At Nobleza Piccardo we share the ability to create and innovate, and are constantly seeking new success opportunities. The passion for our business is another of the characteristics of our employees, who show a firm commitment towards the Company and work hard to turn Nobleza Piccardo into the leading tobacco company in the Argentine market.
Nobleza Piccardo SAICF is the smaller of Argentina's two cigarette manufacturers but has the longer pedigree. Using roughly equal amounts of imported and Argentine tobacco, it manufactures and distributes 14 brands, including Lucky Strike and Camel, which are produced and marketed under license. Although Nobleza Piccardo is a public company, almost all shares are held by giant British American Tobacco plc, a British-based company with operations in over 100 countries.
Piccardo and Nacional: 1898-1933
Juan Piccardo and Juan Oneto founded Manufactura de Tabacos Piccardo y Cia. in 1898 by purchasing a hand-operated cigarette machine and installing it in a downtown Buenos Aires building. Their first cigarette was called 43 for reasons now obscure but said to relate to a market rally on the Buenos Aires Stock Exchange that became a symbol of optimism. Like most--perhaps all--Argentine cigarettes at the time, 43 was made from dark tobacco. The company followed with Casino and later with other brands, many of them--such as Reina Victoria (Queen Victoria)--intended to denote quality and prestige; nevertheless, in some parts of Argentina, their cigarettes were sold in mini-packs for only two centavos. Before long the company was able to move to a factory at another Buenos Aires location.
Publicity-savvy Piccardo donated a French-built airplane to the Argentine army in 1912 and presented another the following year to an Argentinian who had just established a record flight over water. This was only the beginning of the company's dedication to sporting exploits, with a special emphasis on motor racing. Piccardo also enhanced its image by making donations to public health, education, parks, and recreation. One of Oneto's good deeds was to stake Aristotle Onassis to a business importing tobacco from the Near East in 1929. Far from the shipping tycoon he would become, Onassis was then a refugee from Turkey selling nuts on the streets of Buenos Aires. In gratitude, he later gave Oneto a tapestry with the numerals "43" stitched in the center.
The cigarette manufacturing business was highly fragmented when, in 1911-12, the recently formed, London-based Argentine Tobacco Co., Ltd. purchased 19 manufacturers and combined them into a single operation, Compania Argentina de Tabacos Ltda. British American Tobacco Company Ltd. (BAT) was already a worldwide organization planning to expand to South America. It reacted to the news by incorporating Compania Nacional de Tabacos S.A. in Buenos Aires in 1913. This company was then used to purchase Bozetti & Co., one of the few surviving independent tobacco businesses with its own Buenos Aires factory. Bozetti marketed its products under the Misterio brand name. Nacional also formed a subsidiary for the purpose of acquiring cheaper local brands that it could manufacture and market along with Misterio and established BAT brands. It purchased rival Argentina de Tabacos in 1919 and opened operations in Cordoba, Mendoza, Rosario, and Tucuman between 1918 and 1922.
Nacional's sales reached three million packs in 1919, but four years later its flagship brand, Pour La Noblesse, sold 14 million packs alone. This was a traditional cigarette made of dark tobacco, as were other company favorites such as Parisiennes, Embajadores, and Senadores, but "blond" cigarettes made of American bright tobacco were also gaining popularity. In 1925, Nacional initiated production of Virginia tobacco in Argentina, and in 1927 it began manufacturing its first blends with imported tobaccos. Among the brands it was producing and marketing now were Jockey Club and Player's, along with cheaper standbys like Cuyanos and Flor de Ceibo. It introduced no less than six brands in 1927; two dark ones and four blonds. Besides its multiplicity of brands, a vital factor in Nacional's success was its ability to deliver them reliably to its dealers by means of 400 vans. This fleet had to be renewed every two years because of the appalling condition of Argentina's roads.
The advent of the Great Depression meant a period of stagnation for Nacional. In 1932, BAT had to write off loans that Nacional and its subsidiaries had incurred for advertising expenses. The company's brands were being undercut by cheap 20 centavo packs brought out by two rivals. Seeking to improve its profit margin, Nacional converted to direct selling, establishing a pooling arrangement with two other cigarette manufacturers--one of them Piccardo. The enterprise was renamed Compania Nobleza de Tabacos--a name taken from Pour La Noblesse--in 1933 because an executive order had banned the word "Nacional" in corporate names.
Narrowing the Playing Field: 1940s to the Mid-1970s
Six firms accounted for 70 percent of all tobacco manufactured in Argentina in 1942. Argentine tobacco accounted for almost 60 percent of the tobacco used, and low-priced cigarettes were almost exclusively of Argentine tobacco. The tobacco of choice at the time was still the dark type by a margin of more than four to one. Nobleza opened a second manufacturing plant, in Zuviria, Salta, which was closer to the tobacco-growing parts of Argentina, in 1945. Piccardo, in 1960, introduced the first filtered Argentine cigarettes: versions of 43, Gloster, and Florida. Nobleza introduced the first king-size Argentine cigarette, a version of Jockey Club, in 1962. This brand was the most popular one in Argentina and held one-quarter of the cigarette market in 1967; by 1976, when it was still the leading brand, it was available in five versions. Nobleza followed up this success by introducing the first 100-millimeter cigarette (1969), the first slim-size one (1972), and the first 120-millimeter cigarette (1976). Piccardo introduced 43/70, a blend of dark and blond tobacco, in 1969.
Only five cigarette manufacturers remained in Argentina in 1966. Nobleza was well out in front, with 43 percent of the market. Piccardo--which, with a 14 percent market share, was in fourth place--was publicly traded but also partly owned by Liggett & Myers, a leading U.S.-based cigarette firm. During 1966-67, Philip Morris International Inc. acquired Massalin & Celasco, and a Dutch firm purchased the two others. By 1972, Piccardo had moved up to third place. L&M was its best seller, but it also manufactured two more of the top ten brands. The company had processing plants in Salta and Tucuman and was exporting reduced-price tobacco lots to France. In the mid-1970s, all Argentine cigarette companies were losing money because the government would not allow them to raise prices in order to keep up with inflation.
Nobleza Piccardo: Late 1970s to the Mid-2000s
After Liggett & Myers decided to withdraw from the international portion of its business, Piccardo merged with Nobleza in 1978 to form Nobleza Piccardo, receiving 30 percent of the combined shares of the merged company to Nobleza's 70 percent. Since Nobleza held 43 percent of the cigarette market at the time and Piccardo 20 percent, the merged company was now by far the leader in its field, with two Buenos Aires factories, four processing plants, and 13 sales offices. By this time, the tobacco companies had been allowed to raise their prices, and in 1980 Nobleza Piccardo ranked sixth in sales among all Argentine companies. Taxes imposed on its product, however, absorbed two-thirds of the company's revenues and represented a sum of almost $1 billion.
Nobleza Piccardo bought the recently vacated General Motors auto-manufacturing factory in suburban San Martin in 1979 to replace its existing ones in Buenos Aires. This plant opened in 1981, the year Nobleza Piccardo was licensed to introduce Lucky Strike and Camel to the Argentine market. However, the company was facing strong competition in the form of Massalin Particulares S.A., the firm formed in 1979 by the merger of Massalin y Celasco with the two other cigarette manufacturers. Backed by heavy advertising for Philip Morris's brands, which included Marlboro, Massalin Particulares held 42 percent of the market in 1982 compared to Nobleza Piccardo's 58 percent. Jockey Club, in king-size form, was by far the leading brand, followed by king-size 43/70 and Jockey Club in its 100-millimeter version. Another development of this period was the virtual disappearance of dark cigarettes; by 1983, blonds held three-quarters of the market and blends more than fourth-fifths of the remaining quarter.
Nobleza Piccardo introduced Derby in 1988 and purchased the printing firm of S.A. Alejandro Bianchi y Cia. Ltda. the following year. Bianchi and another printing subsidiary, Grafica San Juan S.A., were merged into the parent company the following year. By 1992, Nobleza Piccardo had fallen behind Massalin Particulares in market share but was still the top tobacco exporter. In 1995, Nobleza Piccardo deployed the highest-speed cigarette-manufacturing machines in the industry, capable of turning out 11,000 cigarettes per minute. The following year, the company introduced Kent Super Lights. Camel was growing faster than other brands in Argentina thanks to the popular Joe Camel cigarette character and an advertising campaign that also featured his Hard Pack blues band, whose members wore identical wraparound sunglasses. Nobleza Piccardo also introduced many extensions of existing brands, such as low tar and nicotine versions and hard boxes to supplement soft packs.
Nobleza Piccardo was spending about $125 million a year on advertising in the late 1990s. In 1998, it established its own distribution network in all chief Argentine cities, replacing its wholesalers at a cost of about $20 million. In 2000, BAT spent $33 million to buy most of the remaining Nobleza Piccardo outstanding shares, raising its ownership of common stock to almost 96 percent. By this time the company had fallen well back of Massalin Particulares, which now held 63 percent of reported cigarette sales. Not reported but a definite threat to profits was the black market that thrived because of heavy taxes on cigarettes. Illegal sales were estimated at 16 to 20 percent of the market.
The economic crisis that resulted in Argentina failing to make payments on its debts in 2001 resulted in a devaluation of the peso in early 2002. Economic activity fell precipitously in 2002, with Nobleza Piccardo's net profit falling by 93 percent. The company attributed its drop in earnings to sustaining its price levels in spite of higher costs. Seemingly as an economy measure, Nobleza Piccardo sold its leaf purchasing and processing operation to Standard Tobacco Argentina late in 2002 for $5 million. The sale included the threshing plant of El Carril in the province of Salta and the company's six purchasing stations at El Carril and Alvarado, Salta; Perico, Jujuy; Villa Alberdi, Tucuman; Leandro N. Alem, Misiones; and Goya, Corrientes. Three redistribution centers in the provinces of Santa Fe, Cordoba, and Bahia Blanca remained. It was agreed that Standard would henceforth acquire and process Nobleza Piccardo's tobacco leaf. However, the company continued to own its own warehouses, near the Salta airport. Tobacco bought by the company was delivered there and then shipped to San Martin, where Nobleza Piccardo continued to make its own blends. Also in 2002, the company introduced Viceroy and reintroduced Pall Mall to the Argentine market.
Nobleza Piccardo had gross sales (in terms of prices at the end of 2001) of ARS 1.11 billion ($329.38 million) in 2002 and net sales (gross sales less taxes) of ARS 353.66 million ($104.94 million). This represented a further erosion of the firm's share of the cigarette market; it was now being outsold two to one by Massalin Particulares. Net profit came to only ARS 1.07 million ($296,736) in this year of grave economic crisis. Nobleza Piccardo's brands included Lucky Strike, Camel, Derby, Parisiennes, Kool, Barclay, 43/70, Gitanes Blondes, Jockey Club, Pall Mall, and Player's.
Nobleza Piccardo monitored the manufacturing processes at its San Martin factory by computer and used laser rays to ensure uniform ventilation of its "lights" (lower tar and nicotine cigarettes) and its rolling and packaging machines. Capacity had increased to 14,000 cigarettes per minute, and the packing machinery was capable of turning out at least 530 packs per minute. The company employed satellite tracking for its road-transport distribution, a voice-response system to reply to questions from its suppliers, satellite communications between its office and installations, pen-computing and laptop technology for all members of its sales team, and toll-free numbers for consumer comments on its products. It became the first Argentine tobacco company to launch a Web site in 2002. For 2003, Nobleza Piccardo planned to invest ARS 50 million (about $15 million) in marketing, software, and technology needed to modernize its plant. Since the factory was operating at only 50 percent of installed capacity, the company had plans to export production to countries who found the firm's cigarettes, priced in devalued pesos, newly attractive.
Principal Competitors: Massalin Particulares, S.A.