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An Interview with Manuel Quesada

Owner, MATASA, makers of Fonseca, Licenciados, Romeo y Julieta, Jose Benito, Cubita, Royal Dominicana, Credo and Casa Blanca cigars.
Marvin R. Shanken
From the Print Edition:
Denzel Washington, Jan/Feb 98

(continued from page 3)

CA: Let's fast-forward to 1997. It's an incredibly different market, not just that it's growing and it's bigger, but there has been an avalanche of new brands that nobody has ever heard of. If somebody said to you three years ago that there would be 300 new brands, because I know that every day I see 10 on the shelf I never heard of, would you have believed it? How has that changed the rules, and as a result, how would you define your mission or strategy today?

Quesada: I don't think the rules have changed. I think the playing field is also the same, because quality is still the guiding light. However, we now have a different dynamic in our business because the consumer is now much more involved with us, the manufacturers, than he was five, six, seven, 10 years ago. We were only dealing with retailers, wholesalers then. Now we're dealing directly with the consumer. We are more in contact with the consumer. We know more about his needs, his demands, his pleasures. So, there is an additional guiding light that we didn't have eight years ago.

The proliferation of brands is interesting. Three years ago, I would have probably guessed that a lot of new brands would come to market, because the market was pointing to opportunity. People could say, I'll make any kind of cigar and I'll sell it no matter what. That environment was conducive to more people coming in.

CA: Is it fair to say, however, that the days of creating new premium cigar brands are over, or do you still think there's opportunity?

Quesada: I still think there are opportunities for new brands because there are a number of variations that haven't been tested yet. There are still tobaccos that I believe can be blended into a cigar that will be accepted by the market. If a new brand comes from a manufacturer that has some sort of position in the market, it will be accepted as a quality-consistent product as opposed to a brand coming from someone who just started months ago.

CA: In 1997, what is the approximate production of your premium cigar business?

Quesada: MATASA will produce this year close to 16 million cigars.

CA: What was it in 1991, a fraction, right?

Quesada: In 1991, 5 million.

CA: That's incredible. Do you seek continued expansion, and do you see significant growth continuing, or a more moderate growth pace? What's your production target in 1998?

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