On Monday we started our interview series with José Blanco, the legendary cigar blender and frontman for Joya de Nicaragua and previously of La Aurora fame. José has spent his whole life in the tobacco industry and his love for it is infectious and apparent. Today we continue our interview with José and learn more about his plans for Joya de Nicaragua and what he thinks about the boutique landscape. So without further delay, part II of our interview series with José Blanco.
CB: What are some of the factors you are looking at when coming up with your new product for 2012?
José Blanco: What we are trying to come up with right now is a cigar for 2012 to be in what we call the sweet spot. People who want to spend $5.50 to 9.00 dollars max on a really big size. So we have to go along with what the economy and market dictate, and that is to say, right now we know the economy is struggling, and I think what really hurts us even more than the economy are the smoking bans.
The smoking bans hurt us, because people go into the store and they want to buy three cigars. Well they may smoke one there, but ultimately they are going back to their homes to smoke the rest, especially since they can’t smoke in the bars and in the restaurants anymore.
This leaves them to their wives or significant others. Sometimes if the wife is the way most wives are about smoking, you got to go out on the porch. This is fine if the temperature is good, but a lot of people are smoking in the winter, in the northeast, and are left to freeze. The diehards will still do it, but for many cigar smokers the “occasion” to smoke will cease to exist, because they have nowhere left to truly enjoy their cigar.
José Blanco: So really for a lot of people, the single guys their first place is a store and for the married guys, or the guys that have some type of relationship, their local shop is their second home.
It’s not like the cigarette industry; I think that smoking cigars is not about health necessarily. To me, smoking is about rights. If you can die for your country at 18 you should be allowed to smoke and drink at 18. And that is a fundamental right many are starting to see denied.
CB: Speaking of legislation, you have been an outspoken advocate for a very long time about smoker’s rights. How is that carrying over to your new position?
José Blanco: I’ve been very active in the last two years going to the capitol a lot to do lunches and dinners with the congressmen. Many of them are very supportive of smoking, a lot of them understand that our industry is only 2 billion in revenues and the cigarette industry is closer to 90 billion. Our fight is totally different than the cigarette industries. What we try to impress to these congressmen are the ideas that the mom and pop shops, with the exception of a couple of big chain stores, are in jeopardy. You also have people growing tobacco in the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Columbia, Ecuador, Argentina, Nicaragua etc. These hardworking folk depend on these jobs as their livelihood. If they don’t change the law you could easily directly effect 400,000 jobs in our surrounding neighbors to the south. So all of a sudden you’re affecting 2 million people when you factor in their families.
CB: So with your new line being worked on how do you plan on building and maintaining brand consistency and loyalty for your lines?
José Blanco: Well, we’re going to work a lot with events, social media, and we are always trying to get in the mind of the consumer basically with the Cabinetta and Dark Antano. We’re working on different programs that we want to implement, but also this new blend that we’re working on is something that we don’t want to rush– For us, we wanted to make it different, something that’s unique in flavor. The size is going to be more or less the traditional sizes where we’re going to go with a corona gorda, then we’re going to go with the 60, we’ll probably go with the figuardo, and then we’ll go maybe with the 54 to try to have a cigar size for every type of consumer. But more of what I want to come up with is what I would call a dream cigar, like my cigar using different types of tobaccos and different ways of processing them to get them to their maturation point where I want to say I came out with this very, very unique cigar at a great price point.
CB: Is there anything else you can disclose as to what that new cigar looks like to you at least personally in just thinking of it?
José Blanco: Well, to be honest our next blend has to have spice, it has to be rich, and it has to be balanced, it has to be complex, and to have a great aroma, it has to have flavor, it has to have strength. All the things that I’ve talked about, but different than anything you have seen from me before.
***Stay tuned as we continue with our final part on Friday. ****