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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 7)

Q: How cheap are we talking about?

A: A quarter. Twenty-five, 30-cent cigars.

Q: How can they do that?

A: Well, anybody can do that. Anybody can do that. And it's sad, because I sat with a big wholesaler and he told me, "These are my prices: bundles or boxes, this is what I pay." I said, "I can't sell you cigars at these prices, because I'm not going to give you consistency, I'm not going to give you quality." He says, "I'm not interested in that—I want price." I said, "Well, I'm sorry. That's not the way we do things." And we still sell him some cigars, but not many, because we can't compete.

Q: So what's your opinion of the market today? And how was last year for you?

A: In conversations I've had with a number of people, the gist of last year was, if you came out in 2003 as you did in 2002, tip of the hat and you're doing great. And basically, I was a standard of last year. If 2003 was as good as 2002, you were doing good, because the first four months of 2003 were the worst four months that I've ever seen in history. Weather had much to do with it. When weather hits from Chicago to Boston and from New York to Atlanta, that's a big chunk of the market right there. That's a huge chunk of the market. The rest of the year made up for the first four months and that's why, if you came out even, you were doing very well.

Q: What about this year? Are you optimistic about the current state of the cigar market?

A: Quite so, quite so, quite so. I think it's an exciting time, because manufacturers are in a situation where they have to be creative, they have to be innovative, they have to be consistent, and it's really fun. And again, if we overdo it, if we're creating new things every two months, then we're just adding too many things into the market. And then we're not making anything stable anymore.

Q: Tell us about some of your new stronger blends.

A: Well, the Cubita SMS [Spanish Market Selection], in particular, is a rather strong cigar. And of course, it's given the smoker a totally different area to smoke in the Cubita line. For example, the regular Cubita was a little stronger than the Fonseca, but still along middle-of-the-road strength. Now the SMS brings a different level of strength and aromas and tastes into the same brand. So we have been able to capture those that are looking for something different, something more exciting, something a little heavier for a particular time of the day or week or whatever.

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