Monday, 18 January 2010 14:23

Olde Viking Snus - Can you Handle the Truth?

Written by Larry Waters
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The story of Olde Viking Snus, Gajane, and GN Tobacco is an interesting one. My biggest challenge has not been as much getting information as finding someone at Gajane to confirm or deny the more explosive points. My first article on Olde Viking deliberately withheld certain knowledge because of this. I'm pleased to say Gajane has reached out to me and answered my biggest concerns. As we continue our dialogue, other facts may emerge of note which I will pass along. For right now, the most important facts are known...and much of the information did not come from Gajane/GN Tobacco.

Gajane:  Oden's Snus, Olde Viking Snus, and other tobacco productsSince Olde Viking was released, it has been followed by a plethora of rumors and speculation on many snus-related websites and forums. On January 14th (hard to believe that's only 4 days ago), a mysterious person by the name of Adrian began responding to these questions and tried to set the record "straight".

He seemed to be a representative of Gajane but even when asked the question directly on SnusOn, he did not respond to it. I admit to being skeptical at first since some of his answers I knew to be inaccurate. I am happy to confirm that Adrian is, in fact, a member of the Gajane team. Unless he is found face-down in a vat of fermenting snus, then his statements do reflect those of Gajane and GN Tobacco.

The SnusOn Forum and SnusCENTRAL have generated the most interest so I'm going to concentrate on the questions and points raised at these two venues....and some of the answers posted as well. In fairness to Adrian, Gajane has always been a very secretive company. Although the successful Oden's Snus is marketed by Gajane, they have never answered questions about it or discussed it publicly. Their website at www.gajane.se offers no hyperlinks and the picture of a can of Oden's Snus rotating endlessly with the other products private labeled for them must have been sufficient information for the public at large.

Since Oden's is a popular line of snus, I don't think Gajane imagined the outpouring of questions, negative associations, and rumors which Olde Viking's introduction generated. If 100,000 SnusAB cans came with the factory, you can hardly fault GN Tobacco for using them. What GNT did not anticipate was the horrible memories those cans would bring back of the "not good" taste of the Gran Prix, Tourney, and KICKS snus.

People immediately began to include Olde Viking Snus in that group without ever tasting it. The ugly can; the former SnusAB factory....who could blame us? Gajane and Adrian were thrown into a public relations mess and to their credit, have responded as quickly as they could. As time goes on, I'm sure their responses will be less reactionary, more accurate and more positive. Gajane does deserve high praise for putting Adrian out to respond to us as quickly as they did.

In hindsight, Gajane may have wished they had sold the silver pill cans to a toy company or the like and started Olde Viking based on the good will Gajane has built in the snus community through Oden's Snus. Maybe not. Ultimately the can will not cause Olde Viking to be successful or fail: the snus in the can will.

Fermented Snus versus Pasteurized Snus

This subject without a doubt is the most important concerning Olde Viking Spearmint Snus. Going back to the SnusAB days and continuing with GN Tobacco, the snus manufactured at the Bispgården factory has always been fermented; not steam pasteurized. There are two major reasons for this: the Bispgården Factory has no steam pasteurization equipment, and SnusAB (now GNT) has no experience or sufficient knowledge to successfully make steam pasteurized snus. At least not yet.

Compicating matters going forward for GNT, a steam pasteurization vessel is not something you buy complete off the shelf. Using the German company Logi as an example, their "basic" pasteurization unit is about $400,000. At this price, it's pretty useless for making snus. By the time a snus manufacturer customizes one to their liking, the price is more like $1.2 to $1.5 million....per machine.   No manufacturer shares how they configured their steam pasteurization units for their brands and Logi will not even acknowledge who some of their largest customers are.  You can't just call Logi and say "send me a pasteurization unit configured the same as Manufacturer X's is.   You have to know exactly what features/parts/options you want included in the final version of your pasteurization unit at the time you place the order. As a comparison, imagine buying the frame of a car and then having to specify the engine, transmission, electrical system, seats, tires, air conditioner, etc.   If you have always been a car salesman and never worked at a high-end automobile production plant, you could spend a lot of money for a lousy car.

Geng Chang, often called the "smartest man in the room" at SnusAB, was hired to make the snus for GN Tobacco. He has no practical experience with pasteurization and had arranged in December 2009 to work for another Snus Manufacturer who does pasteurize. For some reason, this never happened. By then, his position at GNT was well known. Accepting the offer at that point would put him publicly in the position of trying to obtain proprietary information for the benefit of GN Tobacco. There are no hard feelings, but it shows just how closely a snus manufacture will keep his manufacturing process guarded and the lengths others will go to discover it.

When I visited Swedish Match's Gothenburg and Kungälv snus factories, I was given (I'm told) unprecedented access. Even so, there were areas, especially on the production floor, where taking photographs was strictly prohibited. At Kungälv, there were whole floors not included in the tour....and I can barely boil water, let alone manufacture snus!

So what is the big deal to the Snus User of Fermented Snus versus Pasteurized Snus?

 

In a word, shelf-life. With Fermented Snus, expiration dates DO matter. They matter a great deal, so pay please pay careful attention to the following.

Steam Pasteurizing snus kills all of the micro-organisms in the product including those which form TSNA's or nitrosamines which are carcinogens. If you open a can of Steam Pasteurized Snus 6 months after the expiration date (unless you froze it prior to the expiration date), it's not going to taste as good or even have quite the nicotine levels it did when made, but it won't hurt you. The TSNA levels will be the same.

This is NOT true of Fermented Snus. A can of fermented snus straight off the assembly line will have a TSNA level of X. Even in the sealed can and regardless of how well that can is sealed, the TSNA levels will begin climbing exponentially until they are well above acceptable limits. This is why in America, Copenhagen Moist Snuff (which is fermented) is pulled off the shelf every 30 days and replaced. Skoal pulls their fermented Moist Snuff every 60 to 90 days. If you purchase a can of Fermented Snus, don't use it after the expiration date, PERIOD. Also don't freeze it. No studies or testing has been performed on frozen fermented snus.

Before you run to your freezer in panic, keep one fact in mind. As of today, Olde Viking Spearmint Snus is the last and only Swedish High Temperature Heat Fermented Snus on the market. GNT is the only Swedish/Scandinavian snus manufacturer left who does not steam pasteurize their snus. The Swedish government fought for years with SnusAB to stop them from using fermentation and I'm sure they've had at least one long conversation with Gajane and GN Tobacco about it as well.

Swedish Food Safety Regulations, which have covered Swedish Snus beginning in 1970, do not mandate steam pasteurization (I was surprised by that); they only mandate maximum TSNA levels after production. Using the GothiaTek scale which is Gajane / GN Tobacco Factory Production Floorthe de-facto TSNA measurement scale for the Swedish Snus industry, up to 5 ppm are within acceptable standards. Most Swedish Snus today is at or below 1 ppm. I'm not aware of any at or above 3 ppm.

Gajane does state the initial TSNA level on Olde Viking Spearmint is approximately 0.5 ppm. Even if this is an accurate number, as days go by that level will rise and continue to rise. Again, the type of can or how it is sealed makes no difference. Hence the importance of paying attention to the expiration date. If you are a snus user and take away nothing else from this article, PLEASE understand the importance of expiration dates when it comes to heat fermented snus. That's why I'm beating it into the ground. It is very important.

While GNT is the only factory in Sweden making high temperature fermented snus, if you are unfortunate enough to be forced to use our current American snus imitations, be a very smart consumer. If a US manufacturer says the product "is steam-pasteurized", it probably is since the lawsuits against them would be enormous once the true process came out. But if they say, as all too many do, that their snus is made with a process "like pasteurization", "heat treated like Swedish Snus" or any other declaration which doesn't flat out say "Yes, our snus product IS steam-pasteurized", buyer beware.

Pasteurization is what it is....steaming the product at a temperature (to correct Adrian) not around 110 degrees Fahrenheit, but at a temperature much, much higher (I'll be shot if I say how high) and for a specific length of time...which is also considerably longer than the 4 hour number Adrian named. Even I don't know exactly how much longer since it is a closely guarded secret by each manufacturer, but I was told that saying "considerably longer than 4 hours" would be accurate by a few different manufacturers so I'll go with that. Adrian would know better than I about the correct fermentation temperature being 60 degrees C.

To defend Adrian, I don't think he was or is being intentionally inaccurate. I'm assuming Adrian is simply misinformed on the facts and details concerning snus production which is understandable. All the tobacco products currently distributed by Gajane are private-labeled. Gajane never owned a snus factory before. At GN Tobacco, Geng Chang is the most knowledgeable on snus manufacturing but he, according to very reliable sources, has only a rudimentary knowledge of steam pasteurized snus and no experience making snus using that method.

The SnusAB Legacy, Liggett-Vector, the Infamous Ugly Can, and some Factual Corrections.

No one better sums up the main points on this than Andrew Romero, now somewhere in Russia, when he states "A few things need to be clarified here. First, the offensive "silver pill" snus can comes from SnusAB's own line ofolde viking snus can just like gran prix snus can snuses, including KICKS.

KICKS died a quick death in Swedish retail, and SnusAB was then looking to sell itself, or at least bring in a contract partner for whom to produce. The Swedish market simply requires too much money and patience, and looks poorly upon anything that is not traditional snus.

Liggett-Vector, when they signed on, were clear from the start that they had no intention of providing the volumes necessary to keep the factory afloat. Their strategy in the US was to see how it sold in several test markets before making any decisions as to whether to keep it as part of their portfolio. Knowing them as I do, I would speculate that, had they deemed snus a success, they would have a built a manufacturing facility in North Carolina."

I agree especially with Andrew's assertion that had Liggett-Vector scored a significant win with Gran Prix and Tourney, they most certainly have thrown up their own factory and made it themselves.

Moving on, the statement that "Snus AB did have the best quality snus with the lowest nitrosamine" is either a Swedish to English translation error and/or not entirely correct. Their nitosamine levels at production were within acceptable limits or the Swedish Government would have never let the snus leave the factory. It's not realistic to say SnusAB had THE lowest TSNAs. As to best quality snus, the failure of the SnusAB products in Sweden speak pretty clearly to what the Swedish snus-loving public felt about SnusAB snus.

The Liggett-Vector brands; Gran Prix and Tourney, were a dry snus product with no expiration dates. Olde Viking has a 50% moisture level so, without having tried it, I'm comfortable saying this snus will not taste like the product made for Liggett-Vector. How well Olde Viking stacks up to its competitors will be for the snusing public to vote on with their wallets. Olde Viking also has 9mg/portion of nicotine (not the 10mg mentioned in forum posts). Each Olde Viking Portion weighs 0.94 grams (the same as Oden's) and also contains our friend, E500, so the nicotine hit should be good.

Some other quick points:

  • When Adrian is referring to the 'Long Way' and the 'Short Way' of manufacturing snus, long way = fermentation; 'short way '= steam pasteurization. His remarks to the effect that fermentation is more desirable/superior than pasteurization is not correct especially as far as health concerns go. Pasteurization increases quality and as outlined above, is very expensive to implement. With the number of pasteurization units Swedish Match has, for example, I'm sure they would have been happy to save the money and use fermentation. Current Swedish Match brands including Ettan and Roda Lacket were the original known snus brands still in production today. They were popular in the 19th Century because of their taste and quality. They remained so during the last Swedish tobacco monopoly, and are in high demand today for exactly the same reasons. Is Skruf or Gotlandssnus producing an inferior snus the "Short Way" to boost production at the expense of quality?  I don't think so.  I doubt I'm alone in that thinking.  RJR made the mistake of underestimating how quickly American snus users would learn the truth about Swedish snus. I have it on very good authority that Camel SNUS sales projections for 2010 are significantly lower than they were for 2009. That is for another article. GN Tobacco is a very new addition to Swedish snus manufacturing so I'm sure they are not following RJR's marketing lead; just caught off-guard and learning. Enough said.
  • High pH levels in snus are desirable not only for nicotine uptake, but since high pH kills the bacteria in your mouth. This is better for both your teeth and gums. When sugar and sugar-containing flavorings were used in the past, they would and did cause both tooth and gum decay.
  • The ammonia smell present in some freshly opened Swedish Snus cans does not cause head-aches. It is not harmful. Those used to American candy flavored/scented snus don't usually find it pleasant until they get used to it. It fades quickly once the can has been opened a day or so.
  • The GN Tobacco factory is not a building shared with Kjellbergs Plast AB, a manufacturer of industrial plastics products. I don't know about you, but I feel better knowing that.

So what does all this mean?

Olde Viking Spearmint is the only fermented snus product still made for retail sale in Sweden. Remember that especially concerning expiration dates until/if Gajane begins pasteurizing their snus in the future. GN Tobacco is a brand new snus manufacturer as far as I'm concerned. SnusAB is Dead; Long Live GN Tobacco....if they make a really good snus.   I'm cutting them some slack on some of their statements to date because of that. I've also found Adrian to be very responsive and honest in his answers to me personally so that gives me a better feeling about GN Tobacco as a company.

I haven't received my tasting can from SnusCentral.com yet so while I can make no taste comments through personal knowledge, from the specs I've seen Olde Viking Spearmint is very different than the old SnusAB products.  I hope so.   I'm willing to give it a fair chance and will not pull it from our Snus Store as I originally intended when I first discovered Olde Viking was fermented. The product description will be changed to clearly state Olde Viking Spearmint snus IS fermented; and I'll probably include a link to this article so new snus users will know what that means. Having confirmed Olde Viking Spearmint is fermented, if like the Liggett-Vector cans, there is no expiration date clearly printed on the can, I will pull it immediately. I'm just throwing that in since I've never seen a can in person yet.  Let not your heart be troubled as of now.

There's a lot more I could speak of concerning Gajane, GNT, and Olde Viking, but not in this article. The really important points have been covered.

We will all ultimately be the deciders of how successful Olde Viking Spearmint and future GN Tobacco offerings will be. That decision will be based on taste, mouth feel, nic hit, value, and initially at least, our ability to deal with the SnusAB legacy of 100,000 of the Ugliest Snus Cans ever invented in Sweden....... or anywhere else.

Best Regards,

LARRY WATERS
Swedish Snus Ambassador to the United States
Reporting for SnusCENTRAL.org

Larry Waters - Swedish Snus Ambassador to the United StatesFDA Mandated Disclosure for Tobacco Journalists

 

 

 

 

Read 18066 times Last modified on Saturday, 14 December 2013 00:43

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