2013 marks the 45th anniversary of Joya de Nicaragua cigars.  This is a company rich in tradition and history.  Over the past four years, there have been many changes at the Joya de Nicaragua Cigar Company.  It is perhaps the past few months that have been the most dynamic in terms of these changes.  These changes have included management, marketing, and operational changes.   I recently had an opportunity to visit Joya de Nicaragua.  Eleven months had passed between visits at Joya de Nicaragua.  Since then, many of these changes had been put in place – and the result has been a renewed and vibrant energy at Joya de Nicaragua.   At the same time, the company continues to keep close to its ties to modern Nicaraguan history.

Historical Ties

One thing the Joya de Nicaragua made clear to us early on is that while there is change going on in the company, they are not losing their roots.  According to Mario Perez, Head of Product Development, “the history of Joya de Nicaragua goes in hand with the evolution of our country’s history.”  From my observations, this is something the company is very proud of.

Perez took us on a journey through the history of the company, which was created in 1968 establishing a manufacturing presence in the Nicaraguan cigar industry.  Perez takes us through many events including:  the company’s connection with Nicaraguan President Anastasio Somoza Debayle; the burning of the factory during the Nicaraguan Revolution; the nationalization of the company; the struggles as a result of the U.S. embargo against Nicaragua; and re-privatization of the company in the 1990s coinciding with the cigar boom.  As you walk through the factory, you get a sense of this history first hand while seeing the changs occur.  We included a video of Perez describing the history below:

Early Changes at Joya de Nicaragua

The more recent changes at Joya de Nicaragua can be traced back to 2008.  It was that year when Joya de Nicaragua entered into an agreement to have Drew Estate Cigar Company handle their distribution.  Some may have saw it as a case of “the Odd Couple” where the very traditional Joya de Nicaragua company was joining forces with a maverick like Drew Estate.  Instead, the two companies discovered how much they had in common with each other – and it has become one of the most successful distribution agreements in cigar industry history.

In 2011, the company brought in Jose Blanco to be its Senior Vice President reporting directly to Dr. Alejandro Martinez Cuenca.  In this role Blanco would be responsible for overall responsible for overall brand and blend development.  This was considered a major coup for Joya de Nicaragua as Blanco was the #1 “free agent” available at the time.  Blanco soon went to work on creating his first blend with Joya de Nicaragua.   In a conversation we had with Blanco at the 2012 IPCPR, he mentioned how it took eight months and 60 blends to come up with a final product.  In the end, the blend selected for the CyB (originally called Cuenca y Blanco), was a departure from the traditional, mostly Nicaraguan Joya de Nicaragua blends.  CyB would be a true multi-national blend with tobaccos from four countries.  It would become a huge success and would finish as our #9 Cigar for 2012.

Jonathan Drew of Drew Estate and Jose Blanco
of Joya de Nicaragua share a moment.
(Cigar Coop Photo 2012)

Management Changes: Juan Martinez named Joya de Nicaragua President

One change that has recently and quietly occurred at Joya de Nicaragua is that Juan Martinez, the son of Dr. Cuenca has been named the company President.   As Blanco said at our media briefing, this is a “new generation“.  Martinez has been involved with Joya de Nicaragua for quite some time.  Dr. Cuenca is still involved with the company as Chairman, but no doubt Martinez is assuming many of the day to day reins.

On my last visit, I had a chance to meet Martinez and found him to have a dynamic and energetic personality.   Martinez has also been appearing at events.  Martinez’s enthusiasm is no doubt playing a role in many of the changes coming on the operational and marketing side.  At the same time, one can assume that he played a role in some of the changes that have already occurred prior to this year.

Connecting with the Consumer through Media and Marketing

The company is also playing more of a role in social marketing.   The roots of this can probably be connected in several ways.  First up, Drew Estate has already been leveraging social media marketing techniques for quite some. Blanco himself has also embraced social media (in fact I have starting referring to him as the “King of all Social Media”).  Finally Juan Martinez himself has been active in social media – and this is evident from his Facebook page.   They have also hired a social media director.  This has allowed the company to connect with its consumer base.

This shift to more modern marketing techniques still is reflected in the traditional marketing.  This is seen on the company’s print advertisements. The campaign ads have reflected a theme of both the traditional roots of the company and how they fit in with modern Nicaragua.  This mix of classic and contemporary is demonstrated in recent print ads.  For example, there is one print ad with a young contemporary couple being pushed on a traditional Central American pushcart enjoying Joya de Nicaragua cigars.    On the ad it says, where it says “Explore the exotic flavor of Nicaragua through it’s first and most authentic cigar.”  It then has the slogan “Joya – The Spirit of Nicaragua.”   A part of the campaign has also been to showcase the people in the company.  Several of the print ads have featured people who work at Joya de Nicaragua.  This has provided another avenue for  Joya de Nicaragua to have its people connect with its consumer base.

Operational Changes

In addition to the management and marketing changes, there are actually changes going on at the factory as well.  When we arrived at the factory this year, the front of the factory was completely different than when we were here 11 months ago.  The front of the building while now reflecting a more contemporary company (gold colored) logo still leverages its history through the red brickface that now adorns the front.

Joya de Nicaragua Factory 2012
(Cigar Coop Photo)
Joya de Nicaragua 2013
(Cigar Coop Photo)

There are changes happening at the factory as well.  There is a factory expansion that has been going on.  Things such as the lighting inside the factory have been greatly improved.  Subtle changes such as replacing wood molds with more durable plastic molds have also occurred.

Wooden Molds at Joya de Nicaragua from 2012
(Cigar Coop Photo)

Plastic Molds at Joya de Nicaragua from 2013
(Cigar Coop Photo)
Final Thoughts

Whenever I walked the halls of Joya de Nicaragua’s factory, I always had a sense of tradition.  To me, it almost was like walking the halls of a prestigious small college.  The factory has a small footprint, but produces a lot of knowledge to one who visits it.  When I came back to Joya de Nicaragua in 2013, that feeling was still very much there.  The difference was an energy and enthusiasm that was second to none.  Change can be a good thing – and this definitely seems to be the case at Joya de Nicaragua.  Going into the next few years, it appears the best is yet to come.