Smoke ’em (if you can get ’em)
cigar industry, like so many other businesses, has been completely transformed over the past two years, it is also facing almost unprecedented demand. At the start of 2020 tobacco shops and cigar lounges were forced to close across the country, but for many cigar aficionados this actually meant more smoking opportunities than ever before. Today, increased online sales, along with the reopening of established brick-and-mortar stores as pandemic restrictions ease, have led to the biggest increase in cigar purchases since the boom of the 1990s.
“When it comes to premium cigars, we saw a 25% increase in sales in 2021,” says David M. Ozgo, president of the Cigar Association of America, Inc. That year, he says, “we imported 400 million cigars for the first time since 1997. While Ozgo admits “it is not clear that there has been an increase in the number of new cigar smokers”, he seems convinced that any additional downtime played a significant role. “With so many people working from home, not moving around, not getting dressed, many cigar smokers have suddenly found two or more extra hours in their day,” he says. “A good cigar has always been a personal indulgence for many people. More and more people are simply taking the time to enjoy the pleasures of life.
Yet the current rise in cigar consumption is not without complications, with fewer workers in some factories due to the pandemic, which in turn has affected production. “Let’s not forget that premium cigars are hand-rolled,” says Ozgo. “This human element makes cigars special, but it also acts as a constraint. There is a limit to the number of cigars someone can produce in a day.
This unexpected demand has also created a shortage of certain tobaccos, such as high-quality Pennsylvania broadleaf wrappers and longleaf fillers from Mexico and some Central American countries. This applies more to boutique cigar makers, who often outsource their tobaccos, than to large companies such as Altadis, General Cigar, and Arturo Fuente, who grow much of their own tobacco. Yet the distribution snafus that has plagued other industries has also impacted the cigar market.
“From a manufacturing perspective, we had to manage longer lead times with suppliers of non-tobacco materials, given that [shipping] containers are scarce, transportation costs have skyrocketed, and shipping speeds are slow,” says Sarah Santos, president of Scandinavian Tobacco Group and senior vice president of the brand’s online and retail division. in North America, which, despite these setbacks, plans to open 20 to 25 additional “superstores” in the United States over the next five years, joining the eight currently spread across Pennsylvania and Texas. “For now, the supply chain has generally stabilized; However, we are keeping an eye on widespread inflation in the US, recent factory closures in China and unrest in Eastern Europe.
And yet, although some smaller brands are feeling the pinch, the industry has done a remarkable job of matching demand with supply – for the most part the cigars are there, including this year’s Best of the Best winners. .