Pre-Launch: The Secret Swedish Match Snus Summit
While the SnusCIA announcement on 13 June confirming reports of a secret snus summit were essentially correct, there was much more to the story than could be safely printed at the time. Here's what has been going on behind the scenes.
In February 2011, a high-ranking official at Swedish Match AB in Stockholm began sending feelers out to key snus influencers and others within the United States checking their availability for the week of Jun 12th 2011. As the months moved forward, these snus moguls learned the location, exact date of the Swedish Match Snus Summit, but not what this was all about.
The final agenda simply listed the time of the main presentation but not the subject. Those attending were taking a huge leap of faith. In the end, we figured what the hell and took off for Chicago on June 17th by plane, train (almost) and automobile.
When I arrived at the Marriott Hotel in downtown Chicago late that morning, I joined a very eclectic group consisting of:
- Rob Jarzombek; Editor and Chief of SnusOn.com
- Dr. Snus; noted snus blogger with an interesting take on...everything.
- Robert Hubbard; Publisher of The Snuff Taker's Ephemeris and SnusCENTRAL.org Columnist
- Mick Hellwig; Editor in Chief of The Snuff Taker's Ephemeris, SnusCENTRAL.org Columnist and Snus Forum Master
- Julls Kohl; Executive Producer of SnusCENTRAL YouTube
- Catherine DeMarsh; Circulation Manager of The Snuff Taker's Ephemeris and SnusCENTRAL.org Columnist
- Heather Haddad; President of the Fumée Cigar empire, Consultant, and Owner of the best damn cigar bar in the Austin TX Metro area
Representing Swedish Match AB were the Unofficial Faces of Swedish Match in America: our old friends and former captives Joakim Blom and Markus Ersmark. For the first time, I finally was able to put faces together with the names at Swedish Match North America now known as Swedish Match US....I think. Their org charts have always been a challenge.
Mike Dean and Sandy Fowler-Jones were finally no longer occasional voices on the phone or addresses on emails. Steve Abbot, Senior Brand Manager US Snus; and Elliot Eliades, Director of New Product Development, I was meeting for the first time.
The formal presentation began at 1pm and lasted until a little after 5pm. This gave all of us about an hour or so to pull ourselves together before dinner and what turned into the evening session. I don't remember when the evening session ended but I do know I never went to sleep that night. Friday morning, we all travelled back to our respective homes, offices, and in my case, bunker.
The afternoon session was where we were introduced to the new General products and the Not all Snus is Created Equal campaign. As time moved by and PowerPoint slides rose and fell, I promised myself I would wait until the end of the presentation to offer my thoughts. I jotted notes of points I wanted to raise but kept them to paper as the presentation continued.
Understand, this was my choice. Steve asked us often if we had any thoughts we wanted to share. Swedish Match US was looking for an interactive session and was truly interested in our feedback.
Myself and a few others asked for the occasion clarification but by and large we were ominously quiet. I think Markus and Joakim knew exactly what was coming but judging by the surprise of the others, apparently they hadn't had time to brief the Swedish Match US team on just how constructively opinionated we could all be.
I believe it was around slide 35 when I felt compelled to break my self-imposed silence and began contributing my thoughts very candidly and at great length. Like a dam breaking, the rest of the group began expressing their opinions very clearly as well.
In the end, this was the best possible thing which could have happened. Our frustrations were not with the new General Snus campaign on paper, but with a philosophical disconnect going back years concerning how General Snus had been and was to this point being marketed in the United States.
Both sides learned a lot and if Stockholm and Richmond are as committed and empowered as they appear to be in really taking on the American market this time, Swedish snus users have an exciting future to finally look forward to.
General Snus is entering a brave new world today in a very gutsy way (considering their legal staff faints every time someone says FDA). I find it very refreshing and exciting. At the end of the day, I doubt RJ Reynolds or Altria will share my enthusiasm.
From what I can tell, Swedish Match didn't officially name the new General campaign Not All Snus in Created Equal. That is the tag line for this phase of the marketing and the structural foundation from which this campaign was built. I crowned it the Not All Snus is Created Equal campaign because not only is it true, but it embodies the aggressive mind-set Swedish Match US must follow with General Snus going forward....in all areas.
Swedish Snus: To Chill or Not to Chill
Part of the Not All Snus is Created Equal General Snus campaign stresses the importance and virtues of fresh snus. As part of this equation, new General Snus chillers have been designed for convenience stores carrying the new oblong cans. As you can see from the pictures, the new chillers are pretty attractive. They also consume 30% less electricity and are much better insulated than Camel Snus fridges; a win for store owners and their bottom line.
This does reopen the debate in America as to whether stores should keep snus in chillers prior to sale to ensure freshness or if snus chillers are just electric-sucking, space-hogging, free advertising, marketing gimmicks for General Snus and Camel SNUS; the only two snus brands sold from chillers in the US to date?
That there even is a debate over chillers is clearly the fault of SMNA and their previous sales force. We all have heard of, or even heard ourselves, the Swedish Match Sales Reps talking tobacco store owners out of carrying General Snus by deriding the "noisy and electricity guzzling" General snus chillers. "Forget about snus; buy more Cohibas!"
The Sales Reps made much more money selling cigars than snus to their accounts. Without proper incentives, training, and most importantly support by upper management, salespeople will sell what makes them personally the most money and pleases their bosses.
How many articles, comments and forum posts have been posted over the years shouting out to Swedish Match about this practice? One of the frustrations the group had during the Snus Summit was that SMNA professed little or no knowledge of this practice going on in the past and appeared to be stunned it was still going on.
Like Joe Ackerman during my recent interview on Ettan Snuff and the wisdom of using chillers with that product, the General Snus Brand Managers at SMNA believed that:
- All retailers now welcome chillers since Reynolds has been so successful with placement of their Camel SNUS chillers and "Sold Cold" marketing.
- Since no retailer has ever complained to them directly that chillers were an issue or seen as a negative, chiller placement and use has never been or is an issue.
When our group began documenting Camel SNUS chillers sitting on shelves unplugged and General Snus chillers sitting unplugged, hidden away in a less valuable piece of floor space, or often both, they seemed genuinely surprised if not shocked.
I think the only way to finally resolve this topic is to look towards our spiritual snus homeland of Sweden. If anyone knows how snus must be stored at retail, it would be Swedish retailers. The simple fact is that in Sweden, all the snus manufacturers supply or ensure their products are stored at retail in snus chillers.
Some shops carry more more brands and quantities of snus than others, but it is all kept in snus chillers of some size. It would be easier, free up valuable merchandising space, save a huge amount of very expensive Swedish electricity and be in keeping with the Scandinavian Minimalism school of design to simply put the snus on shelves next to the cigarettes or some other product. The thing is, snus consumers in Sweden would never (I mean NEVER) buy snus that was sitting on an open shelf for sale.
With steam pasteurization, realistic "best by:" dates, and the modern packaging methods available to snus manufacturers today, refrigerating stock before sale is not really a health issue. Swedish snus has been around a lot longer than refrigeration has. Back then though, Swedish snus was made daily for sale daily. What this ensured back in pre-refrigeration days and today in our thankfully refrigerated and climate controlled world is that the snus consumer could always buy fresh snus.
Fresh is a universal word. a first time snus user; if given a clear option, would always buy fresh snus instead of not-fresh snus even if they weren't sure what that meant. The word fresh is good in front of almost everything except things like fine wine or scotch whiskey. Not fresh brings to mind stale tobacco, spoiled milk or rotting vegetables.
- Fresh snus tastes better than old snus. The fresher the snus, the more pronounced the flavors will be. Flavors fade over time and become one dimensional/flat tasting regardless of the expiration date.
- The fresher and moister the snus, the better the nicotine hit. In post-FDA politically correct America, nicotine which your body can absorb is now called "Tobacco Satisfaction". Every nicotine addict wants not only great tobacco taste, but needs Tobacco Satisfaction. From snus cans labeled mini-portion all the way up through those labeled extra strong snus, you will not get the Tobacco Satisfaction you desire if your snus is not fresh.
In the United States, no American snus manufacturer other than Reynolds has bothered with snus chillers and for good reason. With moisture contents of 30% to as low as 13%, American snus was never really fresh to begin with. That's why there is no nicotine hit...I'm sorry, Tobacco Satisfaction, in Marlboro, Skoal, and the other American-made snus imitations.
As for Camel SNUS, the moisture content on the small portions is currently around 30% and the new large portions clock in around 40%. The new large portions didn't exist when Reynolds launched the Sold Cold campaign and prior when they first required retailers use their snus chillers, though.
The early years of Camel SNUS marketing were spent comparing themselves to Swedish snus while at the same time redefining what snus was and especially what flavor profile Americans should expect.
Without being unfair, I believe it's safe to say that Reynolds did and does use the Camel Snus chillers as marketing and shelf space advantage tools. Camel SNUS may be Sold Cold (if the chiller is plugged in), but that's about as far as it goes.
General Snus, like most real Swedish, has a much higher moisture content because fresh snus does matter. The new General Classic Blend and Nordic Mint each have moisture contents of around 53%. The following is from the new General Snus Sales FAQ. As cynical as we old snusers in America are, there really isn't too much you can honestly take exception to or haven't experienced for yourself in what it says..
Q – Why does General Snus need to be chilled?
A - Chilling is required to maintain freshness, moisture content, and flavor characteristics of the product. This insures that customers will find the freshest possible product.
Q – Should General Snus be refrigerated after it is opened?
A - Once consumers purchase General Snus there is no need to keep it refrigerated. Once opened, it will stay fresh for up to 7 days without refrigeration.
Q – What happens if General Snus is not refrigerated?
A - Unrefrigerated Snus will not spoil or increase risk to the user in any way; it will simply begin to slowly lose its freshness and taste profile.
Q – How do I know if my General Snus is fresh?
A - Each pack of General Snus is imprinted with a “Best Before” date on the bottom.
Q – Are General Snus products guaranteed?
A - As with all Swedish Match products, General Snus products are 100% guaranteed.
Q – What is the shelf life of General Snus?
A - General Snus has a 20 week shelf-life when refrigerated at wholesale and retail. Once a can is removed from refrigeration (but not opened), it will maintain freshness for 30 days. An opened can will maintain it’s freshness for 7 days without refrigeration.
Q – What is the ideal temperature for storing General Snus?
A – Snus should be chilled between 39 and 46 degrees F.
Oh, and before you flood me with emails, it was the answer to a question about why so many US tobacco stores carrying round can General Snus contained expired product which motivated me to break my silence during the Snus Summit afternoon presentation. That issue was addressed although not resolved...at least not yet. Expired snus is now on SMNA's radar which is a good thing and bodes a positive outcome.
General Classic Blend and Nordic Mint Snus: Flavor and Tobacco Satisfaction
Today a new day dawns for General Snus in the US. The current round can General Snus products already for sale over the counter in US tobacco stores are not going away. Neither is availability to the entire General Snus and other Swedish Match brands via authorized Internet snus stores.
The new General Classic Blend snus and General Nordic Mint snus will only be sold in convenience type stores; not tobacco stores. They will also be available from select snus eStores including the legendary SnusCentral Snus Store for sale to the US only.
The initial pilot over-the-counter-markets for General Classic Blend and General Nordic Mint will be the Dallas, Philadelphia, and Chicago metropolitan areas. Both snuses will be available in 10 portion trial packs. A $1 off your next purchase coupon is hidden under the catch lid inside the used snus compartment on the bottom of each can.
Each open stock can will contain 15 portions; the same number of portions American snus-in-name-only Camel Snus, Marlboro Snus, and Skoal Snus offer. Each of these new General portions contain 0.9 grams snus. For a 15 portion can, that would work out to 13.5 grams total of snus. Tobacco Satisfaction is rated at 7mg/portion. The portions are very comfortable in the mouth and use the very discreet long thin pouch model.
While they look and run like white portions, both Classic Blend and Nordic Mint have high moisture content as I mentioned above. The moisture levels in the new General snus offerings greatly enhance the flavor and the bio-available Tobacco Satisfaction levels as compared to their parched American counterparts.
Speaking of flavor, I'm sure there are concerns among current General snus users as to the taste of Classic Blend and Nordic Mint. Did Swedish Match sell out and just make these new General snuses sweeter hoping Americans would like them? Is the General flavor profile still there?
Since my opinion is of keen interest around the world, I am happy to say that I enjoy both of these snuses. The General Classic Blend snus does exhibit our beloved flavor profile in a General Smooth sort of way. Mick Hellwig said it best after the Snus Summit when he described the flavor as General with citrus instead of bergamot.
This will please first time American snus users who will experience a familiar flavor mixed in with the tobacco. You can still taste the salt but it is less apparent in Classic Blend than in General White portion, for example. All this being said, Classic Blend is unmistakably a General snus, albeit with less peppery notes.
While designed for the US market, this is no candy flavored sugar-shock to the taste buds like American Camel and Marlboro snus are. This is a General Snus and proud of it. General Classic Blend is also a great introduction to how real snus should taste for new or American snus-tainted users. I see Classic Blend as an introduction to real snus and the General snus flavor profile. The round can General product is an adventure waiting to happen for these lucky folks.
General Nordic Mint is similar to General Mint but the tobacco flavor is a little more pronounced. After grinding Camel Frost and its flavor profile into the mud by introducing General Mini Mint a few years back, Nordic Mint continues the General snus reign as the best mint snus available in America; 7mg or less Tobacco Satisfaction.
Both Classic Blend and Nordic Mint are packaged in new oblong cans instead of traditional round cans. Those of you now having flashbacks of Nick and Johnny East and West, fear not. The new oblong cans are smaller, thinner, and have pleasing graphics. A large used snus compartment takes up most of the bottom of the can. The new cans are also thinner than American snus cans and fit easily into the pocket.
Myself and others were not shy in giving Swedish Match helpful hints for the next generation of cans, but I was surprised at how much I liked them. I usually keep multiple cans of snus on my person. With jeans, that's not much of an issue especially since I couldn't wear skinny jeans if my life depended on it.
I wasn't wearing jeans at the Chicago Snus Summit though...or at the trendy restaurant and clubs we continued our discussions at well into Friday morning. Maybe it was because I was in Chicago but after seeing and using the new oblong cans, I was suddenly aware of how the round cans printed through my pockets in a not very attractive way. With Camel SNUS their leading competitor, I suddenly understood why Swedish Match went oblong. Round cans may be normal in Dallas, but in Chicago and Philadelphia? Not for the demographic Swedish Match is targeting.
What took Swedish Match so long?
We all know that real Swedish snus is superior to American snus for a number of reasons. General Snus is the top selling Swedish snus on planet Earth for a reason. Unfortunately, virtually all Americans including myself never even of heard of snus before 2007. This created some very substantial conceptual and practical challenges in Stockholm and elsewhere.
The closest analogy I can think of is imagine yourself walking into a local US convenience store or other cigarette tobacco outlet and discovering they didn't carry Marlboro, Camel or Newport cigarettes. In America, practically the first person a new convenience store/cigarette outlet owner talks to are their cigarette company/distributor reps. RJ Reynolds and Altria tell the store owner where he has to place their cigarettes for visibility, what POS materials they must use, where they would "prefer" their signs and door clings to be located, and as many other micromanagement requirements they can legally get away with.
The convenience store owner is told what price he will pay for the products based on his being a single stand-alone store, 7-Eleven #xxxxxx, or somewhere in between. The store owner will gratefully sign the contract in either case, breathing a sigh of relief afterwards. He may pick up other brands of cigarettes to increase his overall profit margin, but without Marlboro, Camel and Newport, he may as well not open.
In Sweden, every convenience store and tobacco outlet has snus chillers full of snus from every major and many minor snus manufacturers. In Sweden, that is the reality especially for Swedish Match snus brands. In fact, practically all the Swedish snus sold in Sweden regardless of manufacturer is distributed by SMD....Swedish Match Distribution. The other snus manufacturers don't like it (would you?) but SMD is a necessary evil if they want to get their products into Swedish stores.
To say America has been a huge challenge for Swedish Match and Swedish snus manufacturers in general is a gross understatement. RJ Reynolds and Camel SNUS took the lead in gaining product visibility and "educating" tobacco consumers about snus partially because they could afford to. It's a matter of scale. The entire population of Sweden only numbers about one million people higher ....than New York City. America is big (especially my home state of Texas) and Big American Tobacco fits that scale.
The much earlier than anticipated signing of The PACT Act and the so-called Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control law giving FDA control of tobacco in America certainly didn't help and continues to hinder the tobacco harm reduction movement. Federal, State, and Local tobacco taxes continue to skyrocket as America exploits the nicotine addicted in a vain attempt to balance their budgets.
Speaking of lawyers, here is some unpleasant news for veteran Swedish snus lovers in America I learned at the Snus Summit. Don't look for General Strong, Long Sterk and Ekstra Sterk to pop up in US tobacco shops any time soon. SMNA's lawyers are afraid their Tobacco Satisfaction levels would bring down the wrath of FDA.
We shall see what the future brings for better or for worse. Today, I'm celebrating the launch of General Classic Blend, General Nordic Mint, and the Not All Snus is Created Equal revolution. Viva la Swedish snus! Viva la Swedish Match; finally Richmond as well as Stockholm!
Yours in Real Snus,
Swedish Snus Ambassador to the United States
Reporting for SnusCENTRAL.org