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Cuba's New Cigar Chief

The Spanish co-head of Habanos tries to strike the right balance between tradition and modernization
James Suckling
From the Print Edition:
Vegas, Mar/Apr 2006

(continued from page 1)

BJSC: I would tell you that there are different kinds of markets. One of them is the European market; as you know, this market is very important for Habanos. Our sales to Europe may be 60 to 65 percent of our production. The American market could be our biggest market, but we do not have access to it.

JS: At least not officially, right?

BJSC: No.

JS: I don't smoke that many Cubans in the States. Aren't most fakes?

BJSC: Well, that also happens to Louis Vuitton. High-end products are generally forged. What I mean is that even if campaigns and legislation are getting more and more difficult [against smoking] in the first-world countries, where we have our strongest markets, consumption is stable. It has not comparatively increased, but you can also say it has not decreased.

I could say that consumption for this market is steady. I can also mention that there are other places where we have introduced ourselves and have won some space slowly but surely, in those places where we do not have a market quota. If there is a country where we supply 40 percent of premium cigars, we do our research to understand why we haven't grown our presence to 70 percent. Perhaps we need to open a Casa del Habano there or pursue a special follow-up for that country. On the other hand, we have emerging markets where consumption is growing. This area is mainly the Asian-Pacific countries, Middle Eastern countries and Central and South American countries.

JS: What's your growth in 2005…seven percent or something?

BJSC: I can't tell you, but it's in line with 2004.

JS: Do you think there is a limit for prices? It seems like every year you increase prices.

BJSC: No. I don't think so. I don't know if there has been a significant increase in prices in past years. It's also true, when analyzing the increase in prices, that there were markets that already had very high prices to start with, perhaps due to high retail margins, etc…and other markets that had traditionally low prices, such as the Spanish market.


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