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View from the Factory Floor

cigar, Cuban Cigars, Havana Cigars, cigar rollers, interview

View from the Factory Floor
Interview with Mr Arnaldo Briñones,
Deputy Production Director, Romeo Y Julieta Factory, Havana.
By Samuel Spurr

Bringing with him a few bags full of Cuba’s finest, which almost didn’t get past customs, master roller Arnaldo Briñones creates with ease the masterpieces that enthral so many of us. With a deft hand that moves effortlessly, he joins filler, binder, wrapper and cap in what seems like seconds to produce flawless Churchills and Coronas.

Working his magic for an hour and a half, he selects and gathers another group of leaves and again effortlessly rolls a very long, thin, Lancero looking cigar. Rather than offer it to the group of onlookers, he pulls out a lighter and bringing the other end to his mouth, ignites, and sits back to enjoy his own creation, all whilst overlooking a city skyline that must be unlike anything he ever set eyes on growing up in Havana.

Born in Havana in 1964, he completed his university studies at the Institute of Pedagogy “Enrique Jose Varona” and obtained a masters degree in 1987. He then joined the Romeo Y Julieta factory and became a cigar roller. From extensive training and experience, he was promoted to the 9th Grade, the highest level of cigar roller. He was then selected to teach the younger personnel at the factory. In 2000 he became Deputy Production Director of the factory.

Brushing up on some basic Spanish phrases was not going to get me far, so with the help of Fine Tobacco Australia’s own translator, I managed to steal some time with Mr Briñones to discuss his role, the factory, troubled draw machines and Habanos SA price increases. Appearing cool and unperturbed after finishing his cigar, I asked him about his role at the factory. He responds to my translated questions with a mellow, raspy drawl. The Romeo Y Julieta factory floor has enjoyed 17 years of his service and on a day to day basis he currently oversees all of the cigars being produced.

What improvements have you seen throughout your time at Romeo Y Julieta?
The general quality of the product has improved, especially the draw. Humidity and draw machines have been introduced and are going well. An improved wrapper quality has given us better materials to work with.
In terms of production at the factory we are training rollers to specialize in one vitola through courses and in house training.
Overall within Habanos there has been an introduction of Total Quality Management from the farm to the factory.

How do you think an end to the US embargo will affect the industry?
Very well I think. It will obviously open a new market. A lifting of the embargo will also bring in new tools and technology to improve our productivity and quality. It will of course give Americans the freedom to enjoy Habanos.
Also in regards to America, Obviously there are no direct commercial relations and no marketing, making it hard to get widespread product awareness. Breaking in to the market through an end to the embargo will clearly generate an increase in sales.

Habanos SA has recently been developing and releasing larger ring gauge cigars such as the recent Edmundo and Partagas Piramides. Why is the market moving that way?
Market research conducted by Habanos SA indicates that smokers prefer larger cigars, the main example being the Montecristo Edmundo and success of the Cohiba Siglo VI. Although in regards to length, vitolas of smaller length such as the Hoyo de Monterrey Petit Robusto are also being introduced and are also being preferred by consumers.

How have cigar price increases in Cuba affected the volume of sales domestically?
Due to the price increase, customers stepped back and sales did slow for a while but of course this occurred globally with a world wide price increase. As prices have calmed, consumption as I see it, is still strong except for the dip after the price rise. There has been no major change since that initial price increase.

Have quality control managers investigated the recent customer complaint of under-filled cigars and have they taken steps to correct it? What is your opinion of the new draw machines?
The use of the machines is 100% better than before. Of course there will always be difficulties when introducing new technology. Overall, the general feedback is that our cigars are much more consistent throughout a box. I would agree with this, as at times whole boxes are tested.

Mr Arnaldo Briñones’ visit was sponsored by Habanos SA, Pacific Cigar Company and Fine Tobacco Company. He will return to Cuba after touring the Asia-Pacific region.
Published: 2006-04-20
Author: Samuel Spurr

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