Camel SNUS and the American Market
Swedish Match is the largest Swedish Snus manufacturer in the world. Their brands stretch back to 1822 and the first pasteurized snus; Ettan. While Swedish Match does have a fair market share in the US moist snuff and chew market with brands like Red Man and Timberwolf, snus was not a major focus for them or anyone else in the US through the 20th Century. That all changed with RJR, Camel SNUS, and now CEO of Reynolds America, Susan M. Ivey.
Ivey had long ago seen the need for more discreet (although not necessarily safer) tobacco products. Eclipse cigarettes were her first effort. They were not, nor did RJR claim, they were safer than conventional cigarettes. RJR even included the fact that Eclipse were higher in carbon monoxide than other cigarettes in the packaging. The difference was Eclipse didn't burn the tobacco; it heated it. The result was an ash-less cigarette that did not smell like a cigarette, cling to your clothes and hair like a cigarette, and the exhaled smoke was 70% to 80% water vapor. It has been a failure primarily because I was not put in charge of the Eclipse brand as I often offered but also due to taste and price. Ironically the e-cigarettes of today, while still a work in progress, are the 21st century version of Ms. Ivey's intent (minus replacing tobacco cigarettes, of course.)
When Camel SNUS was launched in 2006, RJR was singular in not only introducing a snus-like product (Philip Morris introduced first Taboka Snus and Marlboro Snus around the same time), but Ivey and RJR put advertising and promotional dollars behind Camel SNUS. They started with a few test markets but rapidly increased that number to 17 and then to mass American distribution in 2009. In comparison, Marlboro Snus is still only available in four areas and Lorillard's Triumph Snus never expanded beyond two test markets. In fact, rumors that Lorillard has/is de-listing Triumph Snus are rampant recently, but as usual Lorillard refuses to confirm or deny anything.
The SnusCIA has learned from Camel SNUS insiders who spoke on condition of anonymity that RJR has already projected that Camel SNUS sales for 2010 will be significantly lower than 2009. Despite that, RJR is still spending substantial dollars on print, promotional, and other advertising media for 2010. Unlike the other American Big Tobacco players, Ivey and the Reynolds Board of Directors understand that introducing a snus-like product to American smokers is a process that will take time but ultimately pay huge dividends. To their credit, RJR seems to have a long term strategy they are sticking to instigated by Susan Ivey and with the backing of the Reynolds Board.
Enter Swedish Match and General Snus
RJR's efforts did not go unnoticed by Swedish Match. When Camel SNUS and Marlboro Snus were first introduced, Swedish Match North America had already begun selling a limited range of General brand Swedish Snus through their cigar distribution network of tobacco stores. General Snus is the largest selling brand of snus in the world and is the flagship of the Swedish Match snus vertical. The flavors sold in the US were more traditional Swedish snus flavored product. A few others were added like Catch Eucalyptus to provide a more American type product.
RJR's most popular Camel SNUS was and is Camel Frost. Swedish Match decided to attack Camel Frost head-on. In 2009, they released General Mini Mint specifically for the American market. General Mini Mint was everything Camel Frost was not, but should have been. General Mini Mint quickly became a huge seller, taking market share from not only Camel Frost but other American and Swedish mint snus products. If anyone didn't think SMAB was as focused as RJR on snus, you only have to look at earth-shattering business decisions Swedish Match took since the release of General Mini Mint.
Other new flavors and products were developed for the American market; General Wintergreen being a noticeable flavor. This product is not desired, let alone sold to Real Snus users in Sweden.
In response to consumer demands and focus groups in Norway and the United States, Swedish Match began introducing new high nicotine products. General Ekstra Sterk, a personal favorite of mine, starting a deluge at the end of 2008 of high nicotine snus from almost all of the Swedish/Scandinavian Snus manufacturers. Nicotine lovers were happily overwhelmed with an overflowing basket of new brands and flavors. This continues to this day with Skruf Xtra Stark about to dethrone Gajane's Oden's Extra Stark line as the highest nicotine portion snus at 19mg/g. Another SnusCIA source has indicated another manufacturer is planning a 20mg/g snus in 2010. I do love Skruf Stark Portion Snus so I'm going to have to try Skruf Xtra Stark and worry about my heart later. I'll even probably have to buy it from the SnusCentral.com Snus Store since Skruf still hasn't forgiven me for my initial disappointment with and review of Skruf Stark White Portion.
SMAB was just beginning their continuing reorganization around the Smokeless Tobacco vertical. SMAB entered into a historic joint venture with Philip Morris International (not to be confused with Philip Morris USA which is owned by Altria). Swedish Match took over production of PMI's 1847 Swedish Snus brand, greatly improving it's quality and distribution in Sweden. PMI opens up huge new markets for Swedish Match products in the world marketplace. Future products including a Swedish Match designed and manufactured Swedish Marlboro Snus are probable for the future.
SMAB then sold Swedish Match South Africa (SMSA) to PMI for cash. Swedish Match Distribution still distributes the South African products, but this reclaimed Swedish Match resources then dedicated to nasal snuff and other products not in sync with the new Smokeless Tobacco Initiative.
On January 15th, 2010, Swedish Match dropped this bombshell on the tobacco world:
Swedish Match Has Signed a Letter of Intent with Scandinavian Tobacco Group to Form a New Worldwide Company with Focus on Cigars
- Swedish Match to contribute all of its cigar business with the exception of US mass market cigars, as well as its remaining pipe tobacco and accessories businesses
- Scandinavian Tobacco Group to contribute all of its tobacco business (cigars, pipe tobacco and fine cut tobacco)
- Completion of the transaction is subject to due diligence by both parties, final transaction agreements, bondholder approval, and regulatory review and approval
Which (finally) brings us to General Mint!
As stated earlier, General Mini Mint effectively crushed Camel Frost and was and is very popular in the United States. Only two complaints/comments consistently came from General Mini Mint users; especially after they had been using REAL Snus (Swedish Snus) for over 3 months and had begun experimenting with other sizes of portion snus and other Swedish Match/Swedish snus brands.
The two issues were the size of the portion and the nicotine level. The amount of snus in a pouch of General Mini Mint was the same as Camel SNUS and was even more comfortable in the mouth. The free or bio-available nicotine level of General Mini Mint exceeded Camel SNUS. Americans are never satisfied though, are we? People simply wanted more.
Unlike Big American Tobacco which traditionally makes the products they like and put them out out to market expecting consumers to adapt and like them, Swedish snus manufactures listen to their customers. They not only listen but go out of the way to the best of their ability to solicit and engage product comments and suggestions from their customers. V2 Tobacco does an outstanding job of this, but Swedish Match AB has gone the furthest.
For example, beginning with SnusCENTRAL.org and then including another popular snus site, Swedish Match established a physical presence on these sites. Members could ask questions, make suggestions, or even vent directly to Swedish Match officials in Sweden. The public response would also be from these same Swedish Match officials. Unlike politically correct American manufacturers in general (except Domino's Pizza) they were very honest in their answers.
Sometimes requests were answered with a "no" or "not now" but all were forwarded to Swedish Match Product Development. If there was an issue with a product, they didn't dismiss it or sugar-coat it: they acknowledged it, researched it, and reacted. The problematic sealing of the General Wintergreen pouches is a great example of this. This feedback and dialogue were also directly responsible for General Mint White Portion Snus.
I said at the beginning of this article that the review of General Mint was incredibly easy. That's because Swedish Match just did what their consumers wanted: they took the same snus and recipe they used for General Mini Mint, increased the pouch size to one gram which also doubled the free nicotine to that of their other white portion original sized snuses: 8mg/g.
They used the same graphics minus the word "mini" on the General Mint can, increased the number of portions in each can to 24, and General Mint was born! The taste is more intense than Mini Mint or even doing (as many of us do) 2 Mini Mint portions at the same time. The nicotine hit is exactly what you would experience with a General White Portion or any other 8mg/g white portion snus Swedish Match makes. No reinventing the wheel here; just giving people what they want. General Mint portions don't even come in the new "star formation" inside the can...at least not yet. Just 24 grams of great tasting snus with no other changes.
The only additional suggestion they did not take was one of mine. I suggested that many Americans, especially women are very conscience of the appearance of a snus portion under their lip at work since common snus use is in it's infancy here. Instead of a one gram White Portion pouch, why not use their new longer and thinner one gram Lab Series portion pouch. I can only think of three reasons why SMAB didn't do this.
The first is taste. LS pouches run differently than conventional white portion pouches do. Perhaps an LS pouch affected the flavor or character of the mint recipe adversely.
The second is branding: General Mint is a General brand snus. To date, Swedish Match Lab Series 01 and 02 are the only snuses they make using the Lab Series pouch. Introducing that pouch to a single product in the General line could be disruptive to both brands, hurt the uniqueness of the Lab Series and confuse consumers. I also now suspect that the name "Lab Series" should be taken literally. It gives SMAB a place to try new concepts without affecting their other brands. I know this contradicts my original opinion that Swedish Match Snus Scientists had the product named after them to resolve an internal coup attempt or to substitute for bonuses, but I'm becoming better able to understand the nuances of Swedish translated into English. Sometimes literal is just literal.
The final reason may simply be "not yet" or "to be determined". The Swedish Match Lab Series is a recent invention. I personally love the gum-hugging, less visible Lab Series pouch (I'm chain-snusing LS 02 as I write this). I have not been shy in calling the Lab Series pouch the next generation of portion pouches. While I am the voice of REAL Snus in America, SMAB would be prudent to collect more consumer and sales data on 01 and 02 before unseating the white portion.
What this all boils down to in the end are two things. General Mint is a great snus for those fans of mint snuses like Jakobsson's Ice Fruit and Offroad Frosted. General Mini Mint addicts wanting to go to the next leval; your prayers have been answered! General Mint goes beyond this however. You can really appreciate the subtleties and elegance of the General Mint Snus at one gram much better than you even can in Mini Mint. It may not be a traditional Swedish snus flavor, but you can taste 200+ years of Swedish Snus history and love in General Mint.
As an added bonus, at the 8mg/g nicotine level in a one gram portions, General Mint will also obliterate all American snus-like mint flavored product available today once it becomes known here. Off-brand Swedish mint snuses will suffer also, and quicker.
General Mint will be a hit just as General Mini Mint was/is and will further differentiate Swedish Snus by highlighting the tiny amount of snus American snus-like product manufacturers generally use. It will probably force American portion snus-like product manufacturers to eventually increase the amount of snus and the number of portions per can.
RJR learned the hard way when they tried explaining how lowering the number of portions per can of Camel SNUS but making the portions look bigger was a good thing. Americans at large may not know REAL Snus yet but they know when they are paying more for physically less. Day by day, Americans are also learning the same thing applies to quality of ingredients, taste, product manufacturing and corporate integrity.
General Mini Mint Lives; Long Live General Mint!
Swedish Snus Ambassador to the United States
Reporting for SnusCENTRAL.org