Imperial Brands of Bristol, England, is one of the largest tobacco companies in the world, and if you haven’t heard by now, its premium cigar division is now up for sale.
If you’re a cigar lover who is not aware of Imperial, you likely at least know of the iconic brands under the company’s control. The non-Cuban versions of Montecristo, Romeo y Julieta, H. Upmann and Henry Clay are wholly owned, from production to distribution, by Imperial.
Additionally, the company has a 50 percent stake in Habanos S.A., the Havana-based monopoly that controls the export of all of Cuba’s cigars. This means that sales of popular Cuban brands such as Cohiba, Montecristo, Hoyo de Monterrey, Romeo y Julieta and Partagás all contribute to Imperial’s bottom line.
The story of Imperial is one of mergers and acquisitions, deals that have both built the company’s impressive library of cigar brands and have changed the very structure of the company, including the name itself. The history of Imperial involves several major companies who were at one time or another major players in the premium cigar industry: Consolidated Cigar Corp.; SEITA, or Société d'exploitation Industrielle des Tabacs et des Allumettes; Tabacalera S.A. and Altadis S.A. The story begins more than 100 years ago, in the United States.
1901: Facing stiff competition from U.S.-based American Tobacco Co., 13 British tobacco and cigarette companies merge to form Imperial Tobacco Co.
1902: Imperial Tobacco and American Tobacco form a joint venture called the British-American Tobacco Co. Imperial continues to buy tobacco grown in the U.S., but agrees to stay out of the U.S. market so long as American Tobacco stays out of the United Kingdom.
1921: The G.H. Johnson Cigar Co., maker of Dutch Masters, merges with six other cigar companies to create Consolidated Cigar Corp.
1968: Gulf+Western Industries, a major conglomerate with holdings that include Paramount Pictures, Simon & Schuster and Madison Square Garden, acquires 23 companies, including Consolidated Cigar.
1972: Gulf+Western buys a controlling interest in Compania Insular Tabacalera S.A. (CIT), a Canary Islands company that makes non-Cuban Montecristos, for around $7 million. At the time, the Canary Islands are a prominent producer of cigars.
1973: Imperial changes its name to Imperial Group Ltd. and forms Imperial Tobacco Ltd. to oversee its tobacco interests.
1980: British American Tobacco officially breaks off from Imperial Group.
1983: Consolidated Cigar is sold by Gulf+Western to a group of senior managers within the company for about $120 million in cash and securities.
1984: Ron Perelman’s holding company, MacAndrews & Forbes, buys Consolidated Cigar for $118 million.
1985: Hanson Trust buys Imperial and shortly after creates 13 new divisions within Imperial Tobacco. Fernando Domínguez joins Spain's Tabacalera S.A., and today he is the premium cigar director of Imperial Brands.
1988: Perelman sells Consolidated Cigar to a management team for $138 million.
1993: Perelman reacquires Consolidated Cigar for $188 million.
1996: Imperial, now called Imperial Tobacco Group PLC, officially goes public and gets listed on the London Stock Exchange. The same year, Perelman takes Consolidated Cigar public on the New York Stock Exchange.
1999: French tobacco giant SEITA (Société d'Exploitation Industrielle des Tabacs et des Allumettes) acquires Consolidated Cigar for $733 million, ending Perelman’s ownership of the company.
1999: SEITA merges with Spain’s Tabacalera S.A., creating Altadis S.A. Consolidated Cigar’s name is changed to Altadis U.S.A.
2000: Altadis S.A. buys half of Habanos S.A. for $477 million. Habanos (formerly known as Cubatabaco) controls Cuba’s cigar industry, and oversees the export of all of the country’s cigars, including the hallmark brands Cohiba and Montecristo.
2003: Altadis U.S.A. purchases cigar retail giant 800-JR Cigar.
2007: Imperial Tobacco buys Altadis S.A. and all its holdings for $22.4 billion. The acquisition is completed in 2008.
2011: Altadis U.S.A. restructures itself to create a premium cigar division, headed by Javier Estades in the United States.
2015: Imperial Tobacco PLC forms Tabacalera USA to oversee its premium, handmade cigar business in the U.S.
2016: Imperial Tobacco Group PLC renames itself Imperial Brands PLC.
April 2019: Imperial Brands announces its intention to sell its premium cigar business.