Date: July 2019
Author: Inspector Z

Private labels in the cigar industry. There are a lot of them, more than you might think. But first, let’s answer the question of what a private label really is. That answer is easy, private label products are those manufactured by one company for sale under another company’s brand. And it’s a common practice in the cigar industry.

If you are under the impression that every single brand owns their own factory and farms, you’re wrong. Some brands own both. Some brands only own the factory. Others are true private labels. And that includes some of the biggest names in the cigar game. A private label is not worse than a company that owns its own factory, or even tobacco farms. It’s just a different way of doing business.



Being able to make a private label is a good thing. Without those options, a lot of brands that we all appreciate now, would not be around. Not everybody has the funds, the knowledge, or the connections to start their own factory. And it also makes it possible for retailers to have their own, exclusive, brand. That’s a great way to compete with other shops. It also makes it possible for people like you and me to one day have our own cigar brand if that’s your ambition. Find a factory that is willing to make you a cigar. Either blend it, with or without help from the master blenders or have it blended for you. Think of a great name, design packaging, and boom, there’s your own cigar line.



Having private label cigars gives cigar companies a lot of freedom. No factory to manage, and freedom to create cigars in different countries. That way, it is very easy to diversify the portfolio. A Nicaraguan line, a Dominican blend, something from Honduras. And all without having to open factories in each country. The downside is, of course, lack of control since it’s not their own factory. That’s why instead of having a private label or his own factory, Rocky Patel decided on a partnership with Plasencia in Honduras. The factory is owned by Plasencia, but Patel has full control over the production of the Honduran made Rocky Patel Premium Cigars. The Nicaraguan made Patel’s are made in Tavicusa, which is owned by Patel though.

Big names

Some of the big, well-respected cigar companies aren’t manufacturers. And therefore private labels. Some work with only one or two different manufacturers. Others work with more, for various reasons. As for factories, some will flat out refuse to make private labels. Others will do only a select few. Then there are factories that make a lot of private labels. And even factories that only make private labels. 



One of the most respected cigar brands in the world is Ashton. The brand is for sale in over 80 countries worldwide. But they don’t have their own factory. They partnered up with Arturo Fuente when they started the Ashton cigar brand. So all the cigars with an Ashton label, are made by Tabacalera Fuente. And when the market changed, and more edgy cigars were in demand, Ashton teamed up with My Father Cigars. My Father Cigars makes the La Aroma de Cuba/Del Caribe, San Cristobal/Paradiso, and Benchmade cigars for Ashton.

Ministry of Cigars Private labels in the cigar industry.



Another household cigar brand that doesn’t have its own factory is Alec Bradley. Most of their cigars come from Honduras and are made at Tabacalera Raices Cubanas. Raices Cubanas only makes cigars for third parties, they don’t own their own brands. But Alec Bradley also has a few cigars made in Nicaragua by Plasencia. The new Project 40 comes from J. Fuego. Alec & Bradley created the Gatekeeper with Ernesto Perez Carrillo and those cigars come from his La Alianza factory in the Dominican Republic.



Ministry of Cigars Alec Bradley

Then there is another famous brand: Gurkha. And Gurkha is a love it or hate it brad. That has a lot to do with the factories they use. Some of their lines are made by reputable factories and score high. Others are made by small, relatively unknown factories and can be hit or miss. The issue is that for most of the lines, it’s hard to find out where it’s made. Gurkha came close to buying their own factory, which in our opinion, would have been an improvement. Their lines would have been more consistent. 



Ministry of Cigars Happy birthday Kaizad Hansotia

Even the acclaimed Tatuaje brand is a private label in essence. Even though all Tatuaje cigars are made by My Father Cigars, it is a private label. Owned by Pete Johnson. Now Pete is practically family to the Garcia’s, yet that doesn’t make him the owner of or partner in the factory.

Smaller brands are almost all private labels.

Upcoming brand Cornelius & Anthony for example. Their cigars are made by Erik Espinosa’s factory La Zona in Esteli. Except for the Cornelius, which is made at El Titan de Bronze in the Little Havana area of Miami, Florida. 



Different ways of approach

Now, not all private labels are working in the same way. Some just use what tobacco is available to them at the time and only release small batches. Ezra Zion and Viaje are brands that come to mind. Others buy their own tobacco, like Steve Saka, and are really hands-on in the factory as well. Others have farmers grown tobacco in commission exclusively for them. Some start out as private labels but then grow into a role that they start their own factory or become a partner with their factory. RoMa Craft is a good example. Mike Rosales and Skip Martin had Esteban Disla make cigars for them, but the demand was so high that they joined forces and opened their own Nica Sueno factory. Another brand that stepped up from just being a private label is Jas Sum Kral. Where the first Jas Sum Kral batches were made at Noel Rojas New Order of the Ages factory, they are no longer. Unhappy that factory manager Roniel Aragon left, Jas Sum Kral too. Roniel Aragon was adement in the quality control for Jas Sum Kral and Riste Riatevski trusted him blindly. Riatevski and Roniel Aragon now both own half of Tabacalera Aragon, where Jas Sum Kral has been made since.

Ministry of Cigars Private labels in the cigar industry.

There are also brands with their own factory, yet have some of their cigars made at other factories. Take J.C. Newman, they have two factories. One in Tampa, Florida. The other in Esteli, Nicaragua. Yet some of their cigars such as Cuesta Rey and Julius Caesar come from the Dominican Republic and are made by Tabacalera Fuente y Cia. And Espinosa Cigars has their beautiful La Zona factory, where they make some private labels as well. Yet due to capacity limits, his 601 blends are rolled by A.J. Fernandez. And the same thing happens with Drew Estate. The Kentucky Fire Cured is rolled at Joya de Nicaragua.


Cuba

On Cuba it’s different. In a way, all of the Cuban brands are private labels, on the other hand, they are not. It’s complicated. The tobacco cultivation on Cuba is in the hands of Cubatabaco. And they own all the brands as well. Since 2001, the factories are owned by another company, called Tabacuba. And then there is the marketing and distribution arm, Habanos. Habanos is 50% owned by Cubatabaco. Both Cubatabaco and Tabacuba are fully owned by the Cuban government. So that makes it hard to say if the Cuban brands are a private label or not. It all depends on how you look at it. Two different companies, so yes. Yet one owner, so no. But it is a fact that almost all Cuban factories make a selection of brands, it’s not that Partagas is only produced in the Partagas factory for example. That complicates the situation even worse.

Conclusion

It is safe to say that you smoked private label cigars. And is that a bad thing? No. When done correctly, private labels can be amongst the best cigars in the world. A lot of popular boutique brands are. Casa Magna and Alec Bradley proved that you can even win Cigar Aficionado Cigar of the Year titles with a private label. So don’t look down on private labels, keep smoking them. We will too.



7 thoughts on “Private labels in the cigar industry

  1. I used to order custom bands for my clients, the person worked from his house and used a laser printer to print on metallic paper and use a Cricut machine to cut the bands into any cigar band shape. It’s amazing how far we have gotten with technology and the ability to do them at home.

    1. I bet that the quality of professional printers such as Vrijdag Premium Printing, Cigar Rings, and others is much higher

  2. When purchasing private label cigars are you able to resell them?

    1. if you are a retailer, yes. Actually, a lot of brands on the shelves of tobacconists are private labels. Many big brands don’t have a factory of their own. Even famous names like Ashton, Alec Bradley, Tatuaje and other well known names.

  3. Perfect article, thanks a lot!
    Now, it’s clear that nothing’s clear.
    No, to be serious, one of my favourites is the HENK◇MAORI◇HAKA Masterpiece, a private label made by AJ Fernandez – and it’s a marvellous piece of “cigart”!
    Keep your work up!
    My deep respect and best regards,
    Miodrag “GALE” Janković,
    CEO

    1. Lol that’s clear to me, you’re right the article is perfect and explains a lot.

      Cheers

    2. I have not had the pleasure to smoke them yet, but Heiko promised me some

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