The U.S. cigar market is maintaining its robust start to 2021, with handmade cigars shipping at a brisk rate. May imports, just released by the U.S. government, were 39 million, double the 19.5 million cigars shipped in May 2020. For the first five months of the year, more than 171 million premium cigars were imported, an increase of 73 percent over the 99 million imported for the first five months of 2020, according to the Cigar Association of America.
Of course, 2020 was a year of pauses, stops and uncertainty, and early last year—May included—some cigar factories were forced to close with many distribution chains interrupted. To get a better perspective on 2021, it pays to look back before the Covid-19 pandemic. May of 2021 was stronger than May 2018 (when 32.3 million cigars were imported) and May 2019 (32 million). And the first five months of 2021 far surpassed the same period of 2018 and 2019 as well.
Nicaragua continued its dominance, shipping 20.3 million cigars, up 62 percent from the 12.5 million shipped in May 2020. The Dominican Republic ranked second, with 12.2 million cigars shipped, nearly triple the 4.1 million shipped in May 2020. Honduras, the third largest producer, shipped 6.3 million cigars, more than double what it did last May.
The cigar market boomed during the pandemic, with Americans stuck at home having more time to reward themselves with the affordable luxury of a fine cigar. The second half of 2020 was remarkably strong, and December 2020 in particular was one of the best months in modern memory, with 71 percent growth over December 2019 numbers. For the year 2020, imports grew by seven percent, reaching 361 million cigars, one of the best years since the 1990s cigar boom. The burning question is whether the cigar market can continue to show gains in the second half of 2021.