Royal Agio Cigars partners with Drew Estate to bring Balmoral premium cigars to the American market
By Stephen A. Ross
Not so long ago, Boris Wintermans, CEO of Netherlands-based Royal Agio Cigars, traveled to Miami, Florida, to meet with the folks at Drew Estate and discuss a potential partnership between the two companies. Wintermans and his team, which included Chief Sales Officer Marcel Michels, spent the day talking about their company’s 111-year history in the cigar industry and the products it sells, which include the premium handmade cigar line Balmoral Anejo and the Panter and Mehari’s machine-made cigars.
“We ended the presentation, and they told us that we had a beautiful story but that one really big component was missing from it,” Wintermans recalls. “We failed to express how proud we are of our company, its products and its accomplishments. It’s a weird thing for us to talk about ourselves; it’s not something that’s typically done in Dutch culture.”
Considering that natural Dutch reticence for boasting about oneself, Royal Agio Cigars could not have found a better partner to distribute its products in the United States than Drew Estate. Drew Estate has not only revolutionized the cigar industry with its Acid infused cigars, but it has also shattered most preconceptions about premium cigars through its constant, cutting-edge, innovative marketing and social media campaigns. If it’s true that opposites attract, then the marriage between Royal Agio Cigars and Drew Estate is going to be a long and fruitful one for both parties.
Established in 1904 by Jacques Wintermans, Royal Agio Cigars makes approximately 800 million cigars a year, which are sold in almost 100 countries. The Netherlands-based company employs close to 2,300 people in factories scattered throughout the world, including Belgium, where it operates Europe’s largest cigar factory; Sri Lanka, where wrapper leaf for its machine-made cigars is processed and placed on bobbins; and the Dominican Republic, where its premium, handmade long-filler Balmoral Anejo cigars are made.
American tobacconists are most familiar with Royal Agio Cigars’ Panter and Mehari’s premium machine-made cigars, but they are now learning about Royal Agio Cigars’ best-kept secret, Balmoral Anejo cigars. Started in 1895, the Balmoral brand recently marked its 120th anniversary. Balmoral Anejo cigars are made at Royal Agio Cigars’ factory in the Dominican Republic, where just three pairs of the company’s best rollers and bunchers—working directly under the supervision of factory manager Francisco Batista—handcraft the cigars from only the best well-aged tobaccos available. Balmoral Anejo cigars are an exclusive product representing the very best in premium cigars. And they’re something in which Wintermans has taken a special interest.
A self-described sportsman, Wintermans is a passionate man nearing middle age. In his sparse spare time, he likes to blow off steam by racing motorcycles and cars on some of Europe’s most famous tracks. He’s also interested in boxing and competing in triathlons. He’s a dynamic, approachable and engaging individual who occasionally likes to do impressions of Bob Ross, the now-deceased host of Public Broadcasting Service’s The Joy of Painting, and Jeremy Clarkson, a former presenter on the popular BBC show Top Gear. He also loves cigars.
Growing up in the cigar industry, Wintermans traveled the world learning about tobacco. From visits to places such as Indonesia and the Dominican Republic, Wintermans divined the secrets of some of the world’s best tobacco crops—secrets that he wished to share with other cigar smokers.
“Boris is very passionate about blending and developing products,” Michels says. “Boris started blending according to his philosophy of what he thinks a good cigar should be like, and we came out with the Balmoral Anejo 18.”
Released in 2014, Balmoral Anejo 18 grabbed cigar smokers’ attention in both Europe and the U.S. Available in two sizes, Torpedo Mk52 (6 1/4 x 52) and Rothschild Masivo (5 x 55), the limited-edition cigars were made using 18-year-old Brazilian Arapiraca wrappers, Dominican binders, and Brazilian and Nicaraguan filler tobaccos. The cigars were well-received by consumers, retailers and journalists, receiving high ratings and praise.
“Anejo 18 really set the direction for Balmoral,” Michels explains. “We were convinced that Anejo 18 was a very good cigar, and retailers and consumers agreed. European Cigar Journal gave it a 93 rating. It received 5 cigar rings from the French magazine L’Amateur de Cigare and was placed 12th in European Cigar Journal’s top 25 best cigars from the Dominican Republic. It was a tremendous success for us.”
Like the music world, the cigar industry is littered with tales of one-hit wonders. The list of brands with an initial release to hit a tobacconist’s shelves with gusto only to wither and die in a bargain-priced grab bag with subsequent product introductions is long indeed. Looking to avoid consignment to the ignominious trash heap, Royal Agio Cigars followed Anejo 18 with the 2015 release of Anejo XO.
From the initial retailer reaction at the 2015 IPCPR show to the consumer demand nearly six months after its introduction, Anejo XO has secured for Balmoral a lasting presence in American retail shops.
“The objective of creating something special was achieved with Anejo 18, but we realized that we couldn’t relax,” Wintermans says. “We had to do it again to prove that we are serious about premium handmade cigars. We are always working on new blends, especially for our Anejo cigars. Balmoral Anejo is about aged tobaccos, and this means that we have to have a clear vision about the future of the brand. Special tobaccos deserve special attention, and we are now in the process of preserving the tobaccos that will be used in our cigars 10 years from now. When the end consumer thinks about Balmoral, we want them to think about quality, aroma and complexity. We surprised the market [with the release of Anejo 18], and we want to continue to surprise the market with future Balmoral releases.”
Anejo XO is made using an aged sun-grown Brazilian Arapiraca wrapper, Dominican Olor binder, and filler tobaccos from the Dominican Republic, Brazil and Nicaragua. The result is a medium- to full-bodied cigar that has an underlying sweetness and provides notes of cedar, cacao and spice. Packaged in 20-count boxes, Anejo XO is available in three sizes: Rothschild Masivo (5 x 55), Torpedo Mk52 (6 1/4 x 52) and a new vitola, Petit Robusto FT (4 1/4 x 48; FT is short for Flag Tail). The Petit Robusto FT serves as a short-smoke alternative for the Rothschild Masivo and the Mk52 and carries a lower price than the other Balmoral Anejo XO cigars, making the Anejo taste accessible to a wider audience.
Like Anejo 18, Anejo XO is made with exclusive aged tobacco that’s limited in supply. Because of its exclusive nature, Anejo XO will be available to only a limited number of retailers through Drew Estate’s Diplomat Retailer Program.
“Anejo XO is pretty similar to the Anejo 18,” Wintermans explains. “Anejo 18 was a special cigar, but we are out of stock of the 18-year-old wrapper. Anejo XO continues in that area of taste profile, which is our goal for Balmoral. It can be continued long into the future. We want to come out with new blends that passionate cigar smokers will enjoy, offer a cigar with complexity and that will surprise the market.”
When talking about surprising the market with new blends, Wintermans describes an almost magical process in which the finished outcome is greater than the sum of its parts. The same could be said about Royal Agio Cigars’ partnership with Drew Estate.
“We are two strong companies with different strengths that are coming together,” Wintermans says. “Drew Estate knows how to do it in America, and we know how to do it in Europe and the rest of the world. It’s a relationship where 1+1=3. It helps retailers because we can bring enjoyment to the end consumers. We want to make the consumer smile and bring enjoyment to them. At the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about.”
Both companies are now in the process of finalizing plans that will raise American retailers’ awareness of Balmoral Anejo cigars. Retailers can anticipate a steady wave of innovative marketing promotions that will increase consumers’ curiosity about the brand. And they can be sure it will be like any other Drew Estate campaign—unique, fun, innovative, in-your-face and exciting.Wintermans is enthusiastic about the possibilities and how much fun Royal Agio Cigars is going to have with Balmoral Anejo cigars in the U.S.
“You prepare the room when the sun is shining,” Wintermans says, using a popular Dutch adage to explain the timing of Balmoral’s introduction. “The sun is shining for our company, so we can now take the opportunity to grow Balmoral by creating something special. It’s magical to take premium tobacco and turn it into a high-quality cigar. Creating cigars to remember is one of the most important things we can do. We understand that American retailers don’t know that we’ve been around 111 years and that we have four generations of passion and knowledge for cigars. We’re the best-kept secret in the U.S., but we’re hoping to no longer be a secret. We hope that people will recognize the quality behind our products, that they will value our brand and be excited by the tastes we bring to the market. We’re going to make some of the best cigars available and bring them to the U.S. consumer.”
To learn more about Balmoral Anejo cigars, including how the exclusive cigars are made, visit Balmoral’s new website, balmoralcigars.com.