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An Interview With Manuel Quesada

The head of Manufactura de Tabacos S.A. (Matasa), makers of Fonseca, Cubita and other cigars.
David Savona
From the Print Edition:
Alec Baldwin, May/June 2004

(continued from page 4)

Q: Which is a bigger business, the leaf or the cigar?

A: It used to be the leaf. But the leaf has run into a number of

problems throughout the years. The Dominican Republic has had a policy of taxing exports, which is a very unusual situation, and at a time, we ran eight years with a 35 percent export tax and that took a lot of markets away. We became expensive in comparison to Colombia, to Brazil, to Paraguay, Argentina, which are the countries that compete with us.

Q: Today, is Matasa bigger than Manipuladora?

A: We're about the same, I'd say.

Q: Lets turn the clock back for a moment. Tell me what was tougher: those early years when you were struggling for business, or later when you were dealing with all the craziness during the cigar boom?

A: It was different. At the beginning, you knew more or less what your volume was. You knew more or less what your expenses were. You could program yourself. And the competition, of course, was very well established. And it wasn't an extremely lucrative business, but it was a business that you could handle. And you could program yourself and you could at least work your way into making a cigar. It was not a demanding time, because cigar smokers smoked a 4 1/2 inch by 43 ring, whatever brand, and smoked that every single day till they died. In the ,80s, cigar smokers were smoking one size and one brand because their map of preference was very narrow. That changed completely with the advent of Cigar Aficionado. In the ,90s, especially after the cigar boom, cigar smokers made their map wider by smoking more than one size and more than one brand. Of course, it flipped over the business completely.

Q: Were there introductions of new products before Cigar Aficionado?

A: Very little. Very little. You would introduce a new size, but nothing like it is today where you go to an RTDA [Retail Tobacco Dealers of America trade show] and the first sign on the door is New. Everything has to be new nowadays.

Q: In one of our earlier conversations, you told me that you're not certain the proliferation of new brands is a good thing. Could you please elaborate on that comment?

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