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Cuba's Cigar Summit

Cigar Lovers the World Over Descended Upon Havana in February to Celebrate the Past, Present and Future of Cuban Cigars
From the Print Edition:
The Cuba Issue, May/Jun 99

(continued from page 5)

One dimension of the future in the cigar industry is absolutely clear. I dare say it's the difference between life and death for the industry. Consumers now, and more so in the future--your customers today, and future customers--will only pay for quality.

In the United States, we learned about quantity versus quality in 1997 and 1998, when more than 100 million poor quality, "no-name" cigars flooded the market. They were only on the market because of an acute shortage of established brands. Companies like Consolidated Cigar, General Cigar and Arturo Fuente were so short of cigars that they did not open new retail accounts for over two years. Once these brands were back on shelves, the no-name brands died a quick death, and their manufacturers were forced to dump cigars to discounters at pennies on the dollar.

Yes, quality matters. And quality will matter much more in the future. Price also matters. The manufacturers must set prices that are realistic. Importers, distributors and retailers must take reasonable markups. The days of hoarding "hot" or "rare" cigars are gone. Offer the cigar lover a quality cigar at a fair price or lose their business. Competition will get keener each year.

In Cigar Aficionado's robusto tasting in 1994, the top four cigars were Cuban. In our most recent issue [February], Churchills from Nicaragua, Honduras and Costa Rica, as well as Cuba, received high marks. Only two of the top six cigars were Cuban.

The message here is clear. While Cuban cigars continue to receive, on average, the highest marks in our blind tastings, cigars from the other premium cigar-producing nations are narrowing the gap. The non-Cuban cigars are stronger in taste than they had been before, in the tradition of full-bodied Cuban cigars.

Given the slowdown in the U.S. market in 1997 and 1998, many of those manufacturers who have uncontested international trademarks, such as Macanudo, Fuente, Avo, Davidoff and Ashton, are shipping their cigars, more and more, to world markets. They're receiving a warm reception.

Cuba makes great cigars. I remember great smoking moments, such as a powerful yet elegant Cohiba Esplendido, a silky smooth Montecristo No. 2, a rich, earthy Partagas Lusitania. These cigars have the finest tobaccos, and they're rolled by extraordinarily dedicated and gifted workers. But today, not all of Cuba's cigar production is up to that very special and high standard. Consistency has become a problem.

And this has been further aggravated by the explosion of counterfeit Cuban cigars.

As someone who loves cigars and cares deeply about the future health of the cigar industry, I can only ask Cuba to do the same thing that I have asked manufacturers in other countries to do. Cuba must review its premium cigar production plans. No country can expand production from 50 million to a targeted 240 million mostly handmade cigars in six years without compromising quality. It just can't be done. By any country. Including Cuba.

Let Cuba continue to expand tourism, increase production of sugar, nickel and biotech products to help aid its economic needs, but it must safeguard its most sought-after prestige export. Cigars are not commodities like rice or sugar. The only way to preserve the integrity of the Cuban cigar is to slow down its production growth.

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