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South-of-the-Border Smokes

Under Towering Volcanoes, the San Andrés Region Produces Richly Flavored Tobacco That Creates Unique Cigars
Gregory Katz
From the Print Edition:
George Burns, Winter 94/95

(continued from page 3)

He says Te-Amo, now in the hands of Consolidated Cigar Corp., has retained a solid base of loyal smokers, but has not yet been able to match the cachet enjoyed by premium brands from the Dominican Republic.

"It's a unique taste and aroma," says Gutierrez, enjoying his fourth Te-Amo of the day. "It doesn't have the prestige of some brands, but the quality of the tobacco from the San Andrés Valley and the quality of the cigars are as good as anywhere else in the world."

Te-Amos have been around for decades, but the company has a new rival in the premium market--Cruz Real cigars, which were introduced in the United States in 1993 as part of an aggressive marketing push that has also brought the San Andrés Valley cigar to Switzerland and Italy. It will soon be available in Canada as well, says Ricardo Rangel, export manager of Tabacos y Puros de San Andres, which makes Cruz Real and several other export brands. Rangel typifies a new breed of Mexican entrepreneur based in the northern industrial city of Monterrey Neuvo Leon. He, like many young, Mexican business executives, is savvy in the international market.

"Our competitive advantage is that the cigar is produced entirely in Mexico," Rangel says. "We would like to keep it that way. Our rollers are very skillful, and our plant supervisor has been making cigars here for 40 years and he's only 48. We recently added three sizes because we weren't meeting size demands in the United States very well. Mexican cigars have a reputation for burning too hot, but ours smoke very easily. It took us three years to launch a premium cigar, but we are very pleased."

Rangel says the cigars have been well received in Europe because they cost substantially less than Cuban cigars and also cost less--and offer stronger flavor--than competitors from the Dominican Republic and Honduras. He says his mission is to build awareness about Mexican cigars, which he believes have been overlooked.

"We had a big success recently at the World Equestrian Games in the Hague," he says. "They didn't know Mexicans made cigars, but the price of a Cuban in Holland is more than six times' our price. Until now, it was all Cuba, Cuba, Cuba, but we think we will do very well. Our success in the United States is building, too. We think we have found our niche."

It is a niche ready to be exploited. The awareness of Mexico and Mexican products is at an all-time high in the United States, thanks to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Cigar smokers everywhere are more than ever willing to sample the cigar wares of the world, whether they come from Caribbean islands or south of the border.

Gregory Katz is the Mexico City bureau chief for the Dallas Morning News.

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