Imports of premium, handmade cigars were exceptionally strong in the month of September, showing significant gains in each of the big three producing countries, and easing some of the damage caused earlier in the year by shutdowns due to the pandemic.
Shipments were up 46.2 percent for the month (the latest numbers reported by the Cigar Association of America) compared to September 2019 numbers.
Dominican cigars showed strong gains, up 50.5 percent to 13.7 million cigars. Nicaragua, the leading producer, was up 26 percent, to 16.6 million cigars. While impressive, those gains paled in comparison to Honduras, which saw imports nearly double, from 4.4 million to 8.6 million cigars.
The remarkable September signals a turnaround from earlier in the year. At the halfway point, in June, imports were down considerably over 2019 numbers, with a decrease of nearly 20 percent. The year 2020, of course, has been severely impacted and reshaped by the complications of the Covid-19 pandemic. Early in the year cigar factories were shut for a time in some cigar-producing nations; Honduras, in particular. Imports lagged behind 2019 numbers early in the year, impacted by the shutdowns. Gains began to emerge later in the year.
After slim gains in June and July (with imports up 1.8 percent and 2.5 percent, respectively, over the same months in 2019) cigar shipments really gained speed. In August, exports rose by 18 percent, then September showed the massive gains of more than 46 percent.
Those strong two months have turned a bad year into a much better year. For the first nine months of 2020, imports were down 4 percent over 2019 numbers.
Anecdotal evidence from various cigarmakers and cigar retailers points to a strong second half of the year, with people reporting increased sales in many areas. Given the situation in the retail chain, and the lack of shutdowns in much of the cigar-producing world, it’s likely that numbers for the fourth quarter will be impressive as well.