Inside Cuban Cigars—A Talk With Cubatabaco Head Francisco Padron

Cigar Aficionado meets with Cubatabaco's top official, Francisco Padron, to discuss Cuba's cigar industry.

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C.A.: As I remember, Montecristo was introduced into the French market around 1973, which is when it took off there?
Padron: Yes. Yes. We created the brand name, not them.
Let me tell you something. Because we lost that fight in the courts in France, and we are now in the higher courts on appeal, we took Montecristo, Partagas, Ramon Allones, La Gloria Cubana, Por Larrañaga and four others off the market.
C.A.: You took those off the market in France?
Padron: Yes. Yes. So, as for our strategy for France, given the shortage in brands there, we decided to put there whatever they ask for in the other brands. Let's see what will happen in that market.
C.A.: What did you put in those markets?
Padron: No. No. We just decided to increase the supply of the brands left in the market. What happened is that we are selling more cigars than the year before. It was incredible. This is not just a story, here are the figures. For example, El Rey del Mundo was up 200 percent. Hoyo de Monterrey was increased 200 percent. All our other brands in the French market have had tremendous increases. People who know how to smoke cigars are not going to smoke something else if they can find another Havana cigar.
So, I am very quiet. I took a chance in my second market, and it was all a success. I am not worried about the brand name. This is a different thing. When we started on this new direction in France, I forecasted that it would take us two years to get back our sales figures there, but to my surprise it happened on the very first year. And now we are selling more than the year before.
C.A.: Did you have a similar experience in Spain?
Padron: We didn't have time to find out. Do you know what has happened in Spain with the damn problem? The former president of Tabacalera thought that the most important thing for Montecristo was the name of the brand. So, they thought that we would never withdraw the brand from their market, but when the contract was up, I withdrew the Montecristo. It was a terrible political problem. Everybody all over Spain was writing about how crazy this was. So they realized the importance of Montecristo and Habano.
C.A.: So you withdrew the brand from the market?
Padron: Yes.
C.A.: Is it back now?
Padron: Yes. It was back for Christmas.
C.A.: When did you withdraw it?
Padron: Last April, more or less.
C.A.: So they had no Montecristos after that?
Padron: They had a little bit of stock left, but after that they didn't have any more. It was a terrible problem for them. So, they called us, and they signed a special contract for us to deliver.
C.A.: The reason why Montecristo and Partagas are not in France is because of the lawsuit?
Padron: No. We are putting Montecristo and Partagas back in the French market right now. Right now.
C.A.: Is mini-Montecristo coming back to France?
Padron: They are coming back to France from Spain.
C.A.: But what will Seita, the French monopoly, do? They have a large factory that isn't being used to make the mini-Montecristo anymore?
Padron: We have made a new agreement for SEITA to make a new Cohiba, a mini-Cohiba.
C.A.: When is that coming?
Padron: That will be soon. We are testing it now.
C.A.: What is the largest export market for handmade Cuban cigars today?
Padron: Spain.
C.A.: No. 2?
Padron: France
C.A.: No. 3?
Padron: United Kingdom.
C.A.: No. 4?
Padron: Switzerland.
C.A.: No. 5?
Padron: Middle East as a whole.
C.A.: No. 6?
Padron: In that range, there are plenty of other countries. Canada. Mexico. Brazil. There are plenty in that range. One million; 1.5 million, 2 million cigars. There are plenty.
C.A.: In terms of brand priority, is Cohiba viewed as your No. 1 priority in the world today?
Padron: No. It is the most expensive one. But the flagship is Montecristo.
C.A.: What percent of your total handmade cigars today is Montecristo?
Padron: We don't make machine-made Montecristos. About 45 percent of our sales of handmade cigars are Montecristos.
C.A.: What would be the No. 2 brand?
Padron: Partagas.
C.A.: What about No. 3?
Padron: There are plenty of brands at that level.
C.A.: So Montecristo may be 20 or 25 million cigars? And Partagas would be 8 or 9 million?
Padron: Then comes plenty of others such as Romeo y Julieta, Punch, Bolivar, Hoyo de Monterrey....
C.A.: And those would be 3 million or 4 million cigars each?
Padron: More or less in this range.
C.A.: But Cohiba is in the range more or less?
Padron: No. You have less than that now.
C.A.: I thought it was 4 million cigars for Cohiba?
Padron: No. No. That would be with a wonderful crop...two wonderful crops in a row.
C.A.: So the 4 million cigars we have heard is really the limit when everything is working properly?
Padron: Yes. Yes.
C.A.: In this past year, what was the total production of Cohiba?
Padron: Half that. Two million, or a little more.
C.A.: But the Siglo series 1 through 5 was 1 million: 200,000 per new cigar?
Padron: That was the original plan.
C.A.: But what was produced?
Padron: I launched the new Siglo range because I promised that I would do this, but I have already sold what we produced. It is an incredible thing.
C.A.: But give me some idea what you sold of Siglo, half a million, a quarter of a million?
Padron: We did more or less half of what we planned, about a half million.
C.A.: So you only did about 4,000 boxes of each size. When will you have some more Siglo cigars to send people?
Padron: We should have some Siglos available during the first quarter of 1994.
C.A.: Is the production for 1994 of the five sizes of Siglo going to be a half a million or more?
Padron: More or less a half million.
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