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A breakdown of global cigar sales, for cigars from Cuba, Nicaragua, Dominican Republic, Honduras, and other countries. For over a decade we hear Habanos claim that they control seventy percent of the market. That is excluding the American market due to the embargo. And for years we wondered if that was correct.

For the last decade, the production of cigars is pretty stable in Cuba. A little under a hundred million cigars are made and sold (source: Halfwheel & Wall Street Journal). For 2018, 93,9 million Cuban premium cigars were exported, according to Tobacco Business Group of Cuba (Tabacuba) (source: Prensa Latina). For the sake of this article, we will be using those 93.9 million as an official number. Yet the number of Non-Cuban cigars exported to the international markets, again excluding the USA, has been climbing for years. So we set out on a quest to find out the truth, a quest that turned out to be troublesome. The outcome didn’t surprise us.

Ministry of Cigars Cigars Cuba Nicaragua Dominican
diagram from Wall Street Journal

Our quest

We reached out to Procigar, Nicaraguan Chamber of Tobacco, Kafie Cigars, CLE cigars, and Vegas de Santiago to find out the numbers of cigars exported from the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Honduras and Costa Rica to international markets. Dr. Gaby Kafie called me and explained that those numbers are not available for Honduras, the only number that is known is how many cigars are imported to the United States, and it’s United States Customs who register that. Vegas de Santiago came with a likewise story for Costa Rican cigars. Procigar never replied. The only answer I could work with came from Juan Martinez, vice chairman of the Nicaraguan Chamber of tobacco.

Martinez provided us with valuable information. Nicaragua exported $225 million in premium cigars worldwide. Of which $194 million to the USA. So that means that 86% of the Nicaraguan export goes to the American market.

The breakdown of global cigar sales

Cigar Aficionado published an article online with the American cigar imports from January 1st, 2018 till 31st of August 2018. We took that number to calculate how many cigars there are produced in Nicaragua and how many ends up in the internationally.

In the first 8 months of 2018, the USA imported 112.2 million cigars from Nicaragua. We divided that by 8 and multiplied that number by 12 to end up with an estimated 169.3 million cigars for the whole year of 2018. From Martinez’s answer, we know that 169.3 million is 86%, so the total production is 196.7 million. 196.7 million minus 169.3 million leaves 27.4 million Nicaraguan cigars for the international markets.

Because we had no hard numbers for the Dominican Republic, Honduras, and other countries, we went with the same 86/14 percentages as Nicaragua for Honduras. The Dominican Republic cigar industry historically has always had closer relationships with Europe than other cigar-producing countries, so for the Dominican Republic, we went for 82/18. For the Dominican Republic, it comes to 112.8 million cigars to the USA for 2018, that means 137.6 million total production and almost 24.8 million for the international markets.

Honduras exported 44.3 million cigars to the USA in the first 8 months. The estimated total of the year will be 66.5. The total production comes to 77.3 million cigars with 10.8 million for international markets.

All other countries combined are expected to export 2.6 million cigars to the USA, totaling 3.1 million in production and exporting half a million cigars Internationally. This might be the hardest number to calculate since a lot of Asian brands are not sold outside their own region. But then again, those numbers are too small to really make a change in the numbers.

China Industrial Tobacco Company

We left out the claim from China Industrial Tobacco Company. During a presentation at the 2014 IPCPR trade show, the company claimed to make and sell 250 million premium cigars yearly within China. Since we could not find any reliable source for those numbers, we chose to leave them out. If we included them, China would have 33% of the global market including the USA and 61.4% of the global market excluding the United States.

China does produce cigars. The country has four factories, China Tobacco Sichuan Industrial Co. (CTSIC), China Tobacco Anhui, China Tobacco Hubei, and China Tobacco Shandong. Those factories produce both machine-made cigars and handmade cigars. Great Wall is the most famous Chinese cigar.

The calculation

These numbers add up to 63.5 million Non-Cuban premium handmade cigars being exported and distributed worldwide. That is excluding the United States. Cuba exported 93,9 million. With 93.9 million cigars from Cuba and 63.5 million cigars from other cigar-producing countries, the worldwide international market, excluding the USA, is 157.4 million cigars.

And simple math shows that the real market share of Habanos worldwide excluding the USA is a far cry from seventy percent. With the numbers we have, and we tried our best to come as close as possible with the data we had, we can only conclude that Habanos is still the market leader, by far, yet not close to seventy percent. In order to claim seventy percent of the current global market, Habanos needs to export 110.2 million cigars, that’s 17.3% more than their current export numbers. And it’s something we won’t see happening soon. Yet the export numbers for the other cigar producing countries are growing every year. We predict a small decline for the Cuban marketshare every year from now on.

Cuba: 59.7%
Nicaragua: 17.4%
Dominican Republic: 15.8%
Honduras: 6.9%
Other Countries: 0.3%

Ministry of Cigars Global cigar sales excluding USA

The percentages including USA

Now when we include the USA, we see different numbers. All totals combined, the worldwide market is 508.6 million cigars. Nicaragua has the biggest market share, followed by the Dominican Republic with Cuba in the third spot. We know that this is an unfair statistic as Cuban cigars aren’t sold in America. We wanted to include the numbers to put everything in perspective

Nicaragua: 38.7%
Dominican Republic: 27.1%
Cuba: 18.5%
Honduras: 15.2%
Other countries: 0.6%

Ministry of cigars global cigar sales chart

Of course, with web shops shipping globally, a huge portion of the Cuban cigars end up in the United States of America anyway. Some sources in Cuba claim that up to fifty percent of the Cuban premium cigars end up on American soil. On the other hand, plenty of Non-Cuban cigars end up in other continents as well. And all that data is never collected and released. Therefore the numbers in this article are tainted when it comes to percentages excluding the USA. We expect that the number of Cuban cigars shipped by retailers to customers in the United States is higher than numbers of Non-Cuban cigars shipped by retailers to customers in the international markets. That would make the 59.7% market share for Habanos even lower, although it won’t change the statistics for the global market including the United States. Unrelated to sales numbers, but it is important to notice that Cuban cigars are charged with a 26% import tariff in the E.U., where Nicaraguan, Honduran, Dominican and Costa Rican cigars have no tariff in place for the E.U.

The final conclusion

It is safe to say that Habanos still has a strong grip as the market leader, with close to 60%, with their main competitor Nicaragua at only 17.4%. Yet, when you look at the worldwide numbers, Nicaragua is the market leader by far. Not only in percentage, but also in numbers. And in the past decade, Nicaraguan cigars won the most #1 positions in the top 25 lists of the two major cigar magazines, Cigar Aficionado and Cigar Journal. As for Halfwheel’s Consensus, a list that combines a series of top 25 cigars from other online reviewers too. 6 out of the 7 Consensus years, Nicaraguan cigars ended up on top of the list. That tells us that it is not just quantity, but also quality coming from Nicaragua.