A: That was sold. And I think again, from my perspective, a really good decision—we really are now a cigar company. Our company is dedicated to cigars.

Q: Does Davidoff have a branded chewing tobacco or snuff?
A: We do not.

Q: What’s the biggest challenge that faces Davidoff right now? What do you see that worries you?
A: It’s clearly that Davidoff has to put more firepower in the United States. We have a unique opportunity, it’s still the world’s largest cigar market, and it’s still the only market where our main competitor, Cuba the country, is not here. And it’s only a matter of time before that changes, and we really need to build our position to be stronger for that day.

Q: The original Davidoff cigar was a Cuban cigar. That ended, of course. Do you think there can ever be the day where there is another Cuban Davidoff cigar?
A: Absolutely. If one would like to characterize the embargo lifting as a risk for other brands, there is also a great opportunity. We would be looking to return as well. It’s something I can assure you that the family is dreaming could happen. That is definitely an opportunity to look at. I don’t think it’s a matter of if, but when it happens. Not that we would abandon the Dominican, because we have an excellent product, but in this whole context of a port-
folio strategy it could be very interesting.

Q: Are there any Cuban Davidoffs left at Davidoff headquarters?
A: Yes. That was one of my gifts, a nice gift. We still have a few.


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