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Menos Es Mas

Less is more. Are the Cubans finally beginning to understand that is a good rule to follow in cigar making?
James Suckling
From the Print Edition:
Don Johnson, Mar/Apr 02

(continued from page 1)

We have been told over the years that Cuba can produce close to 150 million premium cigars. At one time, Habanos predicted a production level of 200 million, even 300 million. Today, Cuban cigar agents and shops are constantly told that they are going to have to sell more -- and at higher prices. But let's face it, Cuba has never made more than 50 million top-quality, hand-rolled cigars a year in its history. What makes it think that it can do it now?

I can't see the point of trying to pump up production, other than blind greed or ignorance. We are firmly in a global recession. Now is not the time to raise prices or pursue unrealistic sales targets. Moreover, the cigar boom is over. It's going to be difficult for anyone to sell more cigars this year than in previous years, especially if the quality is down.

It all seems crazy. Cubans receive, on average, about $1.30 per cigar exported from the island. This is simplified arithmetic, dividing the gross annual turnover by the number of cigars shipped. Obviously, they make even more money because they own or partially own most of their key importers and retailers, so they reap some profits there. But why don't they just increase their prices from Cuba, and make the importers work with smaller margins?

I would be more than happy to pay double the Cuban price, even triple, if the Cubans would promise to cut back production and focus on creating the highest-quality cigars possible. I am sure that thousands of cigar smokers around the world share my view.

I was just in Havana last August, and I couldn't help but see the problems of trying to keep up with an unrealistic pace of production. From inferior filler and wrapper to sloppy craftsmanship, it was there for everyone to see. The situation could have changed in recent months. I'll be visiting Cuba in the next few months to see if things have improved. I hope so.

Cubans in charge say that the percentages of rejected cigars coming from factories have actually decreased. They have even introduced new machines that check the draw of cigars in some factories, and they say that these machines never make a mistake in detecting plugged cigars. Moreover, they say that quality control in factories has increased. However, did they ever think that maybe the percentages of rejected cigars are down because more rubbish is being shipped out of the factory than ever before?

Despite all the bad news, every now and then you still come across a new cigar that is a joy to smoke. I recently smoked a Vegas Robania Famosos that was as rich, spicy and decadent as the old tobacco grower himself.

So, Cubans, please make fewer but better cigars. Continue to make interesting, limited-production smokes that even the most discerning cigar aficionado can get excited about. And accept a new phrase for making your fine cigars -- menos es mas.

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