The United States imported 310 million premium cigars in 2014, 1.2 percent less than 2013. The slim decrease is not statistically significant, making 2014 an essentially flat year.
According to the yearly report from the Cigar Association of America, the Dominican Republic remains the largest supplier of premium cigars to the United States, followed by Nicaragua. The difference is a mere 8.6 million cigars between the two countries. Although Nicaragua experienced a dramatic spike in exports from 2012 to 2013, it stayed relatively even from 2013 to 2014.
"Dominican cigars remain the leader in the United States because the U.S. cigar smoker has embraced their variety and complexity," said Hans-Kristian Hoejsgaard, CEO of Davidoff of Geneva Inc., which makes its Davidoff, Avo and Zino cigars in the Dominican Republic. "The American cigar smoker has grown used to the Dominican taste and in particular the constant newness of blends that focus more on aroma and taste than on strength."
The Dominican Republic continued its decades-long lead in the premium sector, making such big brands as Arturo Fuente, Davidoff, Macanudo and Montecristo. It remained in the No. 1 spot for 2014 with exports of 126.5 million units.
Nicaragua ranked second, with shipments of 117.9 million cigars, and Honduras ranked third with 63.8 million. Unlike the Dominican Republic or Nicaragua, Honduras saw a slight increase in exports in 2014, with shipments increasing by roughly 500,000 units, or less than 1 percent. Nicaragua, known for such brands as My Father, Oliva, Padrón and many Rocky Patel brands, posted virtually unchanged growth for the year.
Nicaraguan premium cigar shipments decreased by 0.8 percent in 2014, making it the first year in a decade the nation posted a reduction in cigar shipments. Before 2014, Nicaragua was showing precipitous growth, and appeared poised to take over the lead spot in the premium cigar industry. In 1996, Nicaraguan cigar shipments were only 16 million units, putting it in third place by a narrow margin, not far ahead of Jamaica (15.5 million at the time) and Mexico (14.5 million).
Nicaraguan cigar exports have grown dramatically over the years. Shipments from Nicaragua increased by 18.7 percent in 2011, 1 percent in 2012 and 15.1 percent in 2013. The upward trajectory leveled off and Nicaragua still remains in the No. 2 spot.
The annual import numbers were well below 300 million cigars from 1999 to 2011, with spikes in 2004 and 2005 (286.5 million units and 297.8 million units, respectively). Imports returned to the 300 million mark in 2012 when 304.7 million premium cigars were shipped to the United States.
These figures are shipments, and not sales, but they are a positive indicator of the strength in the American premium cigar market, which has consistently imported more than 300 million premium cigars since 2012.
For even more on 2014 imports, see the May 5, 2015 issue of Cigar Insider.