According to Russia’s leading importer of Cuban cigars, imports of handmade cigars have to revert to pre-crisis levels in 2012, dropping by nearly half last year.
“Russia imported 2.2 million handmade cigars in 2008, but delivery lowered by 45% to 1.2 million last year,” stated the representative of Top Cigars, the Moscow-based company of Cuban cigars.
“We have sustained our regular customers, but crisis substantially reduced the number of people buying cigars as gifts. I suppose that now they give preference to chocolates,” said Alexander, a salesman at the Tobacco Gallery shop.
Luxury cigars still remain very popular among well-off Russians who are seeking for exotic ways to spend their money.
“For the majority of our smokers, image is more important than flavor,” stated Oleg Chechilov, editor of the magazine Smoke. He conducted a survey and found out that in Russian there are approximately 600,000 cigar smokers.
“The typical Russian cigar smoker is a man between 30 and 65, who smokes one cigar per day and has a humidor at home,” Tamara Balinas the director of Top Cigars, stated at a conference.
“Currently Habanos are covering more than 70 % of the Russian market for handmade cigars higher than its worldwide average,” stated Gonzalo Fernandez.
He explained the cigars’ popularity by Russia and Cuba’s historical relationship. In Soviet times, import of cigars reached 13 million per year, though those cigars were mostly machine-made.
“Russia is the second most developing market for Habanos after China. Cuba has a storehouse with tobacco in reserve and more land in order to grow more, in case demand will continue to increase or the profitable U.S. market ends its embargo,” he added.
The company built more than 260 cigar stores throughout the country, the majority of which are concentrated in Moscow and St. Petersburg.
Fernandez stated that anti-smoking campaigns hadn’t significantly affected sales turnover, despite the fact that preference for some types of cigars has been fluid.
The majority of smokers give preference to shorter and fatter cigars in order to receive the same pleasure in less time. Those people who are smoking less because of the decreasing number of places they are allowed to smoke in are choosing larger and more flavored cigars.
Many Russians can’t afford to buy handmade cigars due to their rather high price. The usual Cuban Robusto may cost 240 rubles ($8), while the new Cohiba Behike costs 2,100 rubles ($70) each.
Russia also has its own cigar manufacturer – Pogar Tobacco Factory in Bryansk, which produced 1.5 million cigars last year, the majority of which were sold in Russia.
“Actually crisis helped to increase sales, because people started to seek for ways to save their money,” stated chief executive Igor Moiseyev.