Royal Agio: the history part 2. Last week Ministry of Cigars published an article about the history of Royal Agio Cigars from the foundation in 1904 up until the introduction of the Agio Gouden Oogst for the 50th anniversary of the company. In this article, we will continue the story of the Wintermans family and their cigar company from the 50th anniversary onwards.
Manufacturing in Belgium
In 1961, Agio crossed the southern border to Belgium for the production. Just across the border, in the town of Geel, they opened a manufacturing facility. Within the shortest of times, Agio employed 800 people at the factory in Geel. But that didn’t mean that the production in The Netherlands came to a halt. In 1963, Royal Agio built the most advanced factory for the creation of the dry-cured filler in Europe. And it started an in-house school for the profession of cigar manufacturer.
In the late 1960s, it’s time for the third generation Wintermans to enter the family business. Jack, son of Marcel, joins the ranks. And the company also introduces the Agio Tip, which is an instant international hit. The Agio Tip is a cigar with a mouthpiece. The mouthpiece contains a charcoal filter, filtering out some of the hazardous elements of the smoke.
To stay ahead of rising production costs, Agio relocated a large portion of the production to Malta. This project was called ‘Operation Malta’. And for 22 years, from 1972 until 1994, Royal Agio produced most of their cigars on the Mediterranean island. But it closed the facilities down in the mid-1990s, again due to rising production costs.
And in 1976 Agio shook the cigar industry. They invented the ‘bobbine system’. It allowed more mechanization. Wrapper and binder leaves are stamped out and then transported onto rolls of a net curtain fabric like cloth. Those rolls are inserted in machines, which then apply the binder or wrapper to the filler. Because of that invention, shortfiller dry-cured manufacturers are able to produce cigars for an affordable price up until today. The Wintermans family owns a machine making factory that specializes in these machines. It was a revolution in the industry, and machines from ATD as the company is called, are used all over the world.
Mehari’s, Panter, and Balmoral
In between operation Malta and the invention of the bobbine, Agio introduced Mehari’s. A brand that would grow to the biggest brand in the Agio portfolio. And after Ad Wintermans, another of Marcel’s sons and the brother of Jack joins the management, Agio acquires Panter and Balmoral. The brands were on the decline when Agio purchased them, but got back on track. Nowadays Panter is sold in over a hundred countries and Balmoral is the flagship brand of Royal Agio.
In order to keep the costs down, a large facility is opened in Sri Lanka in 1985. It becomes the biggest Agio factory with over 2000 employees. And 5 years later, Agio moved to the Dominican Republic as well. At first, just to create the bobbines but in a later stage, the factory started producing premium handmade cigars as well.
The production and sales keep growing, and the threshold of 500 million cigars per year is reached. That number grows to over 800 million by the time that Agio is celebrating its 100th birthday in 2004. It’s then when Agio is awarded the ‘Royal’ title. By then, the 4th generation of Wintermans had joined the company in the shape of Boris Wintermans. Boris is the son of Ad Wintermans.
The factory in Westerlo was expanded to 30000 square meters between 2002 and 2007. It houses a brand new factory for the creation of fillers for the Agio machine-made cigars. And all the Belgian Agio offices are now on the factory premises as well. In the meantime, a charity is founded in Sri Lanka. After Sri Lanka was hit by a tragedy in the shape of a Tsunami, Royal Agio and a local priest took the initiative to start a trade school. Underprivileged children have a chance to learn how to be a plumber, technician, welder, electrician or construction worker. Ministry of Cigars will publish about that charity in another article.
Scandinavian Tobacco Group
In 2009 another Wintermans joins the management team. Jonas, son of Ad and brother of Boris enters the family business. And it’s the 4th generation of two brothers running the ship. Together they decide to renovate and expand the headquarters in Duizel. And they focus more on premium handmade cigars from the Dominican Republic. They create the Balmoral Añejo lines, the San Pedro de Macoris lines and the Signatures collaborations with Ernesto Perez Carrillo and La Flor Dominicana. Eyes are set on the largest premium cigar market in the world, the USA. In 2017 a new office is opened in the USA.
And then in September 2019, the shocking news reached us that Scandinavian Tobacco Group acquired Royal Agio Cigars. There won’t be a 5th generation Wintermans at the helm of the Agio brand. What the future holds for Agio and Balmoral, time can only tell as STG has not revealed any plans yet.