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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 5)

A: I don't believe it is. I don't disagree that the smoker needs a little excitement, the smoker needs a little more choice. But I think we're overdoing the choices. And in cigars, there are so many permutations and there are so many ways of blending that you can do without going into the extremes. And some of the extremes have proven successful. While there are products that I don't cotton to at all, apparently there are some smokers that want this type of choice. But if you look at the brands today, any brand has at least four or five extensions of that brand. So, it becomes diluted. Now, you're either cannibalizing your own brand or you're confusing the smoker. It's a game that we're playing that I really don't feel is sane or healthy for the industry.

Q: I'm smoking one of your regular Fonsecas: mild, medium, creamy, elegant. You have some others that have a very different flavor altogether now, right?

A: Indeed. Well, that's one of the things that, of course, [resulted from] Cigar Aficionado waking up the smokers [by saying,] "Hey, there may be more to cigar smoking than just a mild cigar," which was the standard of the industry back in the ,80s and early ,90s, until Cigar Aficionado started on the verge of kicking up the taste of cigars. And of course, all the brands have had to accommodate themselves to that. So Fonseca, in particular, has now come up with three or four extensions of different tastes and different strength levels to cater precisely to the smokers.

Q: Is Fonseca your biggest brand?

A: Yes, it is. The regular Fonseca is still the biggest seller. I still think that the average smoker out there is a middle-of-the-road smoker. It's like saying, "I will have a lobster diablo twice a day for the whole week." You can't do this. Smoking a very strong cigar that satisfies you completely cannot be a four-cigar-a-day habit. You can't do this. I can't do it, anyway.

Q: Let's talk about some of the new things you're doing. Let's actually talk about the brands that you make.

A: The factory is divided into two major divisions. One is where

we make our own brands and the other one is where we make brands under contract. And under contract we make Casa Blanca for JR, we make Licenciados for Mike's Cigars, we make Nat Shermans—some parts of the Nat Sherman brand—and we make smaller brands for small distributors. We make some cigars for Europe, as well.

The other part of the factory is where we make the brands that we sell ourselves: Cubita, Fonseca, which are the two main brands, and then we have other, smaller regional brands, which are national, but they sell more in particular pockets of the United States. We make some bundles, as well.

Q: Did you get phone calls during the cigar boom with people saying: "I need this many cigars?"

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