The Entrepreneur Behind Mosi Oa Tunya cigars
Shepherd Mafundikwa is one of the prospective exporters that took part at last week’s outward seller mission in Dubai that was facilitated by Zimtrade as part of its trade development and export promotion mandate.
Participating at such an event is something that Mafundikwa had never dreamt of three years ago.
In fact, the idea of manufacturing cigars had not crossed his mind three years ago when he was working for an airline in the United States.
The idea only came after he took an early retirement beginning of 2019.
“After retirement, I decided I wanted to go in a different direction and start something on my own,” 55-year-old Mafundikwa said.
The challenge was, however, that he did not know what it is that he wanted to do or venture into.
He thought of things and resources that are abundant in this country that could do with some value addition.
Tobacco is one such primary product that came into his mind.
But instead of following the footsteps of the likes of Adam Molai and Simon Rudland that ventured into cigarette manufacturing, Mafundikwa decided to take a unique route. He chose to do cigar manufacturing instead.
“After doing some research I realised no one was making cigars, there was no value addition. Most of the tobacco that is grown in this country is exported in its raw form instead of doing some value addition.”
Mafundikwa took this as an opportunity and embarked on a fact-finding mission on how the venture could be executed. In a show of determination and strong conviction on his idea, Mafundikwa went on an educational tour to countries like Cuba and the Dominican Republic. After seeing how it’s done in those countries, he was confident that this could be something he could also do in Zimbabwe.
By the time he got back home, he already had a name for his brand — Mosi Oa Tunya Cigars — the smoke that thunders.
Mafundikwa says the cigars embrace the myth and the legend of the Mosi Oa Tunya.
“Literally, we think our product is the smoke that thunders and the punch is in every cigar that we make. The pulling power of the Mosi Oa Tunya is what I wanted in this brand,” he says.
This was just the start of the project. Prior to this Mafundikwa did not know much about cigars, but realised the potential.
While the idea was prompted by the size of tobacco crop that is grown in the country, he soon found out that the tobacco that is used for cigars is different from the one that is used for cigarettes.
He thus teamed up with the Tobacco Research Board to grow tobacco that is suitable for cigars.
“Cigars are made with barley tobacco, which is air-cured and has to be stored for at least a year before it can be used to make cigars.
“It has to go through fermentation so that it gets to the level that is good for making cigars.”
Mafundikwa said apart from investing in machinery through replicating a Caribbean cigar factory, the company has transferred skills to local Zimbabweans, mostly women.
“All our cigars are hand-rolled, so I would say the skills development is the biggest investment that we made and that was made possible by bringing in technical skills from Cuba and the Dominican Republic.
“As of now, I am proud to say we are also a women empowerment project as all our rollers are female.”
The company has 10 employees, most of whom were recruited from Sunningdale, the closest suburb to the Mosi Oa Tunya factory in Graniteside.
Mafundikwa said while the women were still undergoing training, the cigars that they have made have already been exported to countries like the United States, Romania, South Africa, Kenya, Zambia.
Dubai is also expected to be the gateway to the Middle East.
The company targets to have 90 percent of its products exported hence participation at events such as the Dubai outward mission organised by Zimtrade.
For cigar lovers, Mosi Oa Tunya has two distinct flavours, one strong and another medium.
Cigar wrappers are, arguably, the most important part of any premium cigar as they can determine anywhere from 60 percent to 90 percent of the cigar’s overall flavour.
According to Mafundikwa, the habano is the most popular wrapper and Mosi Oa Tunya imports these from Ecuador and the Dominican Republic.
It terms of the price range Mosi Oa Tunya offers three sizes, with the smallest one targeted for low-income earners.
“We want to provide a product that meets the pocket of the various customers that we have.”
He said the cigars are also being consumed across the gender divide with some women also enjoying the Mosi Oa Tunya cigars.
Mafundikwa says Mosi Oa Tunya cigars are differentiated from others through quality and the drive for women empowerment.
Mosi Oa Tunya’s packaging is also of top quality and is being made by other small businesses.
“We could be importing packaging from China, but we realised that if we are to make a difference to another small business, by giving them the business to make our packaging, then we are achieving something by creating those synergies.”
In the next five years, Mafundikwa would want this Zimbabwean brand to be regionally and internationally recognised and accepted.
“We have now been licensed to export into the EU as well as SADC and COMESA,” he said.
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