The Power of the Leaf: A Look at Aganorsa Leaf

    Formerly Casa Fernandez Cigars, Aganorsa Leaf is building on its strongest asset.

    Left to right: Paul Palmer, Max Fernandez and the late Arsenio Ramos.

    Aganorsa LeafEduardo Fernandez created Aganorsa in Nicaragua in 1998. The Cuban expatriate had experienced a tremendous amount of success in his earlier career as an investment banker in New York City after graduating from the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania. An entrepreneur, Fernandez and his brother, Leopoldo, saw an opportunity to bring fast-food services to Spain and established a pizza delivery business in Madrid. The business was hugely successful, and after a few short years Fernandez sold his portion of the business and retired. While his business success assured that Fernandez would not have to work again, his entrepreneurial spirit drove him to find other businesses to occupy his time. Agriculture attracted him, and in 1998 he began growing tobacco.

    There have been some pretty significant changes going on in the past 14 months at Aganorsa Leaf. In December 2017, the company, then known as Casa Fernandez Cigars, announced the hiring of Terence Reilly, formerly of Quesada Cigars, to serve as the company’s director of sales and marketing. In April 2018, Casa Fernandez Cigars adopted a new logo and a new name, Aganorsa Leaf, to capitalize on its strongest asset—the quality leaf the company grows throughout Nicaragua. The vertically integrated Aganorsa Leaf is one of Nicaragua’s biggest tobacco growers, concentrating on the cultivation of Criollo ’98 and Corojo ’99, in Jalapa, Condega and Esteli, and providing its tobaccos to manufacturers around the world, as well as reserving its own supply for its own use.

    The company also operates its own cigarmaking factories in Esteli and Jalapa, as well as a small boutique cigar factory in Miami, Florida. In these facilities, Aganorsa Leaf makes its own cigars and also produces cigars for companies such as Illusione, Warped, Viaje, Foundation Cigar Company, Sindicato and HVC. While some of the cigars that Aganorsa Leaf makes for other companies have consistently scored high in ratings and have frequently appeared in various “best of” categories, its own cigars have often been overlooked. Changing the name of the company to Aganorsa Leaf is intended to better align the company’s own cigars with the reputation that its tobaccos enjoy throughout the industry with other companies’ cigars.

    “What was strange to me was that when you look at successful and respected brands like Illusione, Warped, Viaje, Foundation, Sindicato and HVC, many of their cigars are made by us, using our tobacco,” Reilly explains. “They have more notoriety than our own products, and to me, that didn’t make sense. I felt that the company was a sleeping giant that already had everything in place to succeed but just needed help in doing a better job of carrying its message to retailers and consumers. There are a lot of cigars on the market, and you have to look at what is unique and meaningful about the product. Clearly, our biggest strength is the tobacco that we grow.”

    Eduardo Fernandez, Aganorsa Leaf
    Eduardo Fernandez

    Cigar Initiation
    Eduardo Fernandez may have been content to just own one of Nicaragua’s largest tobacco growing operations, but a friend convinced him to dive deeper into the premium tobacco world. Pedro Martin, the owner of Tropical Tobacco, helped Fernandez find buyers for his tobacco. In 2002, Martin wanted to retire and sold his cigarmaking operation to Fernandez. With the acquisition of Tropical Tobacco, Fernandez had become a vertically integrated cigarmaker overnight, able to control the entire cigar production process from seed to ash, but few people recognized it. With the help of Ramos, who proved to be as adept as a cigar blender as he was at growing and fermenting tobacco, Fernandez released new cigar lines like JFR, the brick-and-mortar exclusive cigar that includes the 8 x 80 Lunatic, Casa Fernandez and Guardian of the Farm, but the company still suffered from an identity problem on the market. To try to alleviate it, Fernandez dropped the Tropical Tobacco name in 2010 for Casa Fernandez. That helped, but it didn’t go far enough. With the urging of Max Fernandez, Eduardo’s son who is now managing the TABSA factory, Fernandez approved the renaming of the company to Aganorsa Leaf in order to identify the entire company with the tobacco that it grows.

    Aganorsa Leaf Signature“Casa Fernandez remains as a cigar brand, but it doesn’t really define us,” Reilly comments. “There are cult of personality companies where the company is associated with the owner and his personality. There are lifestyle companies where they promote a lifestyle. And then there are product-based companies. It made sense that what made us special—the leaf we grow—be the name of the company.”

    With the new name has come an effort to tie all of the company’s brands into the Aganorsa Leaf name. All of the boxes now feature the Aganorsa Leaf logo, a symbol of quality and assurance, thus tying them together.

    “People are always mentioning our tobacco, but they weren’t making the connection between the tobacco and the cigar brands they love,” Paul Palmer, Aganorsa Leaf’s President, explains. “There was a disconnect in our own brands. People didn’t know that the company that makes JFR is the same company that makes Guardian of the Farm. We want people to want to try a cigar when they see that it has Aganorsa Leaf in it. We have that signature flavor to our tobacco. Seeing the Aganorsa Leaf logo triggers the person to trust and purchase the product. One of our challenges was building brand awareness. We turned it around in 2018. People are starting to know Aganorsa Leaf for its cigars as much as for its excellent tobacco.”

    Based on the company’s reputation for growing excellent tobacco, Terence Reilly and Max Fernadez spearheaded its name change to Aganorsa Leaf.
    Terence Reilly

    Building the Aganorsa Experience
    Having rebranded itself, Aganorsa Leaf is set to build on its gains from last year. The company has enacted a simple demonstration to be performed in-store for retailers and their sales staffs, as well as consumers. During the demonstration, which is dubbed “the Aganorsa Experience,” Aganorsa Leaf sales representatives will present two fresh-rolled cigars, called Fumas. One is made exclusively of a single priming of the company’s Criollo ’98 tobacco grown in Esteli, and the other is made from its Jalapa-grown Corojo ’99 tobacco. Consumers are encouraged to try each Fumas separately and then together.

    In addition to the Aganorsa Experience, retailers can expect a stepped-up program of supporting marketing materials, such as in-store displays and shelf talkers, as well as merchandizing suggestions to help them build their Aganorsa Leaf cigar sales.

    “Our retail partners have asked us to expand awareness of our products through improving our presentation and social media presence,” Palmer concludes. “We are always taking feedback from stores and our salespeople. They told us we needed shelf talkers and needed a plan to put it all together to give the brands continuity and help the consumers make intelligent buying decisions. We’ve created packaging designs and cigar sizes that can fit together very well. As we roll out these programs through 2019, excitement about our brands is building. More people are discovering the power of Aganorsa Leaf.”

    This story first appeared in the March/April 2019 issue of Tobacco Business magazine. Members of the tobacco industry are eligible for a complimentary subscription to our magazine. Click here for details.

    – By Stephen A. Ross, senior editor of Tobacco Business Magazine.