BIG Interest
In Small Cigars

The Cigar Renaissance has spawned yet another hot product category: premium small cigars, also called cigarillos, miniatures, or minis. They join flavored premium cigars and cigarettes as being viable, growing products that were virtually nonexistent before the boom.

By Dale Scott

This rapidly expanding segment is quite separate from the traditional European dried cigarillos, flavored cigarillos, and economy-minded little cigars - many of which have filters and paper tipping.

Premium small cigars are diminutive versions of full-sized premium cigars. They fall into three categories: totally handmade, machine-made, or machine-bunched with their wrappers applied by hand. They contain mixed or long filler. Small cigars are predominately presented in European-style clamshell tins and paperboard boxes, almost always pocket-sized. Some are available in up to 50-passenger wooden boxes. The common hallmark is their premium-level flavor and burning properties, and an attempt at recreating the flavor and aroma of their full-sized brethren - in most cases, admirably done, considering that fewer filler leaves can be used due to the confining size of smaller ring gauges.

Arango Cigar Co. distributes most brands of small cigars nationally. Mike Gold, Arango's president, attributes the success of small cigars to five factors.

"First, most smokers are now looking for economy," he says. "Small cigars provide satisfying premium cigar flavor and aroma, but cost far less." In the mid-90s, favorable social and economic factors combined to encourage the birth of these three mini-industries. Yuppies discovered the delights of gourmet cigars, and had the disposable income to buy what they wanted. Then, coinciding with the overproduction of premium cigars that drove prices down, the young lions were looking at their monthly credit card statements and saying, "My God, I spent that on cigars?!" They also learned the hard way that high prices were no guarantee the cigars weren't duds - including plugged and green-tobacco laden Havanas. Many became grizzled, price-conscious shoppers.

"Secondly," Gold says, "We've seen 'title' cigars for decades. But, with few exceptions, what was lacking until recently was quality. Under-filled, poorly packed cigarillos were the rule, with poor tobacco and often non-tobacco ingredients. Now, we've seen a quantum leap in the quality of this new generation of small cigars." Researching this article revealed most manufacturers, not just a few, are hand-making their small cigars from 100% long filler premium leaf - some aged as long as a decade.

"Next, along with better product," reports Gold, "the packaging has become more user-friendly and appealing. Pocket-sized tins are the norm, with impressive designs and graphics." Many small cigars come in European-style hinged tins, which protect them in transit. Their package art often emulates that of larger versions of the prestigious brands. This bond in product identification between large and small cigars builds sales of both.

"Smokers are often time-limited, too," adds Gold. "Small cigars offer much the same satisfying flavor as their large counterparts, but do so in 10-15 minutes." Ironically, Big Brother, attempting to tax and regulate our industry into oblivion, has helped build the small cigar market. Just as punitive taxation drove the market to seek quality on a budget, prohibitions on indoor smoking have promoted the brief smoke. A bleak January sidewalk, outside a Chicago steak house, is hardly the place to savor an hour with your after-dinner Churchill.

"Lastly," says Gold, "reformed cigarette smokers seem more attracted to small cigars than large ones, maybe because they look and feel more like cigarettes." Gold also attributes some of their popularity to women, who are more inclined to smoke slim, elegant cigarillos than fat cigars, now that the fad has faded.

Small cigars benefit the manufacturer, too. As Eric Newman, president of J.C. Newman Cigar Company, says, "When we buy tobacco, the bales contain different-sized leaves. Small cigars allow us to use the small leaves, with the added bonus to smokers of being inherently sweeter and more flavorful."

For all these reasons, all the manufacturers interviewed agreed: Small cigars are hot now, and likely to endure. Sales and new products have exploded over the past couple of years. Our survey divides the small cigar segment into three categories: handmade, with 100% long-filler; hand-rolled; and machine-made.

Handmade, Long-Filler
Manufacturers of this classification of small cigars tout theirs as being closer in flavor, aroma, and burning performance to their large cigars. Burning more slowly, they provide a more satisfying smoke.

Davidoff of Geneva markets the newly-introduced 4 x 30 Avo Purito, offered in Classic and Domaine versions that duplicate the same blend as the full-sized Avo Classic and Domaine. Both have Connecticut shade wrappers, Connecticut-seed Ecuadorian binders, and are all Dominican filler, but the Domaine's blend is slightly stronger, according to Jolene Mauer of Davidoff. The cigars are presented 10 to a tin, at $14 suggested retail. Davidoff provides a handsome free display that holds the Classic, Domaine, and sample packs. "When you combine master blender and cigar maker Hendrik Kelner, Davidoff, and Avo Uvezian, you know the cigars have flavor, quality, and consistency," says Mauer. To whet the appetites of Avo lovers, she adds, "We're planning a Purito as a line extension to the Avo Signature, which honored Avo Uvezian's 75th birthday last year."

Felipe Gregorio Tobacco World offers two lines of small cigars. The first, the Felipe Gregorio Espresso, is a line extension of their "blue band" line of full-size cigars. It comes in wooden boxes of 10 and 25. The 3 x 30 Espresso retails for $20 per box of 10. The wrapper is a Habana 92 sun-grown Jalapa, with 2000-vintage Nicaraguan binder and filler. The cigars are made in Condaga, Nicaragua. Their second small cigar, Pointer, was just introduced at RTDA in two full-size shapes and one mini size: Woodcock, a 4 x 40, which comes in a five-pack, $5.50 suggested retail price. As a sales persuasion, Felipe Gregorio's Marshall George says, "Everyone says their's is the finest cigar, with the finest ingredients. We simply tell prospects to ask the man who smokes ours."

General Cigar recently introduced the Cohiba Pequeños and Partagas Black Label Prontos. These cigars, at 4 3/16 x 32, offer a "little extra ring gauge, for a more satisfying smoke," explains Cooper Gardiner, director of marketing. They are packaged in tins of six, with the Pronto retailing for $9.99 and the Pequeño at $11.99.

General Cigar's Villazon & Co. unit also has new entries into the mini segment. "We offer four brands," explains Whitney Beebe, Villazon's marketing director, adding, "all are made in our Honduran factory." The Punch Slim Panatela is a 4 x 26, and comes in tins of 10, at $8.40 suggested retail. The new 4 x 24 Sancho Panza Matador, also 10 per tin, retails for $5.95. Both the Excalibur Miniatures (3 x 22) and the Excalibur Cigarillos (4 x 24) are packaged in tins of 20, and retail for $6.95 and $9.95 per tin, respectively. The Punch has an Ecuadorian wrapper, while all of the others having Java wrappers.

Litto Gomez, president of La Flor Dominicana, states his 4 1/2 x 30 Mojitos "have almost the same flavor profile and blend as our '2000' line of Cameroon-wrapper, all Dominican-filler large cigars." Named for a favorite Cuban rum cocktail, Mojitos come in tins of 10, with a suggested retail price of $13.

Nat Sherman, Inc.'s recent new launch, Nats, have Connecticut shade wrapper, with Brazilian, Indonesian, and Dominican filler. Nats are 3 3/4 x 26, and come 20 to the tin, with a suggested retail price of $6.50. "The cigars lack the sharpness many small cigars exhibit, and are well balanced and mild," notes Bill Sherman. "Being a manufacturer of both premium cigars and luxury cigarettes, we see a fair amount of our cigarette-smoking customers, as well as cigar smokers, moving to Nats."

High-end Nicaraguan cigar producer Padrón Cigars offers its own Cortico small cigars, available in tins of 6. "They are true puros, being all Nicaraguan leaf, made in our Nicaraguan factory," reports George Padrón. Corticos are 4 1/4 x 35, a slightly larger ring gauge than the rest of the category, which gives them some heft. Both natural and maduro wrappers are available, with suggested retail points of $13.50 and $14, respectively. "Though we don't try to reproduce the flavor of any specific Padrón large cigar, the extra ring gauge of the Corticos, and the special blend, give them balance and complexity," says Padrón.

S.A.G. Imports has distributed Fonseca and Cubita Minis since 1997. The Fonseca Mini is 4 1/8 x 30, and retails for $9.50. Made at Manuel Quesada's Matasa factory in the Dominican Republic, they have Connecticut shade wrapper and Dominican filler, which makes them milder than many small cigars. The Cubita is a 3 3/4 x 26 size that takes on a box-press shape in the tin. "Our Minis are handmade, because we couldn't find a machine to make them that small," says S.A.G.'s director of marketing, Brad Weinfeld. "They are very reasonable, at only $6, for a tin of 10. We will cello-wrap and band them soon, for those who want to carry individual cigars in their pockets."

In the handmade category, Tabacalera A. Fuente y Cia. offers the Exquisito, available in Connecticut broadleaf maduro wrapper only. Exquisito (4 1/2 x 33) is packed in boxes of 50, and retails for $51.54.

Tabacalera Fuente's Cubanito (4 1/4 x 32), with an African Cameroon wrapper, retails for $12.85 for a box of 10. According to Fuente's Wayne Suarez, the dark, oily wrapper is extraordinary. "We didn't have a use for wrapper leaf that was too small for large cigars, so we stockpiled it for up to 10 years. Part of the Cubanito's great success," he says, "is this very mature and flavorful wrapper. The market's acceptance of small cigars was well-timed for using this well-aged wrapper."

Tabacalera Perdomo's mini entry, La Tradicion Cabinet Series Perdomo Reserve Moments, debuted in 2001 in Corona Fino and Torpedo Fino shapes, both 4 1/2 x 32 in size. Moments are an extension of the larger Perdomo Reserve premium cigar line. Both sizes are available in Nicaraguan sun-grown rosado and African Cameroon wrapper. They are presented in wooden boxes of 50 and rigid cardboard boxes of 12. Retail pricing for the boxed Corona Fino is $100; the Torpedo Fino is $110. Cardboard boxes retail for $26.40 (Corona Fino) and $28.80 (Torpedo Fino).

Bahia Cigar's Nicaraguan-made Tico Tins were launched in 2000, come in tins of 10, and are available in natural (orange tin) and just-released maduro (red tin). The natural's Ecuadorian-grown Indonesian wrapper, and the maduro's Connecticut broadleaf wrapper, are the same as in his full-sized Bahia Golds. The blend, though, is exclusive to Tico Tins. The product has been a giant success - 40,000 tins a month sold through only 400 retailers. "Why spend $6 for a 5" cigar, when you can get a 4 1/2 x 32 Tico Tin for $1.60?" says company founder and president Tony Borhani, in assessing the brisk sales.

U.S. Cigar Sales, Inc. introduced Astral Favorito and Don Tomas Coronito small cigars last year, which are both 4 1/8 x 32 and come in tins of 10. "The Coronitos have Indonesian wrappers, and the Favoritos have milder Connecticut-seed Ecuadorian wrappers," explains Tom Baker, director of marketing for U.S. Cigar Sales. Suggested retail is $10 for the Coronitos, and the Favorito is $12, "very competitive for cigars of this quality level," Baker adds. The cigars are made in U. S. Cigar's Honduran factory, and are packaged to reflect the box art and logos of the full-sized Astral and Don Tomas cigars. Baker says the company is contemplating line extensions of other full-sized brands.

C.A.O. has three small, short filler versions of their full-sized, long filler L'Anniversaire premium cigars: Cameroon (wrapper) Petite, Maduro Petite (in Connecticut broadleaf wrapper), and eXtreme Petite Sumatran-seed, Ecuadorian-grown wrapper). All are 4 x 30, and packed in tins of 10. The cigars retail for $11.90 per tin. "C.A.O. offers diversity in taste, and consistency in excellence," says company vice president Tim Ozgener. "Our cigarillos satisfy different palates, from mild and sweet to full and rich. They have the same qualities as full-sized L'Anniversaires, which are among the world's highest-rated."

Machine-bunched, Hand-wrapped
"Macanudo Ascots have been around for almost 10 years, in the white-box Café version," says General Cigar's Gardiner. In 1999, the company introduced the Macanudo Ascot Robust. They both have the same makeup as standard Macanudo cigars: The Café has a Connecticut shade wrapper, while the more powerful Robust's wrapper is a darker, higher-priming Connecticut shade.

"We launched the maduro last year, with Connecticut broadleaf wrapper and binder," says Gardiner. "All three lines have Dominican and Mexican filler blends. The Macanudo Ascot Café is our largest-selling small cigar, just as the full-sized Café is our largest seller." All three versions of Macanudo Ascots are 4 3/16 x 32, come in 10-count tin, and retail for $11.99. General also offers a countertop wire display rack packaged with 10 tins each of the Macanudo Ascot, Robust, and Maduro tins, and five each of the Cohiba Pequeños and Partagas Black Label Prontos tins.

Fuente-made Ashton Escorts (4 1/4 x 32), available from Ashton Distributors, come 10 to the tin, and are available in natural (Connecticut shade) and maduro (Connecticut broadleaf) wrappers. They are retail priced at $13.95 and $15.95 per tin, respectively. Like several other leading brands, Ashton has its strong following, and the name is persuasive to those devotees.

Eric Newman, president of J.C. Newman Cigar Co., reports, "Our 4 3/16 x 32 Cuesta Rey Cameos are one of the oldest made, having been made since the early 90s - predating the surge in small cigars." Made by Tabacalera Fuente, they come 10 to the tin, retailing for $11.50. Cameos use Cameroon wrapper, upon which, says Newman, "the Fuentes built their company originally. Having the Fuente name on our Cameos increases their acceptance by smokers."

El Credito Cigars, another unit of General Cigars, has just introduced its first tinned cigar, the 4 5/16 x 32 La Gloria Cubana Glorias Petit, a short filler cigar blended from the cuttings of the La Gloria Cubana. The filler tobacco is aged in cedar bins, drying the leaf and intensifying the flavor, rolled with a natural Ecuadorian wrapper. Suggested retail is $10.50 for a tin of 10 banded cigars.

General Cigar also offers the Macanudo Ascot Miniatures and Partagas Puritos Miniatures. Ascots (3" x 24), come 8 to a pack, and retail for $6.65; the 4 3/16 x 32 Puritos are $12.50 per tin of 10. Gardiner attributes their success to three categories of smokers. "In addition to the many veteran small-cigar smoker and cigarette smokers who are kicking the habits," he says, "increasing numbers of smokers of mass-market cigars treat themselves to the occasional premium small cigar.

Finally, there is Altadis USA, which presents such an extensive lineup of small cigars they can't be covered in depth in this article. They offer two lines, Minis and Miniatures, in a variety of sizes. The Mini product category includes Cabañas, Henry Clay, and Santa Damiana, as well as multiple versions of Don Diego, H. Upmann, H. Upmann 2000, Montecristo, Montecristo Cigare des Arts, Romeo y Julieta, and the newly released Onyx Reserve. In Miniatures (3 5/8 x 23 2/3), all the above brands are made, except for Don Diego, H. Upmann, and Montecristo Cigare des Arts. Packaging formats include paperboard clamshell boxes and tins; sizes and pricing fall into the same range as those of the other manufacturers.

"We think the Altadis reputation for consistent high quality is our best sales strength," says Janelle Rosenfeld, marketing director of Altadis USA. "Since these small cigars are line extensions of our large cigars, they enjoy brand recognition through their large-cigar advertising."

Arango's Gold admits, "I'm surprised at how well small cigars are selling. Two brands we sell, in particular, have exceeded Arango's predictions. One is General Cigar's Pequeño. The other is our Arango Sportsman Tens (4" x 28), which come with natural (Ecuadorian) and maduro (Connecticut broadleaf wrapper). Retail pricing for the Sportsman Tens is $9.50.

From all quarters of the supply side of small cigars, the respondents expressed excitement and optimism for this new product category's profitability, and are giving it increased attention and effort.

SMOKESHOP - Aug/Sept, 2002