Been having a long discussion with a friend who just conducted some business and came back with some interesting info. This is a bit of a long read so sorry about that but all of the information is worth checking out as some good insider info.
As most of you know Habanos,S.A. was founded in 1994 and is the official distributor of all Cuban cigars in the world. Each area covering the entire globe is assigned it's very own Distributor and Dealer. Habanos has some VERY strict rules to cover every step of the process for some very obvious reasons the 3 main ones being 1) Supply control 2) Price control 3) Global marketing of the brand.
Throughout the years there have been many variations to box markings. Today the standard marks on the bottom of a box of Habanos. E.g. the words "Habanos SA" over an oval containing the words "Hecho en Cuba" over the scrpit "Totalmente a mano." All of these are "branded" into the bottom of the box by pressing a heated iron against the wood. Also a The traditional Box codes printed in ink on the bottom of the box have been a Factory code i.e. SMO You USED to be able to look these up on a list and Identify the specific region and factory where the box was produced! Today however this information is all super secret and known only to factory and Habanos Officials AND you have a month and date of manufacture i.e. MAR 12.
All of this information so far has been pretty much standard and historical. Here is where the proverbial fly in the ointment comes along! In 2009 Habanos decided to add a new Warranty Seal to the packaging where two new elements were added. On the right hand, a hologram as a security item and on the left hand, next to the Cote d´ Arms, a bar code will personalize every package. Habanos marketed this as a being a tool for the consumer to ensure a genuine product. Here is where information from some industry insiders goes against that theory and suggests that the the only purpose Habanos had for the personalized code was to police its Distributors and Dealers and eliminate practices they didn't approve of.
1. Each Distributor and Dealer is given a set amount of cigars that they are delivered on a quarterly basis. This amount is determined by Habanos using a formula of historical sales and fee scale that is paid by the dealer and distributor for it's license based on size. So, you have Dealer A who is authorized 50 boxes of PSD #4's for example and Dealer B who is authorized 250 boxes of the same. Lets say Dealer A has a good month and sells all 50 boxes in the first month! There is a 10% additional allowance that they can draw on to try an fill their shelves but in this case that's only 5 boxes! HISTORICALLY what has been done is Dealer A will contact Dealer B knowing they have a large allowance and purchase boxes from them. This is a win-win since Dealer A used its 10% and is increasing it's future allowance and they are profiting from the sales. Dealer B with the large allotment wants to make sure it sells all 250 of it's boxes to keep their allotment high, they still made their money back and some profit and worse case they still have that 25 box 10% they can go into and hopefully increase their future allotment! THIS IS A BIG NO NO WITH HABANOS!!! The code allows them to track the inventory electronically of each of it's Distributors and Dealers up to the point where the box is marked as sold. So basically it's just tough cookies for Dealer A and Dealer B better hope they sell their 250 boxes OR Dealer B marks the box as being sold, removes the code itself from the box so it can't be found in Dealer A's inventory and Dealer A sells them usually as singles.
That's just a simplistic example of how the code is really meant to be Big Brother (Habanos) being able to watch all of it's little brothers around the world. There are many other things meant to be discouraged such as large FACTORY sales, cross leveling of inventory etc.
2. Then there is the other socially ugly side effect of the code! This is in no way meant to condone, assist or suggest you should buy Cuban cigars as a US Citizen we ALL know it's illegal! However, the US is still by far the largest SINGLE market for Cuban cigars! With the multitude of online retailers from different duty free zones etc. this is a huge market. In the past few years it has become a much bigger problem for these retailers that US Government agencies are able to track the source of illegal cigars by using the Habanos code and simply seeing which Distributor and Dealer was responsible for that box. Simple solution CUT OFF THE CODE!
The bottom line is there are 4 things that should be looked for on a box
1. The "Iron" branding on the bottom of the box.
2. The Inked Factory, Month and Year Code on the bottom of the box.
3. Upper right hand corner Habanos Denominacion De Origen Protegida sticker across the corner.
4. The Important part of the Repulica De Cuba Seal is if the remainder is in tact. The Hologram and seal itself is made of a combination Paper, Plastic and Foil that if you attempt to peel it off it will separate and be destroyed. That seal should be covering the opening of the box.
Bottom line it doesn't matter if the CODE is cut off or not! The most important part is if the seal is INTACT over the opening of the box. Now if your box has been opened in any way such as the supposed INSPECTION process that some online retailers claim then all bets are off as to what may actually be inside a real Habanos BOX!
Know this was dry at times and long but I know hearing information that I can say with confidence came from an actual Plant Manager answered many of my questions and explained a lot about why some things are done certain ways.