The ProCigar festival lit up the Dominican Republic last week as cigar enthusiasts from all over the world came to the Caribbean country for complete immersion in Dominican cigar culture. From factory tours to field trips to cigar seminars to gala dinners, attendees traversed cigar country, going from the mountain regions of Santiago’s foothill tobacco farms to some of the most prolific cigar factories in the entire industry.
Celebrating its 21st year as an organization, ProCigar invited the entire cigar-smoking world to its sixth festival, and proudly maintains that the Dominican Republic is indeed the largest producer of premium cigars.
“Twenty-one years ago, six principals in the Dominican Republic decided that we had to pool our resources in order to establish the Dominican Republic as a country of origin for premium cigars,” said MATASA owner Manuel Quesada at the official press conference. “To stay as the number one exporter for 20 years, we had to maintain quality as well as quantity. ProCigar has expanded to include not only makers of handmade cigars but machine-made products, leaf dealers and suppliers of boxes and labels. This organization represents $500,000,000 worth of economy in the Dominican Republic, which equates to 120,000 direct jobs.” This employment number is up from last year, which ProCigar reported as 75,000 jobs.
In a controversial turn, ProCigar President Hendrik “Henke” Kelner called out the CAA (Cigar Association of America) as being erroneous in its report last year that Nicaragua surpassed the Dominican Republic in premium cigar exports to the U.S. for 2012. Kelner maintained that the Dominican Republic was, in fact, the largest exporter of premium cigars in 2012—not Nicaragua—and disputed the CAA’s data.
“The ‘premium’ classification given by the Cigar Association of America is arbitrary and not equitable for the different countries,” Kelner said. According to Kelner, two different sets of standards were used when the CAA calculated premium exports for the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua. Dominican premiums were classified as any cigar costing $0.76 and above to produce. Nicaraguan premiums, however, were classified as any cigar costing only $0.23 and above to produce.
“This gives the impression that the Dominican Republic has been losing share in the premium market,” Kelner said. “When we analyze the total volume of handmade cigars, taking into consideration cigars costing $0.23 to $0.76 as well as cigars costing over $0.76, the numbers clearly show that the Dominican Republic is the number one exporter of premium cigars to the U.S. If we add the markets outside of the U.S., especially for Europe, where the Dominican Republic has a premium market much higher than Nicaragua or Honduras, the bottom line is clear: Not only has the Dominican Republic been the biggest exporter of premium cigars during the last 20 years, but it will continue being so for many more years.”
In addition to Altadis U.S.A. Inc., General Cigar Company Inc., La Aurora, MATASA and Davidoff, ProCigar also includes Corporación Cigar Export, maker of Augusto Reyes cigars, Tabaquisa S.A., maker of Juan Clemente, Arturo Fuente y Cia., who rejoined last year, and the newest additions Tabacalera La Alianza, maker of E.P. Carrillo Cigars, and La Flor Dominicana.
For more on the ProCigar Festival, see the current issue of Cigar Insider.