Still Strong Contenders

Bob Ashley

In the old TV series "Naked City" the announcer weekly intoned, "There are eight million stories in the Naked City; this is just one." It seems there are almost as many manufacturers - and manufacturing approaches - to flavored cigars. Mass-market flavored cigars have been a recognizable segment for years. But more recently, as a spin-off of the Renaissance in premium cigars, a flood of premium-quality flavored cigars have entered the market. While a number of short-lived brands failed to survive the "Don Nobody" shakeout, premium flavored cigars have remained a strong segment, and retailers continue to count on them as profit centers in their smoke shops.

The spectrum of flavored cigars includes an assortment of tastes wide enough to satisfy any palate and pocketbook. The most popular flavor is vanilla, an essence that seems ideally suited to smoking, almost universally acceptable to the nose of passers-by. As Mike Gold, president of Arango Cigar Company says, "If someone tells you how good your cigar smells, it suddenly tastes better, too!" Arango imports and distributes Sportsman vanilla-flavored cigars, advertising them as the top-selling aromatics in America. Gold attributes his success to pricing the Sportsman to suit a declining cigar boom, retailing as low as 85 cents each.

Kretek International's award-winning packaging for Hugo Cassar Tropical Treasures is ideal for point-of-sale impulse purchases. Consumers find the vacuum-packed, resealable cans perfect for home use too.
Beside vanilla, liquor flavors are popular, with rum, brandy, cognac, and bourbon being widely available. At the far end of liquor flavors are Kahlua, Sambuca, creme de menthe, tequila, Amaretto, Grand Marnier, and even mixed drink concoctions - pina colada comes to mind. Mint- and coffee-oriented flavors like cappuccino and mocha have also become favorites, while more exotic fruit flavors like black cherry, peach, and mango have also been introduced.

The growth in the flavored cigar marketplace is described as anywhere from "steady" to "explosive," according to suppliers, whose products have largely appealed to entry-level smokers and women. Depending on the brand and type of cigar, however, there is a solid base of veteran male smokers buying them. And two specialty cigars - La Diva and Maker's Mark - have a solid customer base of cigar smokers that could be called connoisseurs.

The Upper Echelon
Emmanuelle Marti wants it known that her three-year-old La Diva cigars are not flavored per se. "They are the result of a complex process in which super premium cigars are seasoned with 30-year old cognac," she says. "We use Cognac Serrand, a product of the Grand Champagne wine district in France, known for the world's best cognac." Marti maintains that this seasoning, in contrast to flavoring, eliminates the bitterness and aftertaste of chemical flavoring agents.

The cigars themselves consist of a Cuban-seed Dominican filler blend, with and olor binder and U.S.-grown Connecticut shade wrapper. "The tobacco is the best we can find," she says, "and the finished cigars are then aged for three months in the cognac environment. The smell goes away in six months, but the smoker enjoys the flavor and aroma for up to two years, because we seal the cigars in crystal tubes. La Diva's five sizes range in price from $5 to $8, wholesale. Although sales took a dip last year, Marti says she is now signing up about 20 retailers a month, with over 1,000 accounts in all.

Many retailers once sold the El Sublimado and El Incomparable cigars, lines Marti built, but which disappeared from shelves in 1998. "Now the retailers are coming back once they find us doing well and with a superior cigar" she reports. Retailers average five to six reorders during the year, favoring the five-packs. Unlike typical flavored cigars, Marti says La Diva appeals to veteran smokers who want a gourmet smoke. Marti does produce a traditionally flavored cigar, the Temptation line.

From Louisville, Kentucky - the heart of bourbon country - comes Maker's Mark, one of the other cigars at the high end of this genre. Maker's Mark, which produces top-shelf sipping bourbon in the industry's only true single-batch distillery, introduced its bourbon-seasoned premium cigar three years ago. The line took off, and the company produces 300,000 a year, in a single 6" x 50 size. It's a Dominican bunch with Indonesian wrapper.

Attractive, hand finished wood display from Maker's Mark holds 20 cigars and is ideal for counter top placement and promoting point of sale interest.
Maker's Mark does well for several reasons, says Ted Jackson, president of the company. "The reputation and familiarity of the Maker's Mark trademark, the unique packaging, and our point-of-purchase display all contribute," he explains. "Women like it, because it is mild and sweetly aromatic, and it makes a great gift. We do a lot of private co-labeling for hotels, casinos, and corporate incentives; and we're the official cigar of the Kentucky Derby." Suggested retail is $10-12, but the company has seen it sold as high as $25. "We market, promote, and sell direct to retailers, to provide factory-direct contact and service," notes Jackson.

The company seasons its own cigars for five to seven days and then packs each stick in crystal tubes, plugged with a specially-designed cap and dipped in hot wax to produce the company's signature red wax-seal. The countertop display is eye-catching and space-efficient - a refillable hardwood 10" square butcher block that displays 20 cigars vertically to prominently feature the wax seals.

"We chose Maker's Mark because it was smoother than other bourbons. Seasoning must be uniform in absorption - too long, and the cigars can swell and grow mold; too brief, and there's no impact," Jackson explains. "The temperature is also critical during the process, which exposes the cigars directly to the bourbon vapors in a sealed container." When asked how long the flavor lasts in the crystal tubes, Jackson wasn't sure. "We've had them around for up to three years now, with no degradation."

Creative Marketing
Kretek International may be the grandfather of quality flavored cigars, having produced its first - a clove-aroma cigar - 18 years ago. Mark Cassar, vice president and son of founder Hugo Cassar, says the one-size (5" x 38) short panatela has done well for years. The all-tobacco Cuban sandwich cigar combines a Caribbean bunch with a Java wrapper. Cassar says the tobacco, aged a full three years, was chosen for its body, with the clove providing most of the flavor and aroma. It retails for $2.50 per cigar, in ten-packs.

Two years ago, when Kretek's flavored sales jumped substantially - driven by the overall interest in cigars - it expanded its offerings, introducing the Tropical Treasures line, handmade coronas offered in nine flavors.

The Fuego Del Rey four flavor crystal cash register display allows for flexible merchandising and impulse purchases at smoke shops.
"We departed from the classic boxed-cigar presentation, to draw attention," says Cassar. The package - a vacuum-packed 25-count coffee can - prevents the aroma from affecting other cigars, and keeps its contents fresh for long periods. "Customers like to hear that 'whoosh!' when they open the can, and the resealing plastic lid encourages them to buy full cans, because they know they won't go dry," he says.

Tropical Treasures use high-quality Dominican filler and Sumatran wrapper, aged 60 days. They are sugar tipped, and both casing and injection flavoring techniques are used, depending on the flavor. The latter employs a syringe, inserted into the foot of each finished cigar, injecting a small amount of flavoring extract.

At $1.69 retail each, Cassar says shops often can't keep Tropical Treasures in stock. "Retailers simply leave the can by the register. Customers pop the lid, take a whiff, and have to buy - the perfect impulse sale!" he says.

The Fuego del Rey brand is new to traditional tobacconists, but is gaining popularity quickly, according to Bill Skelley, vice president of marketing for CigarAmerica, creator of Aristoff superpremium cigars.

The Fuego del Rey cigar is a 5" x 50 Robusto available in four flavors, an all-tobacco, handmade, long-leaf Indonesian puro, individually injected with flavor. "A crystal tube ensures six-month shelf life, and our counter-top display explains the key selling features of the cigar, making it easy for customers to choose," says Skelley. "Retailers can easily configure it to hold any combination of flavors, to emphasize one or more flavors that sell best. At only $38 per 20 cigars wholesale, you can see why we have signed up 200 tobacconists in our first two months."

Torano Cigars introduced a flavored cigar line last year. Their Tropical Treats by Torano line consists of two sizes and two flavors. Virgin Vanilla and Rum Rhumba flavor both the 6" x 43 El Nino and the 5" x 38 La Nina, long-leaf handmades utilizing Indonesian wrapper and Dominican filler and binder. Torano cases the wrapper, filler, and binder leaf, and ages it for 90 days. El Nino wholesales for $36.88 per box of 25; La Nina for $35.63 per box of 25.

Carlos Torano's penchant for perfection has stalled the introduction of other flavors in that line, according to spokesman Juan Lopez, but the company does also offer the St. Charles brandy flavored cigar, in four classic sizes. The Indonesian wrapper is laid over a Dominican bunch, and then misted with cognac over the length of the cigar. The long-leaf, all-tobacco, handmade cigar comes in colorful boxes of 25, to distinguish it from the company's other lines.

Just introduced at the Las Vegas RTDA was Torano's new Alternativos line, a cigarillo sold in 10-packs, it is offered in vanilla only. The Verellen family produces it in Belgium, and it is Europe's #1 selling small cigar. "It's all tobacco, machine rolled," says Lopez. "At $19.75 wholesale for a ten-pack carton of ten cigars each, it's a real value."

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