With little over two months to go before the Christmas bells start peeling, now is the time for retailers to start unwrapping the cigar opportunity.

“There is traditionally an increase in sales of cigars over the festive season as smokers treat themselves while also buying them as presents, so avoiding out-of-stocks is crucial at this time,” says Imperial Tobacco’s Watkins. And with much fatter profit margins than on cigarettes, cigars are a gift that keeps on giving to retailers as well as adult smokers.

Miniature cigars continue to drive growth in the UK cigar sector and the Scandinavian Tobacco Group’s Café Crème brand remains the market leader with more than 60% of total sales.

This summer the Café Crème family of miniature cigars was extended with Café Crème Silver Filter, a smoother cigar for adult smokers who wanted a smoother cigar taste. The move marked the company’s second major product launch for Café Crème in the past 18 months a welcome boost to a category where the flow of genuine innovation has been dry of late.

Hamlet Miniatures continue to claim the second place spot with a 22.5% share of sales, although figures for the 12 months to December 2009 show this to be in gradual decline. Small cigars currently account for 41.4% of sales thanks to brand leaders Hamlet and Classic, but this is predicted to have dropped to 39% by 2012 as the migration towards miniature varieties continues.

Large cigars remain the preserve of connoisseurs and it is for this reason the market has remained stable, albeit small, in the past year with a 3.4% share and annual sales of £32.2m.

Surprising facts about cigars

- The word cigar originated from “sikar”, the Mayan-Indian word for smoking

- Explorer Christopher Columbus is generally credited with the introduction of cigars to Europe after seeing the Cuban Indians smoking twisted dried tobacco leaves rolled in either palm or plantain

- Quality cigars are still handmade

- More than 100 wrapper shades are identified by manufacturers, but the seven most common are: Double Claro very light, Claro light tan, Colorado Claro medium brown, Colorado reddish-brown, Colorado Maduro darker brown, Maduro very dark brown or black, and Oscuro very black.

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