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Written by Gary J. Arzt

Friday, 05 December 2008

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I first met Lorenzo Orsi at the RTDA in 2007. He had come to Houston with two Brazilian friends of mine, Eduardo Braghin and Tarek Mourad. Lorenzo is Italian born, living in Sao Paulo, Brazil - the cigar factory is in Bahia - and with his partner he purchased the factory and was in the process of creating Monte Pascoal cigars.

As we were at the RTDA, I took the opportunity to introduce them to Pepin Garcia, who graciously spent more than an hour with them ... imparting sage advice on cigar making.

Subsequently, on a visit Lorenzo made to Miami, I spent many hours with him discussing various aspects of the U. S. cigar market, and cautioning that no Brazilian cigar has ever really gained traction with American cigar smokers.

Nonetheless, Orsi proceeded, enthusiastically, and Monte Pascoal made their first appearance at the IPCPR in Las Vegas this past July. The first shipment has landed in Miami and distribution has begun.

 


The distributor is Mata Fina Imports in Miami, FL 33139 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it Tel (305) 457-4124.

I had the opportunity to sit down with Lorenzo, not too long ago, in Sao Paulo and discuss what brought him to the cigar business as well as his plans for Monte Pascoal and his expectations.

GJA: What is it about the cigar industry that interested you enough to have you invest the time and money you have invested in Monte Pascoal?

ORSI: I believe that it is a very particular industry that involves beautiful aspects regarding historical and cultural aspects. There is plenty of glamour and pleasure that can’t be explained in a few words. The aficionados know what I am talking about... Also, as you said, Brazilian cigars have never really gained traction with American cigar smokers, something that I can’t understand just thinking about the Brazilian tobacco tradition and quality of its tobacco, unknown from most smokers.

GJA: What business are you and your partner in?

ORSI: We are in the steel business in Brazil. My partner owns a company in Sao Paulo that produces several civil construction products. I am his Industrial Manager, in charge of the two productive plants. My father owns a winery in Italy run by my older brother who is already exporting fine wines to the US and other countries. Brazil is a future market for our wines and now, we are very happy to be in the cigar business ...

GJA: Have you always been a cigar smoker?

ORSI: My first cigar was smoked around 10 years ago back in Italy. It was a Toscano, a popular cigar in Italy. Nowadays, cigars are an integral part of my day-to-day life.

GJA: By all appearances, you devoted a considerable amount of time to the design of Monte Pascoal’s band and package. Had you examined cigar packaging and design and concluded that it was an important marketing element?

ORSI: The packaging is a very important element when selling a product; it is the first impact for the end consumer - to paraphrase "We always eat with our eyes at first". A cigar like Monte Pascoal deserved an amazing box. So, we spent an entire year developing the packaging. We studied several almanacs containing old labels, and decided on an old school packaging. All the graphics were made by a specialized illustrator by hand.

GJA: Will you tell us the significance of the name and the design elements used in the packaging.

ORSI: Monte Pascoal means Mount Easter; it was the first piece of land seen from Pedro Alvares Cabral ships when he discovered Brazil back in 1500. We wanted to make homage to the discovery of this beautiful land called Brazil. In the center you will see an illustration of the Mount Easter as seen from a ship. On the left side you will find a Brazilian native holding a spear with the Bahia State flag decorated with native vegetation, representing strength. On the right side you will see the inspired muse decorated with European elements and vegetation enhancing nobility. On the bottom there is the Monte Pascoal coat of arms (those fonts were used by old coffee barons in their teacups used to offer coffee to visitors). The coins show illustrations linked to the discovery of Brazil: the Portuguese crown, Brazil’s map, Ship (Nau), Symbol of the great navigators Pedro Alvares Cabral, Vasco da Gama, and so on ...

GJA: The bands and box wraps are beautifully done, Lorenzo. Who produced them for you?

ORSI: They are produced by TSO a specialized labeling company in Holland.

GJA: Obviously, you’ve spared no expense. As regards the blend, tell our readers, if you will, what tobaccos are being used for the filler, binder and wrapper.

ORSI: We mainly use Mata Fina tobacco. We also use a little bit of Mata Norte tobacco in the filler only. We do that because as you know the Mata Fina tobacco is very aromatic and it is a very mild smoke, while the Mata Norte is very powerful. So with the right amount of Mata Norte we balance the blend into a medium to a full-bodied smoke keeping the fine characteristics of the Mata Fina.

GJA: Lorenzo, what sizes are you making?

ORSI: Corona, Robusto, and Belicoso.

GJA: Those are the popular sizes, although not all smokers favour coronas as much as I do. Will you enlarge the range over time?

ORSI: Yes, we are already manufacturing the Double Corona, Perfecto, Minutos, and Petit Robusto. They will be available sometime next year in specific markets.

GJA: Over time, will you extend the number of vitolas (sizes) in the line?

ORSI: We will reach probably 7 sizes next year. We think in increasing just a few more, and those, focused for specific markets. We don’t intend to reach an extensive vitolario.

GJA: The manufacturing facility you purchased once produced the excellent, though ill fated, Caravelas cigars. I understand that you spent a lot of money on improvements. What were some of the things you did to the factory?

ORSI: We rebuilt the entire facility and built a fantastic new cedar room to properly age the cigars—all fully equipped with coolers and humidity control machines. We changed the molds passing from wooden to plastic ones. We provided all employees with new tools and working stations. We changed the old system of testing loads of production (sampling) to testing each cigar individually on a new Drawmaster. We hired all the personnel required and increased the workforce especially those related to quality control procedures. We tightened the quality controls. We retrained all the rollers. It lasted almost 9 months investing in the infrastructure and retraining and giving rhythm to the experienced workforce.

GJA: What about tobaccos, Lorenzo? Mata Fina and Mata Norte are both ex- pensive leafs. How much have you laid down to insure the integrity and consistency of Monte Pascoal?

ORSI: Yes, they are very expensive. Also, they are quoted in US dollars for us from Brazil which makes it more expensive. 99% of the Brazilian tobacco production is exported, so to guarantee the supply and consistency we had to lay out quite a bit of money. We have also guaranteed delivery for the 2009 production—that alone took hundreds of thousands of US Dollars.

GJA: Obviously, the American market is an important part of your sales plan. Are you already selling the cigars in Brazil?

ORSI: Yes. But the Brazilian market is a very difficult one for different reasons, mainly because of, high taxes over tobacco products (reaches more than 90%!), Cuban cigar competition (inter-governmental agreements which allow them to get into the country without any import taxes), competition from counterfeits (to each cigar sold officially one counterfeited is sold), and Brazil is a young market (regarding cigar culture and well prepared tobacco shops). On the other hand, it is a promising market.

GJA: You always spoke to me about taking the ‘long view.’ In light of that attitude how much time do you expect it to take to reach the production and sales levels you are looking for?

ORSI: I already reached the production level and I have been keeping it to maintaining a consistent 250-300 thousand sticks per year. I expect to reach this sales number the end of next year. Then I plan to move slowly ahead increasing our production. I just want to take care about maintaining and enhancing the quality of our cigars. I have many plans in my head, but I am very careful, I take one step after another. I have a vision: repositioning Brazil as one of the best producers of fine cigars of the world.

GJA: I must tell you, Lorenzo, I thoroughly enjoy Monte Pascoal, and I highly recommend them to people. I am sure you will have a considerable success on your hands.

ORSI: I am happy to hear that from a person like you. I just have to thank you for all the help and long talks we had together enjoying a fine cigar and having a good breakfast at Lincoln Rd in Miami Beach. It is always a pleasure and I look forward to many other opportunities enjoying a great cigar and having a good conversation with you. Thank you again.

GJA: Thanks for your time, and the excellent cigars, Lorenzo. I am sure our readers will enjoy the Monte Pascoal story.

*The full name of the company is Tabacos Mata Fina Industria e Comercio de Charutos Ltda.




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