Given the global luxury cigar market volume of $12.45 billion in 2021 and an expected increase to $25 billion by 2030, it is no wonder that cigar companies are booming today.
Here, we take a look at 5 of the largest cigar companies in the globe and how they came to be the driving force behind the ever-increasing popularity and demand for premium handmade cigars.
A.J. Fernandez Cigar Co.
In 2003, AJ Fernandez left his native Cuba for Nicaragua, where he worked with his father for Nestor Plasencia, one of Nicaragua's largest tobacco producers.
Rolling thousands of cigars each month, he quickly perfected his cigar rolling skills.
By 2006, he was getting contracts to roll cigars for clients like Rocky Patel and Cigars International.
Over the next decade, he bought farmland, expanded his factory and began making cigars under his own brand.
This allowed him to build his reputation as a bonafide cigar maker.
Today, Fernandez owns one of Nicaragua's largest premium cigar operations, along with a number of popular brands such as San Lotano Oval, New World and Enclave.
Better known as A.J. Fernandez Cigars, Tabacalera Fernandez is a family-oriented cigar company based in Miami, Florida.
The company owns and operates 2 cigar factories in Nicaragua. Tabacalera AJ Fernandez de Nicaragua, SA is located in the heart of tobacco country in Estelí, Nicaragua and is named after A.J. Fernandez, the company's founder.
The second factory, San Lotano, is located 43 miles north in Totogalpa. Together, the artisans in these 2 factories craft over 100,000 cigars per day by hand.
These cigars are sold in more than 32 countries around the world, with about 90% of sales coming from the United States.
Altadis U.S.A. is the leading importer of hand-rolled cigars in the United States, importing and distributing tobacco products since 1902.
Many of the world's most popular cigar brands are part of the Altadis portfolio, including Montecristo®, Romeo y Julieta®, H. Upmann® and Trinidad®, as well as non-Cuban cigars such as Partagas®, Excalibur® and Hoyo de Monterrey®.
These cigars are among the biggest winners in many of the world's most prestigious international cigar competitions.
Until 2020, Altadis owned half of Habanos S.A., the Havana-based distributor of Cuban cigars.
That changed when British Imperial Brands PLC, which bought Altadis in 2007, sold off the Habanos business to another investor.
Today, Tabacalera USA oversees Altadis USA and 800- JR Cigar, Inc. better known as JR Cigars, one of the largest wholesale and retail distributors of premium cigars in the United States.
Today, Altadis distributes its cigars through its own network of premium cigar retailers throughout the United States and Canada.
Altadis is also responsible for all distribution of cigars manufactured by Boutique Blends Cigars, Inc. a third-party manufacturer with operations in Nicaragua.
Swisher International Inc
Swisher's traces its roots back to 1861, when David Swisher, a merchant from Newark, Ohio, received a small cigar business as compensation for a debt owed.
David and his four sons began selling cigars from their "rolling stores" or wagons throughout the Midwest.
The cigars were rolled by hand each day in a one-room "manufactory" in Newark.
In 1888, David's sons John and Harry took over the business from their father and renamed it Swisher Brothers.
The business experienced great growth and by 1895 the company had grown to three factories employing more than 1,000 people who hand-rolled up to 300,000 cigars per day.
During the first half of the 20th century, Swisher continued to grow and expand, producing as many as 100 million cigars a year!
By 1941, their Jacksonville facility was the largest cigar factory in the world.
In 1958, they introduced Swisher Sweets, a cigar brand that offered a wide range of cigar flavors and blends to meet the ever-changing needs of cigar enthusiasts.
Today, Swisher controls a significant portion of the American cigar market and is ranked one of the leading exporters of American-made cigars.
The company also boasts one of the most sophisticated marketing teams with hundreds of sales professionals throughout the U.S. to ensure that its offerings continue to resonate with consumers.
Rocky Patel Premium Cigars
Rocky Patel Premium Cigars has been operated by the Patel family since day one and remains a family-owned cigar manufacturer to this day.
It was founded in the mid-1990s (the cigar boom era) by Rocky Patel, a successful Hollywood attorney, as Indian Tabac.
In 2002, he changed his company name to Rocky Patel Premium Cigars and three years later opened his own production facility, TaviCusa, in Estelí, Nicaragua.
Rocky produced an untold number of cigar ranges in those early days, some of which were sold to smaller cigar companies and some of which were never given proper names and were later discarded.
Fortunately, it didn't take long for Rocky to create a masterpiece- the Rocky Patel Vintage 1990. With its twelve years aged Connecticut Broadleaf wrapper, the cigar is nothing short of perfection and is still in production after all these years. The success did not end there.
He built on that success with his flagship brand, which includes five Vintage series: 1990, 1992, 1999, 2003 and 2006.
Since then, Rocky has launched numerous top-selling brands, including The Edge, Decade, Fifteenth Anniversary, Royale, Java, Twentieth Anniversary and Sun Grown Maduro.
The Fifteenth Anniversary earned a 93 rating from Cigar Aficionado and appeared on the magazine's Top 25 Cigars of the Year list in 2010, 2011, 2013 and 20180, while the Sun Grown Maduro received the second highest rating from Cigar Aficionado magazine in 2016.
A true road warrior, Patel often spends 300 days and 150,000 miles on the road each year.
The tireless dedication to promoting his cigars has paid off, as his brands have sold millions of cigars across the world.
Habanos S.A. is a partially state-owned company that owns the trademark rights to Cuban cigars and controls the export of popular Cuban cigar brands Montecristo, Romeo y Julieta, and Cohiba.
Currently, the Habanos portfolio includes 27 brands, which cover a wide range of concepts, formats, flavors, positioning and, in general, characteristics to satisfy the tastes of Premium tobacco smokers from all over the world.
The company has sophisticated marketing strategies in numerous countries to sell its products and prevent counterfeiting.
First, there is La Casa del Habano, a network of retail cigar stores franchised by Habanos s.a. to sell Cuban cigars exclusively.
As of 2021, there are over 160 La Casas del Habano spread across 60 countries and 120 cities.
Second, there are Habanos Specialists, independent cigar retailers that offer a wide range of Cuban cigars. Habanos must occupy at least 50% of the display space of premium cigars in the store.
Third, there are Habanos Points, which are retail stores that carry a carefully selected assortment of Habanos.
You will find Habanos Points in establishments such as resorts and golf lounges.
Finally, there are Cohiba Atmospheres, a series of upscale smoking lounges supported in part by Habanos S.A. and are exclusive venues for people who love to smoke Cuban cigars.
There are currently 20 Cohiba Atmospheres around the world, in more are expected to open in the coming years.
As you may already know, Habanos S.A. does not export any of its cigars to the United States, the world's largest market for handmade smokes.
The reason is the embargo against Cuba, which prevents American companies from trading with Cuban interests. It is the most enduring trade embargo and has been in place since 1962.
To learn more about how Cuba has adapted to this trade ban, read our article: The History of Cuban Cigars
Habanos has continued to evolve over the decades as Cuban cigars have become more popular in other markets.
In 2021, Habanos S.As surpassed $500 million in sales of premium cigars worldwide - a new record for the category and a testament to the tremendous love for Cuban cigars.
To Wrap Up
Cigars are increasingly recognized as artisanal products. The profit potential is huge, making this niche too enticing for many corporations to ignore.
As cigar smoking becomes more familiar to this new demographic, so does the demand for novel blends.
All of this is good news for the premium cigar industry and we will keep our readers updated on any new developments.