Is the cigar industry actually boring? Absolutely not. The cigar industry was built on, and is powered by, the kinds of stories typically reserved for must-watch movies and streaming series. Entire families overcoming onslaughts of unfathomable obstacles, generations triumphing against all odds, and all the while the raw materials they are growing and working with are constantly getting better and better – that is some mighty powerful stuff. Still, the perception of the industry rarely reflects all that majesty and has come to be seen by many as – to put it frankly – chronically monotonous.
With origins dating at least as far back as the 10th century, cigars have long been associated with private rooms, closed gates, and a distinctly old-world charm. As such, it is as if generations of growers, traders, makers and purveyors grew accustomed to catering to one very specific niche demographic. Over time, however, the craft of cigar making has become appreciated by a far wider spectrum of not only the artisans themselves, but also by record numbers of enthusiastic consumers as well. Almost nothing in cigars, it seems, happens quickly, but a growing number of pioneering brands are rising to the challenge of imbuing their portfolios with the kind of magic that can effectively differentiate one company from the next in an industry where at first glance it can appear as though everyone sells the exact same thing.
Those genuinely looking to innovate within the cigar industry face a myriad of challenges as they strive to bring new ideas and products to market. First and foremost, strict regulations on tobacco products create obstacles for brands seeking to experiment with novel blends, packaging, and marketing approaches. Ensuring compliance with these regulations can be both costly and time-consuming, potentially dampening the spirit of innovation. Additionally, the cigar industry’s deeply rooted traditionalist mindset can make it challenging to persuade long-time aficionados to accept and adopt innovative offerings. Those consumers in particular may be resistant to change, preferring to stay loyal to established brands and blends largely because they are looking at this all through the lens of those brands having brought them to the dance.
Market saturation also presents a significant obstacle for disruptive brands looking to make their mark. Even if someone is open-minded about trying a brand they’ve never had before, how does a brand get in front of them? With countless products and brands already available, it is crucial for new brands to be able to continuously differentiate themselves in order to capture our attention. Once our attention is captured, there are still economic factors that can pose barriers to entry for customers, especially those who may be priced out of the premium cigar market by taxes simply because they live in the “wrong” states as it relates to tobacco taxes. As a result, brands aiming to innovate must strike a delicate balance between crafting unique, high-quality products and making their cigars accessible. Here are just a few of the growing list of brands actively navigating these obstacles in ways completely antithetical to “the way it’s always been done.”
With a track record that includes the pioneering of infused cigars like the ACID line, its diverse product portfolio, and its willingness to utilize non-traditional marketing strategies, Drew Estate, continues to be one of the more innovative companies in the cigar industry. This approach has also generated controversy, as some critics argue that their bold packaging and live events featuring music might appeal to younger audiences. In reality, the audience that it appeals to are responsible cigar smokers that don’t fall into the worn caricatures that much of the public still picture when they think of cigars. Despite the criticism Drew Estate’s distinct approach has allowed them to remain respected, relevant, and uniquely placed for whatever direction the industry moves in.
This Swiss-based brand is dedicated to creating a premium and exclusive cigar experience. Quite possibly the fastest growing luxury cigar brand in the industry, El Septimo is working achieve their set goal of 30 branded locations worldwide. Through converting existing lounges into El Septimo destinations, and even building new ones in regions where none exist, they are on pace to open more El Septimo lounges by the end of 2023 than that of any other cigar brand in the world – including Davidoff.
As America’s oldest family-owned premium cigar maker, J.C. Newman Cigar Co. has been producing high-quality cigars since 1895. Their ability to adapt and innovate, even at 128-years-old – with agility and creativity – is a case study for the rest of the industry. If a textbook were written about their legacy, it would absolutely include chapters on their commitment to tradition, willingness to embrace technology, and their focus vertical integration. Just as crucial to their longevity has been their fostering of strong partnerships, adapting to changing market conditions, and staying closely connected to the cigar community through both outreach and advocacy. Able to sustain innovation and creativity for more well over a century – and with lines like the Brick House, Diamond Crown, and Yagua – J.C. Newman has ensured their continued success and relevance in an industry that they’ve legitimately helped shape.
A subscription-based service, Privada Cigar Club provides a curated selection of unique and rare cigars to its members. Their mission is to promote the enjoyment of cigars as a social and shared experience and to help all levels of aficionado discover new and exciting products. Love them or not, Privada – and their Limited Cigar Association partnerships with hundreds of brick and mortar shops – shakes things up in a way that has kept people talking for 6 years. For those that get it, the brand’s nostatlgic, pop-culture motivated branding and packaging serves to elevate the experience of the blends they contain. For factories and blenders, the club is pathway for smaller brands, new collaborators, and skilled operators alike to be able to play to their strengths while also being introduced – or in some cases reintroduced – to the club’s growing roster of more than 18,000 members.
With their colorful packaging and modern branding, Blackbird Cigar Co. is challenging traditional norms and injecting a sense of vibrancy into the marketplace. Their cigars cater to a wide range of tastes and preferences, making them accessible to both new and experienced cigar smokers. By thoughtfully crafting each blend to deliver a unique flavor profile, Blackbird demonstrates their commitment to providing an exceptional smoking experience. Additionally, their engaging marketing campaigns and strong social media presence have helped the brand establish a genuine connection with their audience, fostering an inclusive community of enthusiastic cigar lovers. Blackbird’s innovative approach to the art of cigar-making, combined with their emphasis on contemporary design and storytelling, has positioned them as a leading force in the ongoing transformation of the cigar industry. As a result, they are not only appealing to a broader demographic but also inspiring other brands to rethink their own strategies and embrace the potential for change and growth.
Fratello Cigars stands out in the cigar industry through its innovative approach, which includes creating unique and distinct blends from founder Omar de Frias’ creative vision. He has a passion for blending different types of tobaccos to create new and interesting flavor profiles. This sets the company apart and attracts enthusiasts who are always looking for something different to try. By focusing on visually appealing branding and marketing, leveraging de Frias’ background at NASA for a fresh perspective on a sometimes stale industry, and engaging customers with limited edition cigars and special releases, the brand has established a reputation for innovation and quality within perhaps the most competitive cigar market to date.
While the cigar industry may have a reputation for being boring and resistant to change, there are innovative companies working tirelessly to transform this perception. They are not only pushing the boundaries of traditional cigar-making but also redefining the entire experience of enjoying cigars. By embracing modern technology, experimenting with unconventional blends, and prioritizing innovative design, these creative trailblazers are attracting new cigar heads while also serving existing consumers who appreciate the fusion of tradition with contemporary flair.
In addition, these brands are leveraging creative marketing strategies and engaging storytelling to connect with their audience on a deeper level, fostering a sense of community and loyalty among their customers. In doing so, they are gradually reshaping the cigar landscape and proving that the industry can be dynamic, exciting, and adaptable to the evolving tastes and preferences of consumers. Through their relentless pursuit of innovation, these and other brands are breathing new life into the cigar world and ensuring its continued relevance in the face of ever-changing market demands.
What other brands stand out to you as leading the way into a new era of premium tobacco appreciation? Let everyone know in the comments below!