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An Interview with Carlos Fuente Sr.

A discussion with the head of Arturo Fuente Inc., one of the world's largest producers of premium hand-rolled cigars.
Marvin R. Shanken
From the Print Edition:
Jack Nicholson, Summer 95

(continued from page 19)

Fuente: The United States is our largest customer. I don't know what percentage. I would say 95 percent.

C.A.: About five percent of your exports are non-U.S. directed, to Europe and the rest of the world. Do you have a marketing strategy to make Fuente a world-class, global brand, or will it always be primarily an American brand?

Fuente: We would like to see the brand become global, but our first commitment is to the United States, because that's where our brand started. We would like to expand, but it depends on the production, it depends on the tobacco.

C.A.: Given that many brands are distributed worldwide, especially the Cuban ones, do you have an active plan to develop other markets? Has the demand in the United States market made the expansion less of a priority?

Fuente: We have calls from all over the world; we are in different parts of the world right now, but in small ways. We have calls from Spain and a lot of different places which want to give us contracts. But we tell them to go away, because our main concern right now is the United States. With our demand in the United States, there is no way we can meet it in other places. That's why we started the third factory--so that we can meet the demand, and eventually go worldwide.

C.A.: This is a question that I'm sure concerns most of the producers in Honduras and the Dominican Republic: When the embargo ends, what impact, if any, will this have on a) cigar consumption in America and b) how it would change, if at all, your position in the American market?

Fuente: I don't think that it's going to change anything with the consumer in the American market. I personally don't feel that Cuba will ever be what it was. I don't think anything will be ever the same as it used to be.

C.A.: But when the embargo ends--

Fuente: When the embargo goes, I think that sales would probably drop for our brands because everybody is going to be buying Cuban cigars. I think that people are going to smoke them to find out about them. I remember in the good days of Cuban cigars, the most that was ever imported was 25 million cigars. There were several factories in Ybor City, and one alone used to manufacture 80 million cigars using Cuban tobacco. What may happen is that producers in all these countries will probably buy Cuban tobacco and then make an even better-tasting cigar.

C.A.: And, of course, there's the point that Cuban production is so low--not even able to meet the demand outside of America--that there won't be that big a supply coming in. When people ask me, I tell them that not every cigar smoker wants the strength and power of a Cuban cigar. Americans have been smoking milder cigars. There's also the issue of price. Of course, as your Opus X gets up to $10 or $12, all of a sudden, you're in a new ballgame with prices approaching Cuban cigars. I happen to think when the market opens up, the number of consumers in America who smoke cigars will grow, and those companies that produce the very highest quality cigars, wherever they're from, are going to prosper. And those people who have never delivered high quality or a price value relationship, of which there are a number, they are going to have a tough time.

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