Three years ago, Cigar Connection introduced their Cojimar flavored cigar, hoping the sugar-tipped vanilla cigar would entice women smokers into the marketplace, but discovered that just as many men smoke it. Four new flavors were introduced at the RTDA, expanding the line into a 5 x 30 Cojimar for Men, and a "Torpedoes for Him and Her" package. The clever merchandising combines three figurados each in 6"x 50 and 4-1/2" x 43 sizes in one package, and is a popular gift item, especially at weddings.

The handmade, long-filler Cojimar cigar consists of Dominican filler and binder, with Ecuadorian wrapper. The 5-packs outsell boxes, because new smokers are experimenting with cigars and will risk trying single sticks, which range in price from $1.25 to about $1.80. The company offers glass jars on Spanish cedar bases for countertop display.

"Sales are growing unexpectedly well," reports Andre Zabitsky, president of AZ Cigars, "although I don't think flavored cigars will enjoy a boom like premium cigars."

AZ offers four flavors of its uniquely-sized 4-1/2" x 21 short filler, handmade cigar. They are actually rolled as a foot-long cigar, cut into three cigars, and then individually capped. The cigars are made in San Andres, Mexico, and they include homogenized binder. "We case the entire cigar, not just the foot, so the flavor lasts for the entire smoke," notes Zabitsky.

They retail for 75 cents each, banded and in cedar boxes of 50. Zabitsky feels the market is in new smokers, who start with flavoreds because they can't appreciate regular cigars yet.

Espinosa's "Sweet Lady" Line.
David Mallel, president of La Cubana Cigar Co., says they first introduced a molasses-sweetened cigar four years ago, and it evolved into three classic sizes and six flavors. "We case our Cuban-seed long-leaf Dominican tobacco, which we age two years," Mallel says. "We hand-make the cigar, case the wrapper, and sweeten the tip."

To ease the pressure on retailers' humidors, Mallel provides a one-foot glass-cube humidor. The free-standing case holds 216 flavored cigars in refillable compartments. "At prices ranging from 85 cents to $1.80 per stick, it's no big investment for retailers to set the display up," he notes.

The product and display have been "immensely successful," according to Mallel. "Annapolis Tobacco, on the boardwalk in Maryland, goes through a display a month." The company also private labels flavored cigars in box quantities or pre-packaged 5-packs.

Carlos Escalona, marketing development head of the 72 year-old Oliveros Distributors, Inc., says they have developed their LongLady flavored cigar with no synthetic ingredients, using only molasses and natural fruit juices, mixed with up to three wines. The handmade long-filler cigar uses Cuban-seed Dominican filler and binder, aged a full 2-1/2 years. Their Java binder is less spicy than Sumatran, reports Escalona, and thus doesn't compete with the delicate flavors. Their eight-step flavoring process is elaborate, but results in a cigar that holds its flavor and sweetness for long periods. LongLady comes in nine flavors and one size, Petit Corona. Last Christmas Oliveros introduced a French cognac-enhanced cigar in Robusto and Double Corona shapes with special packaging that retail for under $7.

Scott Abarta, general manager for Acapa Cigars, says that although entry-level smokers are tapering off, there are enough of them, as well as women smokers, to provide dynamic growth for their Havana Nights cigar that "exceeded our expectations."

"We use mild Dominican filler, and wrap it in Connecticut Shade or Sumatra leaf," says Abarta. "We case it before rolling, and have five flavors, including our new apple spice. Cellophane wrappers with the flavors printed on them help buyers choose." Havana Nights are offered in a single 5-1/2" x 42 size, sold in boxes of 25 and retailing for $4.95 to $7.95 each, depending on flavor. Acapa also offers a three box display container.

Heaven Cigar Co.'s new premium, hand rolled vanilla-flavored cigar features a Dominican wrapper and a money-back guarantee to retailers on their first order.
Espinosa Cigars has offered its SweetLady long-filler, handmade, flavored cigar since 1995. The company makes a 5" x 30 Petit Panatela and a 5" x 38 Corona in eight flavors. Dominican filler and binder, with Connecticut Shade wrapper, forms the basis for the product. Abraham Kawa, Espinosa's sales manager, says much of the sales growth they've enjoyed - they've boomed 30% in just three months - is due to their quality vs. price: $25 wholesale for the Petit Panatela, $35 for the Corona (25 count each). The Sweet Lady line is also available in five-packs in all flavors.

"We built retailer loyalty and interest by enlisting their assistance from the beginning" says Kawa. "Up to 200 people at dozens of smoke shops helped us select and refine the flavors, by evaluating them in a series of taste tests. When we had what we wanted, they jumped on them eagerly, having been partners in the project. Our target market has always been women, who favor the sweet taste and aroma, and whose eyes are captured by the Sweet Lady name."

Elie Haddad, president of Santiago Cigar Company, says he has been "swamped with orders" for his flavored cigar over the past two months, even from prestigious smoke shops that once turned their noses up at them. "We've begun getting orders from Sweden and Germany," he says.

For almost three years, Santiago has been manufacturing the Emigrante premium handmade cigar, in natural and in eleven flavors. Filler and binder leaf are Dominican, with sun-grown Indonesian wrapper - all aged at least three years. The most popular flavors come in two sizes: 6-1/2" x 42 and 4-3/4" x 30. Haddad sees the major market as women, who like to smoke with their cigar-loving men; and new or casual smokers, who appreciate the mild flavor.

"Requests kept coming in, though, for a larger cigar in our bourbon, creme de menthe, and Grand Marnier flavors - apparently from male smokers," Haddad says. "So, we now make a 6" x 48 for them." Dealer cost for the Emigrante flavored cigar is $36 a bundle of 25 for the two larger sizes, $32.50 for the 4-3/4" x 30. A countertop display is available.

Haddad's wife is a chemist, and the couple spent six months developing the flavors. "We add the flavoring on the wrapper at the head," he says, "so the smoker tastes it on his tongue. We roll the cigar as a Cuban sandwich, and age it a full 30 days before injecting the flavor. The right ratio of oil-based all-natural flavoring and alcohol carrier is crucial, so the flavor doesn't evaporate in storage."

"Our flavored cigar outsells our natural one by three-to-one," Haddad reports. "At the recent RTDA, we sold ten times as many flavoreds as naturals. The smaller size is the biggest seller." Haddad believes in the importance of a prestige image. "We plan to offer the line in boxes that distinguish it from our natural Emigrante line, in gold-foil, brightly colored cardboard that bespeaks quality."

Gourmet Dessert Cigars from Alec Bradley Cigar Co. features seven popular flavors.
Alec Bradley Cigars offers what they call a "Gourmet Dessert Cigar," says president Alan Rubin. As sales increased, the line has grown to seven flavors since being introduced in 1996. The company has grown on a monthly basis, says Rubin, fueled by suggestions from retailers as to what flavors customers were requesting.

"We use only premium long-filler tobacco," Rubin says, "and hand-make our cigar. We spent seven months developing our flavors, using only FDA-approved flavoring. Our process is unique. Typically, chemicals are involved to make the casing 'sauce' from powdered flavoring agents. The problem is, heating the mixture alters these chemicals so they taste bad. We modified the casing sauce by removing these chemicals, which also reacted adversely to the ammonia in tobacco. By substituting natural ingredients, we enhance flavor and give a six to twelve-month shelf life. Others' flavors can dissipate after three months."

The complex blend includes filler of Dominican, Nicaraguan, Mexican, and a pinch of Colombian Cubita leaf. Binder is Javanese, with a Sumatran wrapper. The result, says Rubin, is a mild cigar that doesn't mask the flavoring. Gourmet Dessert Cigars offer a 6" x 38 Panatela only. Rubin believes men and women both will smoke this size, while they may not see as great a perceived value in a 5" length. The cigar retails at $3 to $4, providing a profit high enough to get good reorders.

"Our display contributes to our sales success, too," Rubin reports. "A counter-top, hexagonal lazy-Susan isolates the flavored cigars from the retailer's humidor, and allows the customer to see and smell them."

At this year's RTDA, the company added an all-tobacco cigarillo in all seven flavors. Available in a 5-pack, the 20-ring gauge cigar retails for $3 per pack. Rubin feels the quantity-count and creativity of the packaging is good for retailers. "We're growing 20-25% annually. Brisk repeat sales have been the proof we are offering a superior product, and responding to what customers want."

Acapa Cigars  (800) 429-7977
AZ Cigars   (800) 660-6220
CigarAmerica   (877) 645-3363
Cigar Connection   (800) 348-8286
Cuban Cigar Factory   (800) 419-1009
Espinosa Cigars   (888) 432-4423
F&K   (800) 848-1480
Heaven Cigar Co.   (800) 647-8196
Kretek International   (800) 358-8100
La Cubana Cigar Co.   (800) 522-8226
Maker's Mark   (800) 388-8755
Oliveros Distributors   (800) 954-8522
Santiago Cigars   (800) 579-4865
Swisher International   (800) 874-9720
Sublimado Cigar   (800) 443-7788
David Baker, a partner in the Cuban Cigar Factory, echoes Santiago's Haddad. "We sell more flavored cigars wholesale than we do natural cigars," he notes. The San Diego-based company rolls several hundred thousand cigars on site, as well as in Nicaragua and the Canary Islands. All of their cigars are handmade, long-filler, 100% quality tobacco: Dominican filler, with Ecuadorian wrapper.

Their vanilla-flavored cigar comes in four sizes and four flavors. Their Vanilla Sweet is unique in that the pure vanilla extract is included as an ingredient during the tobacco's fermentation. According to Baker, "This results in a cigar that has subtlety, and which doesn't rely on an overwhelming vanilla flavor to cover up poor quality tobacco. The smallest cigar, a 5-3/4" x 32 Petit Corona, wholesales for $55 a 25-count box; the largest, a 6" x 50 Gran Corona, wholesales for $75.

"Four years ago, the entire cigar market was new," says Baker. "Now that smokers' palates have matured, it's necessary to do something new to stay ahead of the market. We feel a cigar with both top-quality flavoring and tobacco is the new trend."

This philosophy, shared by the others mentioned here, seems valid, based on the sales figures they report. Another advantage, so far at least, is that the flavored cigar niche is not flooded with competitors like the overall premium cigar market is. Flavored premium cigars are on the upswing, and retailers would do well to consider making space on the counter for them.

SMOKESHOP - October/November 99