Driving past the premises of Tabacalera de García in La Romana, one already senses the grandiose dimensions of the world’s largest cigar factory. An endless sea of mopeds glitters in the Dominican midday sun. Thousands of specialists daily produce a huge amount of cigars. We have the opportunity to meet the man who is responsible for ensuring that the cogwheels of the mega-operation run smoothly and never stop: factory director, Javier Elmudesi.
Walking through the factory, despite its gigantic proportions, everything seems to run like clockwork. What were the logistical issues that, for example, made sure the correct amount of the VegaFina Year of the Dog was available on all markets at the end of 2017?
JAVIER ELMUDESI: Manufacturing a cigar is a long process. From the seed to packing the cigar in the box can take a year. However, depending on the seed, fermentation and aging process, sometimes up to six years.
Exactly. And Tabacalera de García annually produces more than 40 million premium cigars that translates into 2,000 various brands, lines and formats – how do you handle that?
JAVIER ELMUDESI: I would divide the logistic processes into two steps. The first is everything that happens on the fields and in the barns, and the second is all the production steps in the factory.
We’re mainly interested in how the cogwheels run during the production process in the factory. But, just briefly about the tobacco supply: how big is your tobacco stock, and how is it planned?
JAVIER ELMUDESI: We always have a certain amount of aged tobacco in the warehouse. We have to have sufficient stock for at least two years. But we also make sure that we have special tobaccos at the ready that can and should age for a long time, such as the ligero tobaccos or vintage viso tobaccos from various regions. We have those put aside for special editions, such as for the VegaFina 20th Anniversary Gran Reserva. These have special taste profiles.
What are the volumes, and how many types of tobacco do they contain?
JAVIER ELMUDESI: Our tobacco stock is huge. For the filler, we have between 13 and 14 types, for binders, about seven, and for wrappers, there are 12 to 14 varieties. Each year, the blending team visits different plantations, and we test-smoke on site and give instructions as to whether the tobacco is ready or if it needs to mature. This is how we also find out what special harvest crops have potential for. You notice that immediately, and we can also quickly tell what we can do with it. Even if the processes between the field and factory seem to be separate – there’s constant interaction.
How does the planning work? If you’re making a special edition, such as the VegaFina Anniversary this year, how much lead time do you need?
JAVIER ELMUDESI: We have a selection of very limited tobaccos, excellent vintage tobaccos that are in isolated storage and are sourced from different growing countries. The blending team meets at least once a week, sometimes twice. And we constantly smoke various blends and are always looking for new blends for the marketing departments. We register these blends very closely, and as we test them, we already know that this can be one of the next VegaFina blends, or for another brand.
So the whole thing is an ongoing process?
JAVIER ELMUDESI: Yes. We have a kind of blending library that we continually expand and improve, and we work hand in hand with the marketing crew. When they come to us with a project, we go to our library and find the fitting one. That’s why, for a new project, we need between six and twelve months.
When do you decide what to produce on a given day or in a given week?
JAVIER ELMUDESI: That’s a very complex matter. It’s the nuts and bolts of everything and is organized by the factory’s planning and logistics department. We determine a monthly production plan that is divided into weeks. A network of people work to make sure that everything runs smoothly for daily production. We have 23 sections that process the blends – everything has to be at the right place at the right time.
And how, exactly, is that ensured?
JAVIER ELMUDESI: With the monthly production plan, each section knows exactly what it will produce each week. Every day, the supervisor oversees the production and has to keep an eye on the committee and has to watch out what’s going to be produced the next day. At the end, we check that against the plan and what has actually occurred. We expect each section to fulfill at least 97 percent of what’s on the plan. Most sections are above that; they reach 102 or 103 percent. This all lies within the area of responsibility of the department, which we call the supply chain.
That checks everything of the planning and logistics department?
JAVIER ELMUDESI: Exactly. It’s made up of people who plan the demand for the US market. In addition, there are people who organize the export market (Europe and Asia). Then there are others who ascertain how much tobacco we need to feed the respective markets. On top of that, we have people in the leaf department, who constantly keep the logistic department informed about what the supplies are. And then there’s the section within logistics that plans and analyzes the exact daily demand. The entire thing is a real network and closely interlinked with production and in constant contact. That is: monthly, weekly, daily planning and always the counter-check … a perpetual process. It takes years for this procedure to work fluently. Our factory was founded in 1969 – and, after all these years, it runs like clockwork.