An Interview with Litto Gomez and Ines Lorenzo-Gomez
Owners, La Flor Dominicana
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Gomez: Just binder and filler. The farm is in a very hot area. Even during the rainy season, we have to irrigate. While this is one of the good things about the area, it is still difficult to grow wrapper there. It takes a huge infrastructure and knowledgeable people that you have to bring from outside the Dominican Republic, because Dominicans aren't used to growing wrapper. The only people who have succeeded doing that were the Fuentes, because they put a lot of resources into the project. People who have just tried to experiment haven't succeeded.
CA: Ines, how many different wrapper types does La Flor have?
Lorenzo-Gomez: We have the maduro from Mexico, the Connecticut broadleaf, Connecticut shade and Cameroon.
CA: What percentage does each wrapper represent in terms of market sales, and which do consumers respond to best?
Lorenzo-Gomez: The bulk of our sales are Connecticut shade. Most people like the Connecticut wrapper and we have about seven different sizes in the Connecticut shade. Our best seller is the figurado. About 30 to 36 percent of our sales are Cameroon wrapper.
CA: And that is the 2000 Series?
Lorenzo-Gomez: That is the 2000 line. We introduced that last year at the RTDA [Retail Tobacco Dealers of America] convention. We started with three sizes and then from there, in a period of a year, we have introduced another six sizes, so we have nine different sizes in the Cameroon. That attracts a completely different consumer. I used to smoke mostly the Connecticut shade, but now I have gotten used to the Cameroon taste and that is what I enjoy the most. I find that it has a lot more flavor. But our number one seller is still the Connecticut shade.
Gomez: It is incredible how the wrapper can change the flavor of a cigar. In the 2000 we have a thoroughly different blend, but even when I switch wrappers from one cigar to the other, it is like apples and oranges. It is totally different. It is unbelievable. I never stop being amazed by that difference. And [the wrapper] is the thinnest leaf that goes into a cigar.
CA: Have you seen the market change at all in terms of what people are looking for? Do you think the reception of the 2000 was better when you launched it than it might have been in 1995 or 1996, early on?
Lorenzo-Gomez: In 1995 and 1996, almost everything was selling. The cigar stores were looking for cigars, they needed to fill their humidors, and unfortunately in 1995 to 1996 we did not have access to Cameroon. It was only about two years ago that we were able to buy Cameroon and we were able to experiment with it and bring up something that we truly believed was going to complement and add to what we already had.
I find that people go into stores and they want things that are different. They may know that they like the taste of Connecticut shade but they are willing to try different cigars from different brands. They want things that are unusual, that look different, that appeal to them, and they are taking the tobacconist's advice. They are a very educated consumer that we have right now. And they are asking questions and they demand quality. If they pay between four and seven dollars, they want to see the quality and they want to get their money's worth for the cigar.
CA: You said about 35 percent of the production and sales are in La Flor 2000. Do you see that percentage growing over the next couple of years?
Lorenzo-Gomez: I believe so. I think that in a few years we will probably be selling half and half. Half of the Connecticut and half Cameroon.
Gomez: Without reducing the sales of the Connecticut.
CA: Do you have any problems with Cameroon's supply at this point?
Gomez: No, it is great. The company that is selling the Cameroon, we were their first customers. They have put a lot of resources into the area, and this year's crop is fantastic. There are plenty of large-sized leaves.
CA: Initially, there were a lot of whispers in the industry that the project wouldn't be successful, and you wouldn't be able to keep making cigars with a Cameroon wrapper.