- Bongani Cigars is a Mozambique-based firm that considers itself Africa's first luxury cigar brand.
- Workers for Bongani hand-roll 10,000 cigars every month with locally grown tobacco.
- A typical Bongani cigar is worth about 10% less than its Cuban equivalent.
- But the company may have a hard time breaking beyond Africa's borders.
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Following is a transcript of an episode of Business Insider Today.
In the world of cigars, machine-made can only get you so far.
Hand-rolled cigars are the mark of true luxury.
Though Cubans have the best reputation around, one African cigar brand is hoping to pose some competition.
Bongani Cigars has been making a name for itself across Africa, and now the company is hoping to take its hand-rolled cigars even farther.
But can a brand from Mozambique compete with the Cuban legends?
This cigar brand from Mozambique is marketing a luxury item to Africa's growing middle class.
Bongani Cigars wants to become the first choice for Africans looking for a prestige smoking experience.
Using tobacco grown locally in Mozambique and wrappers imported from Cameroon, Bongani workers hand-roll 10,000 cigars every month.
Bongani CEO Kamal Moukheiber brought in a hand-rolling expert from the Dominican Republic to train his employees.
Kamal Moukheiber, Bongani Cigars CEO: "Setup costs are not that big. What is harder is putting everything together. It's training the people, keeping them focused, bringing your raw materials, making sure it arrives on time, shipping new product - this is the hard bit."
Moukheiber is aiming to corner both a growing African middle class as well as the global cigar and cigarillo market.
That market is expected to reach $21 billion in the next five years, with an anticipated annual growth of 3.1%.
Machine-rolled cigars have shredded tobacco leaves, while hand-rolled ones usually leave the leaves intact. That makes for a richer, and more expensive, smoking experience.
Cubans are still the first choice of cigar aficionados. A record $537 million worth of Cubans were sold in 2018, thanks to a growing demand in China.
Bongani cigars are priced around 10% less than the equivalent Cuban, with its standard smoke selling for around $13. Founded in 2016, the company has made footholds across sub-Saharan Africa and is looking to expand further, hoping to eventually reach the US.
Moukheiber: "We are now in about 300 test points across those markets, across South Africa, Mozambique, Kenya and we're going to double that the moment we step into Nigeria, if not more."
But some experts say Bongani is going to have a harder time breaking out of the continent.
Leon Kruger, cigar connoisseur: "I don't think it will take off elsewhere for the simple reason it's not really up to the Cuban cigar standard, and also the Nicaraguan, the Dominican and Honduran cigars. But yes, it's not a bad cigar nonetheless."
In the Zulu language, Bongani means, "be grateful." It's a sentiment its employees have taken to heart.
Eugenia Antonio, Bongani Cigars cigar roller: "There's a lot of understanding and familiarity here, above all."
"We express those feelings in our work every days. That's why Bongani cigar is the best at a national level, African level, and we hope that it can be on a worldwide level."