Marvin R. Shanken interviews the man behind Hoyo de Monterrey and Punch.
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Blumenthal: No, no we don't have enough Grand Cru. I would say that 20 percent is Grand Cru and 80 percent the regular Punch.
C.A.: And Bances?
Blumenthal: Bances, we'll sell about three million.
C.A.: You will be selling about 19 million of those three brands in 1995. How much have your sales for those brands increased in the last three years?
Blumenthal: We've increased our business 40 percent. The problem right now is not so much the cigars as it is the boxes. We make our own boxes out of cedar. But we can only make so many boxes.
C.A.: How did you increase your box population?
Blumenthal: That's what we're trying to do. We bought all new equipment for our box factory. We're just going to have to work a little faster and a little longer.
C.A.: So it isn't a question of wood supply?
Blumenthal: There is a shortage of cedar, but we managed to buy as much as we needed. At the moment we're pretty well-stocked with wood, but the problem is making the boxes fast enough.
C.A.: So, these 19 million cigars are boxed cigars, not bundles or anything?
Blumenthal: No, that's for our boxed brands.
C.A.: In 1996, how many hand-rolled cigars do you hope to produce?
Blumenthal: Including all the brands we make, I hope to produce 30 million. Of our three major brands--Hoyo, Punch and Bances, I hope we produce 22 million.
C.A.: What other cigars brands do you produce?
Blumenthal: The J.R. Ultimate and El Rey del Mundo, among others.
C.A.: Can you tell us the approximate volume of those brands in 1995?
Blumenthal: The J.R. Ultimate runs a couple of million.
C.A.: What's the total number of handmade cigars you expect to make in 1995?
Blumenthal: We hope to make 26 million. That doesn't include the machine-made cigars.
C.A.: And how many machine-made cigars will you make?
Blumenthal: About 45 to 55 million in Tampa.
C.A.: What are the brand names of the machine-made cigars?
Blumenthal: Lord Beaconsfield, Villa de Cuba, Pedro Iglesias, Villazon Deluxe, Top Stone and Eden. But a lot of our production goes to mail-order houses. We make some other brands for some other manufacturers, which I don't want to divulge.
C.A.: What about exports? Which is your biggest brand in the international market?
Blumenthal: Excalibur is the only brand we have in an international market, except brands that we make for someone else. Because we can't use Hoyo de Monterrey, we developed a brand called Excalibur, which we sell in Germany and England. And we sell the Flor del Caribe in Europe too.
C.A.: So how big is your export business?
Blumenthal: It's a little over a million cigars, a million two, a million three...
C.A.: And it's growing?
Blumenthal: Yeah. We also make cigars for Hunters & Frankau, La Invicta and Don Ramos, and we make San Pedro Sula for the Germans.
C.A.: In the United States, Excalibur is a line extension for Hoyo de Monterrey. What made you decide to come up with a line extension for it and the Punch Grand Cru?
Blumenthal: We had some special tobacco and special wrappers that were more expensive, and we decided to make an upmarket cigar. I felt there was a need. From the marketing angle because of the better tobacco, we had to get more money for the cigar. What we really do is use special wrappers and special tobacco with great care in making these cigars. And obviously people like them. We can't produce them fast enough.
C.A.: How would you describe the difference in blend or style or taste between Hoyo and Punch?
Blumenthal: I think that Punch is a little heavier cigar than the Hoyo. There's a little more flavor, to me, than in the Hoyo de Monterrey. There is a difference. The blends are made by Frank Llaneza.
C.A.: You've been in the cigar business your entire life. From your perspective, having been both a retailer as well as an importer-distributor, did you ever dream or expect there would be a renaissance in the cigar market such as the one occurring today?
Blumenthal: No. From the day I started in the cigar business the only thing I heard was that it was dying. People said that before World War I most men smoked cigars, and they didn't smoke cigarettes. The situation changed, and cigarettes took over. I think the renaissance in cigars is largely due to the magazine. I think it has promoted interest with people who read it, and then they try cigars.