Italian cigars give a puff of dark chocolate

MILAN (Reuters Life!) - Pack Italy’s latest cigars in your pocket, and people might say you smell good enough to eat.

Toscanello Aroma Fondente, a half-sized conical cigar, has the color, taste and smell of dark chocolate. It is the latest product from Manifatture Sigaro Toscano, makers of the quintessential Italian cigars that gunslinger Clint Eastwood smoked in Sergio Leone’s Westerns.

“It smells fantastic,” said Andrea Braschi, owner of the Wengè buffet bar not far from San Siro stadium.

“It leaves a sweetness in your mouth,” he said between experimental puffs. “It doesn’t leave any bitterness.”

The dark chocolate cigar has already added some sweetness to its maker’s bottom line, capturing two percent of Italy’s cigar market since its introduction in January.

The company expects that figure to double next year.

“We’re very satisfied, because these are new consumers,” said Pierfrancesco Saccotelli, Italy sales and marketing manager for Manifatture Sigaro Toscano. “It wasn’t a question of cannibalizing from our other products.”

The company controls 85 percent of Italy’s cigar market and 40 percent of the combined cigar-cigarillo market.

The dark-chocolate-flavored Toscanello, which is 78 mm (3 inches) long and 14.5 mm (roughly a half inch) wide at its base, appeals to what Saccotelli called “dual smokers,” adults between the ages of 25 and 35 who alternate between cigars and cigarettes.

Despite their smaller size, Toscanellos are considered cigars in Italy. Italians have smoked them since 1948, when budget-conscious post-war consumers decided half a smoke was better than none.

Today, a pack of five chocolate-flavored Toscanellos cost about 4 euros ($5.44).

Manifatture Sigaro Toscano introduced anise-flavored Toscanellos in 2001 but struck pay dirt in 2003 when it hit on the formula of merging two classic Italian flavors.

The first combination, which melded husky Italian tobacco with coffee; grabbed 12 percent of Italy’s cigar market within four years. The company introduced grappa in 2005 and now dark chocolate.

Natural dark chocolate flavoring is sprayed on the cigar filler. Besides providing a taste that stays constant from first puff to last, the chocolate also masks the pungent smell of the dark fire-cured Italian Kentucky tobacco.

For now, dark-chocolate-flavored Toscanellos are only available in Italy. The coffee-flavored variety sells in France, Greece, the Netherlands, Austria and Germany. The latter two countries also have anise and grappa Toscanellos.

Saccotelli said the company is looking at export possibilities, including the United States, India, Russia and China, possibly by 2010.

Editing by Paul Casciato