by Vivian I. Kafie
This past year, the Boutique Cigar Association of America (BCAA) was founded. The BCAA was the brainchild of Dr. Gaby Kafie, owner of Kafie 1901 Cigars and Tabacalera G. Kafie y Cia., a boutique cigar factory located in Danli, Honduras.
Kafie is a boutique cigar manufacturer at heart. His factory produces less than 300,000 cigars a year. In a world where mass production is a trend, Kafie found himself not having a voice in the marketplace—a platform where retailers and connoisseurs could understand the philosophy and passion behind boutique brands and manufacturing. He wanted, therefore, to create an association to represent boutique cigar companies as a sector of the premium cigar industry.
That goal was only possible through the assembly of a team whose members shared the same thoughts and passion behind boutique cigars. Over a period of a few months, a board of directors was selected: Dalton Healy, Carter Skinner, Kerry Horney, Mike Palmer, Fouad Kashouty and Joel Marrero. All have vital roles in the world of premium cigars, and all serve a special purpose within the BCAA. The team comprises boutique cigar brand owners, factory owners and independent cigar representatives, along with a cigar connoisseur who is president of one of the top cigar clubs in Florida. The BCAA also has an attorney who specializes in U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) related matters. This is just the beginning of our journey; our success depends on your participation.
The BCAA was set up as a nonprofit organization whose purpose is to serve as a resource center for boutique cigar companies. In 2016, the FDA passed its deeming regulations on the premium cigar industry. As most of you know, according to these new regulations, brands that have been on the market since before 2007 are safe (grandfathered). New brands that were introduced after that date have to go through a burdensome, expensive and uncharted regulatory process imposed by the FDA.
At the time such news came out, Kafie was having his cigars made by a cigar factory with more than 30 years in the cigar business. Naturally, all their cigar brands were grandfathered. Indeed, the factory he was working with was literally celebrating the new FDA regulations, while Kafie was left dismayed and worried about the future of his brands that debuted in 2013. Many older factories were even beginning to use the term “grandfathered cigars” as a way to market their products to retailers across the country.
Kafie obviously saw this as a problem and a huge disadvantage for smaller, newer boutique cigar companies in the competitive marketplace. Something needed to be done. Apart from starting his own new factory, which was built to the FDA’s on-site inspection specifications, the solution would be to bring together boutique cigar brands and collectively build a resource center that would help such brands navigate the regulatory framework in front of them, while at the same time creating awareness of such brands in the market. A team of a few great minds fueled by passion is the path forward.
Since its inception, the focus of the BCAA has been to gather information that will help boutique brand owners understand and comply with all federal regulations. In fact, this past year, Kafie’s company officially registered all of its products with the FDA and has already been awarded a letter from the agency approving Kafie’s warning and advertising plan. As a retired physician, Kafie felt that if he could get through medical school, he can also navigate the FDA requirements for now.
But Kafie sees the bigger picture, saying, “The success of my company depends on the success of all other boutique cigar brands on the market. We must work together and claim our spot in the marketplace.”
The BCAA has short-term and long-term goals. This year, we seek to identify all boutique cigar brands in the U.S. market. Boutique cigar companies are defined by the BCAA as family-owned entities that produce less than 1 million cigars a year (this would cover their entire portfolio of brands). We have also set up a website, thebcaa.org, where retailers and consumers can gather information on such companies and brands. We have found that boutique cigar brands have a strong following, but often the brands are hard to find due to restricted marketing budgets and smaller sales forces out in the field. The website aims to generate awareness of such brands and also gives retailers and customers the ability to reach out to them directly.
The benefits of being a BCAA member include the promotion of brand affiliates, defending and providing a unified voice for boutique companies, and working together to build a collegial community of boutique cigar makers, brands, retailers and enthusiasts. We also focus on promoting ethical and legal trade practices through education and knowledge. Most of all, we wish to build relationships and collaborate with our industry partners. The success of boutique cigars depends on the unity of company owners.
It’s a dream of all of the organization’s directors to bring together many boutique cigar brands under the umbrella of the BCAA in order to work collectively and plan a brighter future for us all. We need to focus on helping one another by sharing resources and information, with long-term goals in mind. And part of our long-term strategy is to form a collective voice—a voice in the marketplace, a voice at the federal level, a voice that will share our concerns with everyone as well as celebrate our victories. Together the BCAA feels that it can build a pathway so boutique cigar companies can find their way into humidors across the country.
If you have any questions, please reach out to us directly at 305-255-6368.