As I write this, I'm doing portions of Grand Prix Original. The pleasant surprise is these are not mini-portions: I don't keep digital scales in the house anymore but they sure look and feel like 1 gram portions. Good for you, Grand Prix!
Unfortunately, I'm not sure if I'm going to able to give Grand Prix a fair taste evaluation. I picked up some Grand Prix samples at Liggett's booth at the Tobacco Plus Expo 2009. There is no expiration date on the cans. The cans are tightly sealed in plastic to keep air out and freshness in and don't need to be refrigerated according to Steven Shipe, Vice President for Sales and Marketing Services for Liggett Vector Brands Inc.
However, this is May of 2009 and SnusAB apparently stopped production of Grand Prix Snus in September of 2008. This means at best, eight month old Grand Prix is the freshest I would find in May. The least fresh? Who knows.
The label on the Grand Prix cans also boasts of "ClikPak Freshness". After slicing through the plastic outer wrapper, violating the ClikPak Freshness by opening the can (it does make a little clicking noise), and after my visual surprise at the size of the portions, I grew concerned.
The aroma was that I would expect from an unflavored Swedish Snus, but very faint. Too faint. Much too faint. I tore open one of the portions and dumped it onto my customary sheet of white paper to examine. It was a rich brown in color and certainly not horrifying to stare at like the contents of a Camel SNUS neo-pouch are...but it was very dry.
By now the first portion had been in my mouth about 10 minutes and I wasn't tasting anything. I decided to help the portion a little and swished some SnusCENTRAL Mineral Water over it in my mouth. I did get a momentary taste which was not unpleasant but faded quickly. Either this is one of the mildest Swedish Snuses I have ever tasted.....or it had dried out somehow. Had my ClikPak Freshness been compromised????
I have no way of knowing. Grand Prix I learned to my amazement is sold in the Dallas-Fort Worth market where the SnusCENTRAL Command Bunker is. In the 9 years I've lived here, I have NEVER ONCE seen Grand Prix Snus at a 7-Eleven, any other convenience store, a gas station, or a grocery store.
Either very poor product placement (or a lack of "retailer incentives) by the Liggett field reps or it may only be available at Gentleman's Clubs which I do not frequent.
The nice folks at the Liggett Vector booth asked my opinion of the Grand Prix container. This does tie into the SnusAB bankruptcy so don't worry.
I've talked about my 'Bar Top Worthy' test in past articles. I pulled a sample can of Grand Prix out of the display. Next to it I placed a can of JTI's new CAMEL Snus Original Portion in the gold and brown container, and a can of Grovsnus Svart I had in my briefcase (good thing as the folks at SMNA didn't even give me a pen, let alone some snus!).
I asked the Liggett Vector people to imagine their target age demographic single male or female going into a bar looking to meet someone. A can of snus can be a great conversation starter. The question? Of the three cans of snus sitting on the display case, which would that person be comfortable leaving on the bar next to their drink? Conversely, which would they keep in their pocket; removing furtively to remove a new portion and then stick back in their pocket?
The CAMEL Snus container was the clear winner. The Grovsnus container was also bar-top worthy. The Grand Prix container? Cheap looking plastic, cheap feeling plastic, and very fat. It would make a very noticeable bulge in a man's pocket and if the woman was only carrying a clutch purse, would take up too much room.
Most importantly, of the three cans, only the Grand Prix did not have a compartment for used snus. Used snus left in an ashtray (if there are any bars left in America where you can still smoke) is not what would be considered a turn-on. Do you wrap your used snus in the drink napkin and stick it in your pocket? The person you are trying to get to know is now running from the bar hoping not to vomit.
In short the Grand Prix Snus Container itself is one of the clunkiest, ugliest, least useful, cheapest looking, snus containers I've ever seen in my life.
So here's where we bring it all home: what is a Liggett to do if their snus producer is going bankrupt, their can is less than desirable but they do have nice graphics on the label. Twenty 1 gram portions for $.99 is a pretty good buy if it was a pretty good snus.
Not knowing if this is how Grand Prix is supposed to taste or if I have a bad can, I've thrown caution to the wind and now have two portions in my mouth and I took a liberal swig of SnusCENTRAL Mineral Water.
I'm tasting the tobacco and the salt now. The salt is not overdone which is a relief. The tobacco flavor isn't bad, it's not bitter and I don't taste any bergamot.. It's also not great. Remember this is how it tastes with two 1 gram portions in my mouth.
NOTE: Swedish law requires I use the word "bergamot" whenever discussing the flavor of a Swedish Snus. I believe violating that earns you the death penalty or worse: a lifetime of using only Camel Frost! I don't know which circle of Hell that is, but it has to be the most unpleasant.
If this were fresh and marketed in Sweden, it would probably be in the 10 SEK/$1.30 a can price range at best. Add all the tax, I doubt anyone in Sweden wouldn't pay more for Kronan or Knox if they were looking for a discount brand.
There's really no outstanding flavoring characteristics I can detect..just salt and what subliminally reminds me of a good cigar. Even with two portions in, though, it is very, very, mild. If it's a bad can, I apologize to Liggett but on the other hand, it is one of the samples you were giving out at your booth. Can't blame a retailer for abusing the product.
When I can get flavor out of the two portions, however, its not horrible. If they are supposed to be this mild, then I would never use it. Even if it's not, it definitely would not rank among my over-all snus favorites.
Among my American Snus favorites right now (i.e. ones that don't make me gag, rot my teeth or make me physically ill) the new Marlboro Snus I'm shocked to say is one of them. I'll be writing a review of Philip Morris USA's Marlboro Snus very shortly. Unfortunately, their new marketing and their machinations with Kennedy/Waxman will not make it as glowing had I written it back in May as I first planned.
Another very new American Snus I find interesting is Discreet Snus by American Smokeless Tobacco. The packaging is unconventional, the aroma, especially of the Stawberry (yes, strawberry) is shockingly real and very pleasant, and for a mini-portion, it has a healthy amount of taste...and nicotine.
As a long-time Swedish snus user and lover of the flavor of quality Swedish Snus, I would equate Discreet Snus to a sweet after-dinner drink. It's not something I could use all day and I would have to be in the mood for something sweet. At those times, one or two portions of Discreet Stawberry are very enjoyable. I can't do more than two portions, though, or the sweetness gets to me.
For someone who likes the so-called "American Flavored Snus", it does blow away pretty much everything else out there made in the US. But that's for another article. Back to Liggett and the opportunity they currently have.
Liggett has a great opportunity to completely revamp the Grand Prix Snus Brand. With SnusAB out of the way; a third tier snus maker at best, they can either hook up with another more successful Swedish manufacturer or even look to V2 Tobacco in Denmark. As well as their own very popular brands, they private label wholesale snus for others. One of those markets a V2-Manufactured snus I really enjoy....and it smells like American Snus, so relax.
As to other US Snus manufacturers as a source, I doubt Philip Morris would be interested and I've yet to taste another American snus which isn't disgusting.
I've never tried Klondike but heard repeatedly that it is sickly sweet and the loose is impossible to make into a decent pris.
Nordic Ice I was very hopeful on until they switched production from Gotland to the Swisher Factory in West Virginia. The flavor names don't fill me with confidence, but there is a mint I'm willing to try. I've sent That Snus Guy the Cherry and Wintergreen flavors (ewww) to review and as soon as I can get my courage up, I'm going to dig into the mint.
The above means that Nordic American would probably not be a very good choice to make Grand Prix...especially since they outsource the making of their own brands to Swisher. That also knocks Swisher out of the running.
So Liggett Vector finds someone new to manufacture their snus. They throw out the old containers and start with new ones. If both are good enough, they may want to reconsider their price point as well, going with free coupons to kick-start the new Grand Prix and reposition themselves.
Susan Ivey, CEO of Reynolds America, who to my wife's amusement, I've been strangely attracted to for years, spoke at a recent Board Meeting of the "Round Can Syndrome". People seeing a round can imprinting through a persons pants or shirt pocket says "Chewing Tobacco" and spitting in America.
The Reynolds Camel SNUS cans are bar-worthy although the SNUS inside isn't. I've been told each Camel SNUS can costs $.73 so they should be attractive! Still, they don't have a place to put used snus but they are not round; they're oblong.
American Smokeless Tobacco has gone another route with the zip-lock bag approach. At first I was horrified; especially with the Stawberry flavored Discreet being in a red/pink bag. But the graphics are nicely done and the Discreet Rich zip-lock may just turn out to be bar-worthy.
What really caught my attention were comments I read on the SnusCENTRAL.org forum concerning the free samples of General Snus you can get by clicking on the General Snus banners on the SnusCENTRAL sites. The samples come in plastic bag-like pouches and the comment that turned my head was "this is the freshest General Snus I've ever tasted".
Interestingly, I was reading 'In Golden Boxes' by Walter Loewe, an excellent history of snus and how it came to be which Conny Andersson, the flavor and tobacco guru at Swedish Match, gave me during my visit there. There is a picture of Ettan, Roda Lacket, Tre Ankare; all pre-Swedish Match with their Swedish Tobacco Company lids......and Catch Mini Portions in Red and Blue cellophane bags! Not only was the package cellophane, but each individual portion of Catch Snus was ALSO in it's own little cellophane pouch! Gallaher also looked at cellephane bags at one point but didn't have the funding to continue.
So to Mr. Shipe and the folks at Liggett Vector, here's my unsolicited advise. If the Dallas-Fort Worth Market is an example of the how you are marketing Grand Prix, reconsider your distribution network, educate, or incent your retailers to SELL the product. The right snus with the right packaging doesn't have to be bargain-basement priced. And for God's sake, give your retailers some POP materials so people will at least know they carry Grand Prix snus!
Make a big deal re-introducing the New Grand Prix into your markets as loudly as legally allowed. Give away free samples. Send coupons to your cigarette customers "buy a pack of Grand Prix cigarettes and get one or even two cans of the New Grand Prix Snus FREE. After all, whatever percentage Liggett Vector Cigarettes holds of the 46MM+ American Cigarette smokers ARE your target market. Especially the ones all ready brand-loyal to Liggett and especially Grand Prix cigarettes.
Why everyone in Big Tobacco seems to think it's the American Chewing tobacco and Dip users who are the target market for snus is beyond me. These folks like chewing and dipping and will continue to do so; maybe using a Skoal or Copenhagen flavored snus when there's no place to spit. But the overwhelming majority will continue to Chew or Dip primarily.
Cigarette Smokers: the abused minority. Forced out of bars, restaurants, pool halls, airplanes, public buildings, most private buildings, and even from renting in certain apartment complexes. THESE 46MM+ smoking survivors only tolerate this abuse because they have no choice if they want to use tobacco, are addicted to nicotine, and can't or don't want to lose that.
American Smokeless Tobacco nailed it when it comes to a brand name: Discreet Snus, because it describes the advantage of snus. It is discreet. Also at least 98% less harmful than cigarettes if made in Sweden but its tough to come up with a catchy brand name based on that.
Probably illegal under the Kennedy/Waxman Law too...at least until each snus qualifies for the new Reduced Harm Tobacco Product category..if they can. Some will find it much easier than others.
Cigarette Smokers know the disadvantages of being a smoker in Anti-Tobacco America all too well.
Your job, Liggett Vector is to make sure they know the advantages of using snus....so long is your product tastes good, has sufficient nicotine, is attractively packaged, and properly promoted with consumer incentives.
The only major mistake American Smokeless Tobacco has made to date is that they beat me, apparently by only hours, in grabbing the www.americansnus.com domain name. I could have retired selling that domain in a few years. Thanks, Tom O'Connell! Thanks a lot.
So what's it going to be, Liggett Vector? Twenty portions of a mediocre to sub-mediocre snus in an ugly container for $.99 sitting somewhere on the shelf no one can see? Or twenty portions of really good snus; flavored and with an aroma for the American Market whose taste-buds Susan Ivey has sadly destroyed?
Put it in a nice can (with a used snus storage compartment) for less than Camel SNUS but not by that much. Cigarettes proved people will pay for Premium Brands....if they're worth it AND perceived to be worth it. The current Grand Prix product isn't a bargain at $.99 to a consumer: its a waste of a dollar.
That's my 2 cents!
America's Leading Activist Snus Lord
Reporting From SnusCENTRAL.org
Only 2 cents? I should be charging tobacco companies for this advice....hmmmm. Maybe I need an agent... I'd even give Reynolds a discount if they let me meet Susan Ivey.........hmmmmm Sell out for a meeting with Susan Ivey? Find out what gave her the vision for reduced harm tobacco starting with Eclipse...... hmmmm.... So tempting but we'd both hate ourselves the next morning. My wife is reading this over my shoulder and laughing hysterically. So much for that fantasy....