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A Star in Honduras

The Makers of Astral and Don Tomas Cigars are Expanding Operations in Danlí
Mark Vaughan
From the Print Edition:
Matt Dillon, Spring 96

(continued from page 3)

Guys agrees that for UST International's parent company, the premium cigar division, in spite of its success, is small potatoes. UST, the holding company for UST International, also owns the United States Tobacco Co., makers of Copenhagen and Skoal brands of smokeless tobacco; International Wine & Spirits Ltd., which owns Chateau Ste. Michelle, Columbia Crest, Villa Mt. Eden and Conn Creek wineries; and UST Enterprises Inc., owner of Cabin Fever Entertainment, a distributor of home entertainment videos nationwide. The holding company, with more than $1.22 billion in sales in 1994, dedicated two thirds of its annual report last year to the smokeless tobacco division, a tribute to cash cows Copenhagen and Skoal. Though it employs more than 1,500 people in Honduras, the cigar and cigar leaf division failed to get a mention in the 50-page report.

Still, claims Guys, UST's recent investments in the Honduran operations is an indication of the unique position the division holds in the company. "If you speak dollars, then we are really not very important," he says. "But, if you speak of prestige and a desire to be a player, we are very important."

* * *

In the big rolling room at UST International's CACSA factory, bunchers and rollers are busy from 7 a.m. until 4 p.m., six and sometimes seven days a week, turning out premium hand-rolled cigars. Of the 9 million the company hopes to make in 1996, roughly 1 million will be Astrals. Some of the remaining 8 million will be made under license for independent distributors, but most will be sold under the company's Don Tomas flagship brand. Like Astral, sales of Don Tomas cigars are brisk, and they, too, are on back order.

Despite all the positive developments of recent years and his long, successful career, Raymond Guys still finds plenty to fret about. Chief among his concerns are tobacco supplies and the endless search for skilled workers and talented managers. "We need more tobacco, and tobacco plantations take a lot of time and money to develop. We need skilled workers, but good people are hard to find and it takes months to train them. Old-timers like José [Quesada], Oscar [Hernandez] and me are retiring and we need young people to take up the slack. These old guys have lived tobacco for years and years, and you can't just replace them overnight."

Whatever his personal retirement plans may be, Guys is not yet ready to discuss them. His worries notwithstanding, he agrees that today's cigar industry has just cause for optimism. "Yes, I am optimistic about the future because all the signs are pushing you to be optimistic and you can't ignore what's going on." With a knowing smile, he adds, "Of course, we have always believed in the cigar."


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