Pioneer Snuff of Laos was founded in 2009 by by Petter Svensson and Peter Fogde, also Swedish expatriates. Initially, Pioneer Snuff was marketed as a snus solution for Scandinavians travelling to Laos and Thailand who didn't want to load their luggage up with Swedish snus for the trip.
This year, Pioneer Snuff; self-coined "The Swedish Snus Made in Laos", was picked up by an American-based tobacco distributor. This expanded Pioneer's availability to snus users in the US and presumably any country except possibly Sweden where it is legal to ship snus to from the United States.
The latter development caught my attention but I really got interested when I learned that Petter Svensson was absolutely fluent in English. This was my chance to finally learn why snus was made in Thailand and especially Laos. I had a few other questions too.....
Pioneer Snuff - The Company
Considering we didn't know each other at all before now, I suspect Petter may have found my first two questions somewhat unusual. If so, he never let on for which I commend and thank him for. He didn't even appear to mind being followed by the SnusCIA during the course of my research. The next time I'm in Southeast Asia, I will have to make a stop in Laos and buy him a well deserved drink.
- Why would Scandinavians visiting Laos or Thailand not want to bring enough Swedish snus with them to cover the trip or is there a limit on how much snus tourists can bring with them? Whenever I travel; domestic or internationally, I always bring double the amount of snus I anticipated needing. Even when I visit Moe Unz at the SnusCentral Snus Store in Sweden, I still over-pack when it comes to snus in case of emergency. You can laugh at me, but a lot of snus users suddenly stuck in Iceland during last year's volcanic eruptions were not laughing. Some fellow snus over-packers also trapped in Iceland made a lot of money selling off some of their hoard too.
- Why in the world would Swedes leave snus paradise and move to Laos in the first place? I've been in Sweden during both the summer and winter. Being from Texas, I strongly prefer the Swedish summer to the winter as do most Swedes it seems. I also understand that Sweden's income tax rate is considered confiscatory by rational capitalists around the world....but to leave Sweden for Laos; especially as a snus maker?
- Is Pioneer Snuff really a Swedish Snus as proclaimed on its cans? OK, geographically it obviously isn't a Swedish snus but was it a Swedish-style snus? Chaini Khaini White Portion Snus from India sure doesn't remotely taste like any Swedish-made snus which has ever existed....or ever will exist I hope. Of course 5 years ago who would have believed that the General or Jakobsson's made in Sweden brands would include a Wintergreen flavored? Chaini Khaini doesn't use the words "Swedish Snus" on its labels as Pioneer Snuff does. Pioneer Snuff was setting a high taste expectation for itself. I intended to see just how it measured up.
- There is an important side issue I'm not going to address now but will in the future concerning what defines a snus as "Swedish Snus" in 2011. Is it factory location, compliance with the Swedish National Food Administration standards, compliance with Swedish Match's GothiaTek standards, being liked by the EU. being blessed with a hypothetical FDA Modified Risk designation or simply having designed the snus recipe during a visit to Sweden? Swedish Match opened a very public dialogue on this topic back in February and it does merit serious discussion....but not today as this article is about Pioneer Snuff and why there is a demand for snus in Laos and Thailand.
In regards to there being a Swedish snus market in Laos and Thailand, Petter explained "I believe there is a combination: back packers travelling through Laos and Thailand can probably not bring enough snus for a 3 months (or so) trip, regardless of how much they actually are allowed to bring into the country. Snusers are generally interested in trying new products and not as “conservative” as smokers – thus when they come to the region and see Pioneer they buy a couple of cans just to test.
The price is obviously also an important factor – Pioneer typically retails at around USD 6 in Laos and Thailand; in the popular tourist areas in Thailand (such as Phuket / Pattaya etc) imported Swedish Match products may retail up to USD 15 / can."
My American upbringing had betrayed me. I had no idea snusers back-packed for months through Laos and Thailand. Because of the distance, Thailand and Laos are also not big tourist destinations for most Americans. Thailand does have a substantial tourist trade from non-Americans so of course there would be a market for snus to accommodate them.
As to extended vacations, only the super-rich or citizens from EU countries get to take three months off for holiday. Heck, Marcus Unz of SnusCentral.com and his wife took a one-year cruise around the world for their honeymoon. The very thought of doing that is inconceivable to Americans.
Petter's personal history and reasons for moving to Laos were fascinating. As he enthusiastically explained it, "The reason(s) for me living in Laos are plentiful! I came to Laos the first time some 12 years ago, as an intern to a Swedish wood plantation company and furniture manufacturer. Going back to Sweden again in 2000, I completed my studies (Political Science / International Relations with particular focus on Southeast Asian politics and contemporary history) but always had a certain longing to come back to Laos."
Petter continued, " My then girlfriend (now wife), Helena, had the same longing to move to Laos (we were here frequently during our academic years as we stayed for some time in Bangkok in between), so we simply set up a consulting company, moved here and started getting jobs in socio-economic research etc. Time moved on; Helena got a job as Sustainability Operating Officer for a large Swedish plantation company here, Stora Enso, and I got a fixed job with Burapha Agroforestry Co., Ltd (where I started my “career” in Laos 12 years ago) as Marketing Manager. So, that was the short version as to how I ended up making snus in Laos!"
Pioneer Snuff - The Product
The Pioneer Snuff samples the SnusCIA Southeast Asian office sent me were the American market versions full of FDA-required factually incorrect warnings. Regardless, the labels were done as tastefully as possible under the Tobacco Control Act and did not detract much from the top or sides of the cans considering.
As you can see from the picture, the top lid contains a crown with five stars running vertically and horizontally across bands. Below the crown are the words "Swedish Snus" and "FINE GRAIN".
The can contains 1.76 oz or a little over 50 grams of snus. This would make Pioneer one of the few Swedish-style loose snus products remaining which included that quantity of snus. Most of the other snus manufacturers have reduced can content to 45 grams or even less; partially to lower customs, duty, and tobacco tax charges to their consumers.
Before I get into my thoughts on the taste, nicotine hit, and longevity of taste which Pioneer Snuff delivers, I want to address the technical side of the question "is Pioneer Snuff - Swedish Snus Made in Laos; really a Swedish-style snus?
When I first contacted Pioneer Snuff, I offered to pay for Eurofins, the laboratory of choice for just about all Swedish snus manufacturers other than Swedish Match (who has the capability to perform all testing in-house), to test their product. Petter responded that they too use Eurofins and sent me copies of the lab reports. There were some data reference points missing which I usually specify when testing snus in order to be able to make apples to apples comparisons. Based on what was common and with additional information from Pioneer Snuff, I am comfortable with stating the following:
- The tobacco used in Pioneer Snuff is air-cured; not heat or fire cured. This is a good thing.
- Sum TSNA levels were measured by Eurofins at 0.97µg/g which is quite low and in keeping with many other Swedish/Swedish-style snuses on the market today.
- Pioneer Snuff is pasteurized although heat pasteurized as opposed to my preference for the superior steam pasteurization. Since according to Petter, the 'Best Before' dates used by Pioneer are only out 90 days from production, this shouldn't present a long-term TSNA issue. If you ever purchase an expired can of Pioneer Snuff, I can't give you any guidance or reassurance as to what the nitrosamine levels would be. Simple Solution: Don't buy expired snus made by anyone. Fresh snus always tastes better as well.
- Pioneer is nice and moist: the direct moisture content was measured at 45%. Most Swedish loose snus is in the same range.
- Nicotine levels per gram were measured at 6.2mg/g. Considering the moisture level, this seems low compared to other loose snus which ranges from 8mg/g to just under 20mg/g (unless Oden's Extreme is available as a loose at 22mg/g) and probably results from the tobacco type used. Swedish Match's Kardus 2010 Edition was intentionally lower in nicotine compared to their other loose snus offerings because the tobacco flavor they were looking for came from a lower nicotine strain of tobacco.
The measurement I was looking for which was not listed were the levels of lead. There should have been a content for “lead Pb” if Pioneer Snuff is to be considered "Swedish Snus" under the Food Act. GothiaTek limits lead Pb to 1 but the Swedish Food Act limit of 3 is the only official one for Sweden.
Petter wasn't sure why the lead Pb test wasn't conducted but suspects it was because Pioneer Snuff, while manufactured in Laos, is sold exclusively from the USA. As such, it would have to and does meet current FDA tobacco product and registration requirements; not the ones of the Swedish National Food Administration.
Whether or not this means Pioneer Snuff can be shipped into Sweden for retail sale I can't say, but since that was never its intended market, that isn't relevant. In FDA Tobacco Controlled America, curious American snus users can legally buy a can without being arrested.
Pioneer Snuff - The Taste
Pioneer Snuff certainly tastes more like Swedish snus than some other recent products I've tried. While the recipe is obviously secret, Petter did describe the flavoring as "hinted towards a rich tobacco taste, with a pinch of bergamot oil." Before going further, my standard disclaimer: "taste is in the mouth of the snus user". These are my thoughts. Don't send me angry emails if you buy some and disagree with my taste buds.
The tobacco used by Pioneer Snuff is grown in Laos just outside its capital of Vientiane. The location, climate and soil tobacco is grown in are significant factors affecting the taste of the tobacco. Otherwise, Cuban cigars would just be....cigars. Pioneer was something of a new tobacco taste experience for me although strangely familiar in some odd ways.
The taste of the tobacco is strong and is the most prominent flavor, yet Pioneer Snuff is not bitter at all. Since the nicotine level per gram is low, that probably is a contributor to the lack of bitterness. One thing I really didn't notice was the bergamot Petter had mentioned. There were no citrus or bergamot overtones I could detect. The tobacco flavor and herbal hints overwhelmed the bergamot for me.
I would define the Pioneer snus/snuff flavor as a straight, if unfamiliar, tobacco-centric profile; slightly vegetative, a little earthy, with a hint of brine, sea salt, and surprisingly, just a touch of caviar which fades in and out the longer you leave the prilla in.
The consistency of Pioneer Snuff is almost clay-like. I usually use an Icetool to make my prillas but the Pioneer Snuff was so clay-like, I was afraid it would clog my Icetool. I opted to hand-bake. The snus was incredibly easy to hand-bake even for an Icetool fan like myself. On the negative side, it did stain my fingers more than other loose snus products I've used. More specifically, I've never used a loose snus which left my fingers looking so dirty going in and coming out. Fortunately, someone invented soap and that's about the only real negative I have on Pioneer Snuff.
The clay-like consistency also makes for a firm, long lasting prilla which can survive well over an hour under the lip without turning into a mudslide. There is no gum burn and if you make prillas the size I do, the nicotine is sufficient to avoid any withdrawal symptoms. You are not going to get a nicotine rush so if you are fond of loading your lip with any snus having the words Xtra, Ekstra, or Extra on the label, this probably isn't the snus for you.
Pioneer will not replace Ettan, General, or any other favorites in my lös snus rotation. More likely I see Pioneer Snuff becoming an occasional yet pleasant addition to my rotation. Like Kronan, you have to be in the mood for it. When you are, its quite enjoyable.
Unlike Iceland, if you do find yourself running out of snus and money in Thailand or Laos, let not your heart be troubled. Thanks to Petter, you will be just fine.
Once again putting my taste buds on the line for the sake of humanity,
At an Undisclosed Location
Reporting for SnusCENTRAL.org