The current Habanos S.A. portfolio consists of 27 brands, grouped by availability and marketing strategy.
Global Brands are available wherever Habanos are sold. The focus of the brands is on "innovation and product development." These brands see the bulk of Limited Edition and Reserve releases, as well as various super premium cigars (anniversary humidors etc). They are not available for Regional Edition releases.
Value Brands are available at La Casa del Habano and Habanos Specialist stores. The focus of these brands is on "value development." These brands see lots of Regional and La Casa del Habano Exclusive Releases, as well as occasional Limited Edition cigars.
Volume Brands are available at all La Casa del Habano stores. These are cheap, mass market cigars with lower quality packaging. They do not generally receive special edition releases.
Other Brands are available at all La Casa del Habano stores. The focus of these brands is on "tactical development." Most of these brands only have a few cigars in regular production, but will see occasional Regional Edition releases.
Collectively, the Value, Volume and Other brands are referred to as the "Portfolio Brands."
The current system of classification was formally announced to distributors in early 2019, however, it had been apparent for some time that certain brands were not receiving releases in line with their official classifications. Prior to the current system, brands were classified as follows:
That grouping had last changed in 2007, when H. Upmann and Jose L. Piedra were upgraded from Multi-local brands to Global brands, and Quintero was downgraded from a Global brand to a Multi-local brand.
The Global and Niche brands were considered the Habanos premium brands, promoted on a worldwide basis, and accounted for the bulk of their total sales.
All Habanos cigars are now handmade (Totalmente a Mano) and are virtually all long filler cigars (Tripa Larga).
Jose L. Piedra, La Flor de Cano, and Quintero brands all currently comprise short filler cigars (Tripa Corta).
The Por Larrañaga, Rafael Gonzalez, and Fonseca brands all currently contain a single short filler cigar (Tripa Corta).
The Modern Post-Revolution Brands
After Cubatabaco took control of the Cuban Cigar Industry in February 1962, 25 brands remained:
Several pre-Revolution brands were later reinstated post-1962:
New Brands added to the Habanos Range
The following new brands were added post-1962:
Brands Subsequently Deleted from the Habanos Range
The following brands have been deleted post-1962:
Brands Now Produced by ICT
The following brands were discontinued from the Habanos range but continue to be produced in Cuba (using 100% Cuban tobacco) under license by the Cuban-Spanish joint venture Internacional Cubana de Tabacos S.A. (ICT).
These are brands that are sometimes referred to in literature, but they never actually existed.
Canaria d'Oro was a pre-revolution brand, established in circa 1882 and discontinued in the 1920s. In circa 1994 it was proposed for reinstatement but this never occurred. There was no known post-revolution commercial production, even though it was show in some catalogues. There is a non-Cuban brand with the same name.
La Vigía was a proposed new brand considered for introduction in Circa 1998. Apparently eight boxes of Coronas were produced and sold in Canada, as a pre-requisite to trade-marking the brand name, but nothing eventuated.
Cuban Cigar History
The following is a time-line summary of significant dates in Cuban tobacco & cigar history.
1492 Columbus "discovers" indigenous tobacco in Cuba and takes it back to the Old World.
1511 Spain takes control of Cuba.
1614 La Casa de Contratatacion de la Habana formed to develop tobacco production in Cuba.
1717 Royal monopoly control on tobacco growing in Cuba imposed and vigorously enforced.
1817 Tobacco industry monopoly ends and a boom in cigar production export commences.
1898 The Spanish–American war brings provisional independence to Cuba administered by the United States. The American / British buy-out begins.
1902 Cuba gained formal independence from the United States on 20 May 1902, as the Republic of Cuba.
1920 Cigar making machines introduced into Cuba.
1959 The Revolution occurs (ousting corrupt President Batista) and Fidel Castro takes control of Cuba under a communist regime.
1960 Castro nationalises the Cuban cigar industry on 15 September 1960. For more detail, see below.
1962 Empresa Cubana del Tabaco (Cubatabaco) was formed and over one hundred export brands discontinued.
1962/3 The 1962 Cuban Missile crisis results in a USA embargo. Full restrictions are enforced in 1963.
1980 Cuban factory Vitolas de Galera names are reduced and rationalised. For more detail, see below.
1992 Start of Cuba's Special Period, a near decade of economic crisis following the collapse of the Soviet Union (who had been propping up Castro & Cuba).
1994 Habanos Sociedad Anomina (Habanos S.A) created as the commercial (sales) arm of Cubatabaco. Cubatabaco retains control of all aspects of cigar production.
1999 Altadis S.A. formed by merger between Spain's Tabacalera S.A. and France's SEITA.
2000 Altadis S.A. purchases a 50% share in Habanos S.A.
2001 Tabacuba formed and takes over from Cubatabaco as the manufacturing arm of Habanos S.A. Internacional Cubana de Tabacos S.A. formed to manufacture & promote the Guantanamera brand and the various brands of mini cigars (mini, club, & puritos).
2002 A major policy change is introduced. Over the next five years, many low-selling vitolas are discontinued and all machine-made production switches to handmade. New release categories are introduced, emphasising limited volume special edition cigars. Technological and process improvements improve production quality.
2007 Altadis (a French-Spanish company) has accepts a bid of €50 a share from Britain’s Imperial Tobacco (valuing the company at €12.6 billion, for its 252,436,856 shares). Altadis holds a 50% share of Habanos SA. Fidel Castro's illness triggers speculation of the end of the US embargo. This, combined with the pending merger, raises concerns among collectors regarding supply, quality and pricing of Cuban cigars.
2008 The final sale/transfer of Altadis to BIT finalised. Fidel Castro announces his retirement as President of the Council of State, and Commander-in-Chief. He remains leader of the Cuban Communist Party. His brother, Raúl Castro, assumes the presidency and implements various reforms in Cuba.
2010 Major figures in the Cuban cigar industry are arrested for alleged corruption. Although these allegations are never proven, it nonetheless results in a shakeup of the leadership of the Cuban side of Habanos S.A.
2019 Imperial Brands plc (Imperial Tobacco had renamed in 2016) announces that it is seeking bidders for its premium tobacco business, including its 50% stake in Habanos S.A.
2020 In April 2020, Imperial Brands announced that it had reached an agreement to sell its tobacco businesses, with the international portion including Altidas and the Habanos S.A. stake to be sold to Allied Cigar Corporation SL. Allied Cigar appears to be a holding company, the ownership of which is not clear. The sale closes in October of 2020.
Significant Cuban Cigar Events
The following periods are significant within the Cuba's industrial cigar history:
Before the Revolution, the Cuban cigar industry was not centralised. There was no system or rules to follow. All manufacturers were independent, ranging from the very small to the very large. Every manufacturer was free to produce whatever cigars and packaging style that they desired.
The Revolution occurred on 2 January 1959. After this, it was business as usual for the cigar industry. Firms remained independent. The Cuban cigar price list effective from 1st January 1959 showed 140 brands undertaking export production. There were a total of 1,185 vitolas available, comprising 999 in production and further 186 available by special order.
On 15 September 1960, all private businesses were “nationalised” and become the property of the Cuban government. Many business proprietors of the Cuban factories fled the country. While there was general chaos, Cuban cigar production in many small factories continued, sometimes with only the employees operating the businesses.
Cubatabaco was formed in February 1962, and immediately appointed Government officials to take over management of all Cuban cigar factories. Most small factories were closed down due to lack of man-power. Only major factories remained in operation. These factories still remained independent of each other and therefore from a production point of view, still nothing changed from pre-revolution times.
The lack of change was probably due to the new government factory managers knowing very little about cigars, and the Communist system, where there is no reward for positive thinking. Cubatabaco produced its first Catalogue detailing the brands officially produced by the new Government regimen. The number of brands and vitolas was substantially reduced.
The 1980 Crop Failure
In 1980 blue-mould plant disease wiped out the entire tobacco crop in 1980. With no tobacco, the factories became idle and some were closed. This period of inactivity initiated a historical rationalisation of the Cuban cigar industry.
During this time, a new policy was developed that had three main principles. Every factory could make any brand; the vitola and packaging types were standardised; and uneconomic vitolas or packaging were eliminated. A massive trimming of many small selling vitolas occurred, with only some 500 different vitolas remaining.
Altadis SA purchases of 50% of Habanos SA
Prompted by Altadis S.A. purchase and influence, Habanos S.A. decided to dramatically change the way they make and market cigars. This change was carried out over a three year period. Instead of having varying degrees of quality within each brand (handmade, hand-finished, & machine-made), Habanos S.A. decided that the major brands will only offer premium “totalmente a mano” hand-rolled cigars. This was to allow consumers to better understand just what sort of cigar they are buying.
Of the 549 vitolas that were manufactured in 1992 (the beginning of Cuba's Special Period) only 319 were to remain in production, and only 33 brands continue to manufactured, and almost all brands saw major changes. Within each brand, vitolas that have the same size but different blends, were axed. Only the best-selling cigar of a vitola was to survive. These changes enabled a greater chance of a particular vitola being in stock. The simplification of the brand lines allows the occasional smoker to better understand the range of Habanos.
There were two other significant decisions. Firstly the machine-bunched hand-finished method was to be eliminated, due to economic and marketing simplification reasons. Secondly, the Belinda, Quintero, Jose L. Piedra, Gispert, La Flor del Cano, Cabanas, Los Statos de Luxe, and Troya brands will only be made by either the “tripa corta” or “mecanizado” methods.
Extension of the 2001 Policy
Around 2005 Habanos SA decided to carry the 2001 policy further by eliminating all machine-made cigars and brands from their portfolio. This reduced the number of brands to 27 and reduced the number of standard production vitolas to around 240. This was offset by the major increase in production of premium-cost special releases.
Purchase of Altadis SA by British Imperial Tobacco (BIT)
With the 2008 purchase of Altadis SA, BIT became a 50% owner of Habanos SA. So far, there are no obvious changes arising from the BIT purchase.