Cuba's famed cigar industry recovering from crisis

Tue Jun 14, 2011 12:36pm EDT
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By Marc Frank

HAVANA (Reuters) - Production of Cuban cigars and tobacco leaf are on the rise after falling on hard times in the country famed for its "puros" due to smoking bans and the international financial crisis, according to local reports.

The dexterous fingers of Cuba's cigar makers rolled out 81.5 million of the much sought-after smokes last year, compared with 75.4 million in 2009, according to a report released by the National Statistics Office on its Web page (here).

Cuba's finest tobacco leaf is grown and cured in western-most Pinar del Rio province where the just-concluded harvest produced 25.4 million leaves, according to local radio reports, compared with the previous year's 22.4 million leaves.

While the figures are up, they are still well below 2008 when Cuba produced just over 100 million cigars for export and Pinar del Rio's tobacco harvest totaled 26 million leaves.

The partial recovery is due largely to growing demand in Asia -- particularly China -- where the new rich are keen for the largest and most expensive cigars, said Gonzalo Fernandez, deputy director of marketing at Habanos S.A., the worldwide distributor of Cuban cigars.

China has climbed into third place, behind Spain and France, among the largest markets for Cuban cigars.

Cigars are one of Cuba's top exports.

Its taste for top brands adds to Habanos' bottom line because "around 75 percent of (revenue) come from the five most expensive of our 27 brands such as the Cohiba and Trinidad," Fernandez told Reuters.   Continued...

<p>A worker fits Cohiba cigars in a box at the Partagas factory in Havana February 24, 2011. REUTERS/Desmond Boylan</p>