Monday, February 27, 2012

Smokin’! Sales of Cuba’s signature stogies lifted by global demand for luxury products

Smokin'! Sales of Cuba's signature stogies lifted by global demand for
luxury products
By Associated Press, Updated: Monday, February 27, 8:44 PM

HAVANA — Sales of Cuba's famed cigars are hot, despite continued
recession fears in Europe, and a U.S. embargo that bars American
aficionados from legally lighting up.

Ana Lopez, the head of marketing at the company, said the jump was in
line with that experienced by other global luxury products. Sales fell
in 2008 and 2009, and were nearly flat the following year amid lingering
global economic weakness.

While top-flight stogies are synonymous with Cuba, they represent only a
small fraction of the island's flagging economy, which is primarily
dependent on nickel mining, tourism and professional services.

Lopez estimated that the 50-year-old U.S. trade embargo cost Cuba's
tobacco industry $79 million in sales in 2011. The company has also been
hurt by the economic crisis in Spain, its No. 1 market.

But she and other executives said Habanos was well-positioned to weather
the storm.

"We sell our products in 150 countries," said Javier Terres, the vice
president of product development. "That is what permits us to compensate."

The executives spoke at the opening of Havana's 14th International Cigar
Festival, which runs through March 2 and is expected to draw more than
1,000 people from 80 countries, including tobacco executives and

While Europe remains the top market for such signature Cuban brands as
Cohiba, Montecristo, and Romeo y Julieta, sales in Asian nations
including China are growing rapidly. Terres said sales to China have
doubled in the last three years, without giving specific figures.

Terres said 2012 figures to be a challenging year for the company
because of lingering global economic weakness and increased restrictions
on tobacco in many countries. He gave no specific sales predictions.

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