A passion for excellence
Responsible for producing some of the finest cigar brands in the world, J. Cortés Cigars is this year celebrating its 85th year of continuous growth
A family owned company celebrating its 85th anniversary in 2011, J. Cortès Cigars was established in 1926 as a one-man operation in Flanders, Belgium: “It was my grandfather who set up the business in the 1920s, initially making each individual cigar by hand, before gradually expanding the company in the years that followed,” explains Frederik Vandermarliere, group operations manager of J. Cortès Cigars. “Ten years later, in 1936, the business factory where it commenced production of its first range of machine-made cigars, smaller in size, but like every cigar produced during the company’s lifetime made solely with 100 per cent natural tobacco.”
In the 1970s two big, strategic takeovers occurred that involved the acquisition of the companies, Neos and TAF. The purchase of Neos brought with it a larger production facility, while the takeover of TAF, a company in the midst of bankruptcy, was a decision made on the basis of acquiring several of its brand names, the most notable of all being J. Cortès.
“Influenced by his love of the South of France and the beautiful blue colour of its seas, it was my father Guido who ushered the J. Cortès brand into the 1980s, giving it its distinctive blue packaging and introducing it to the French marketplace,” Frederik continues. “In the 90s the company developed a small cigarillo under the brand name of Neos Mini, a product that, for more than ten years, was the most popular cigar in France and still retains its position amongst the top three sellers in the region today. The J. Cortès and Neos brands can today be found in more than 80 countries that the company exports too, as can its entry brand, Amigos. In 2009 the company made approximately 400 million cigars, a number which increased to 435 million in 2010 and is expected to reach somewhere around 470 million in 2011.”
Sourcing tobacco from some of the finest and most exclusive regions on the planet, J. Cortès Cigars has become world renowned for the quality of each and every one of its cigar products, something that Frederik goes on to highlight begins to take shape right from the very beginning: “The sourcing of the tobacco itself is as crucial as any stage of the manufacturing process. In most other tobacco products you will inevitably find additives that work to produce a smoother taste. Unlike these producers J. Cortés Cigars works with nothing but tobacco and water and as a result it is imperative it uses only the highest quality tobacco in its various brands.
“Arguably the most difficult and important part of the whole cigar-making process actually involves the tobacco that is found on the outside of the cigar, something that is called the wrapper, the tobacco leaf that needs to be perfectly preserved and cut to give the cigar that beautiful brown colour that makes its so distinguishable. Once the tobacco leaves used in the company’s cigars have been picked they are sent to our plant in Sri Lanka where the wrappers are expertly cut by hand before being carefully shipped back to Belgium. Every tobacco ingredient that goes into a J. Cortès cigar is manually handled with the greatest of care to ensure a perfect end product, and while the Neos and Amigos brands are machine packed, they too are monitored by the strongest of quality controls.”
While the company is fully committed to its existing brands, it hasn’t stopped J. Cortès Cigars from looking at introducing new products to capitalise on both its existing markets and those that are developing at pace. In October the company will launch a cigar with Honduran tobacco, one that will be positioned at the very top of the market due to the exclusivity of these leaves and the time it takes to ensure only the finest are harvested and used in these cigars. Furthermore the company will continue to appear at a number of international trade fairs where it will present its latest product developments before unveiling one that it aims to specifically target towards the booming Far East region.
Despite the fact that the company’s business levels escaped any real impact from the financial crisis that took hold at the end of 2008, changes in smoking policies in many countries have made the task of entering and expanding into new markets that much more of a challenge for J. Cortès Cigars: “While it is obviously a big obstacle for cigar companies that there are now fewer and fewer places where people can smoke, it is a shared belief at J. Cortès Cigars that the products it makes can retain a strong position in the market, due to their quality and ability to be enjoyed at the ease of the consumer,” Frederik says. “Other challenges that the company faces come from events that are often out of its control. Working with a natural product means that the company runs the risk of being adversely affected by natural disasters, for example the heavy rains and flooding that hit Indonesia in 2010. It is for this very reason that J. Cortès Cigars always retains a strategic, two-year stock of tobacco that it can call upon in the event of unforeseen circumstances.”
Representing the third generation of the Vandermarliere’s, it is clear that Frederik retains his family’s historic belief in the long-term future strength of the company’s cigar brands: “The growth rates achieved by the company in recent years have been nothing short of fantastic and everyone associated with J. Cortès Cigars is determined to see this trend continue. The way this will be realised is by remaining strong in the company’s core markets whilst simultaneously breaking into new countries. Clearly this will be a big undertaking, but by being in the right place, at the right time, with the right product, it is very much a realistic target that the company can reach.”