Monday, 30 December 2013 13:26

General Snus Variation Series; the fork in the General Snus Road

Written by Larry Waters
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Larry Waters, a rare photo circa 2005.  We've heard he looks pretty much the same only greyer and he doesn't smile anymore.General Original Portion Snus was the first Swedish snus I had ever tried.  I was able to quit cigarettes because of General snus.  I love the General snus flavor profile.  If I were stuck on a desert island with only one brand of snus, it would be General Snus.

Is General Snus the only brand of snus I ever use?  No; nor is Macanudo the only premium cigar I'll smoke on special occasions or is Redbreast Irish Whiskey the only top-shelf whiskey I ever drink.  When it comes to fine wines, every bottle is an exciting new chance to extend my taste horizons. 

Conversely, I have never and will never drink wine from a box, machine-made cigars, rubbing alcohol sold by the gallon labeled Whiskey, or cheap, low quality, artificial tasting snus.  Life is too short to waste on such trash at any price-point.

Variety is good if the product is good.  You don't have to sell your car to enjoy a stein of excellent craft beer or a great snus.

For Swedish snus, what has been lacking is variety at the top end of the scale.  Craftsmanship, superb ingredients, and exacting proprietary recipes are experiences the connoisseur lives for.  Excellence is to be applauded in wherever your sensory passions lie.

Kardus Superior Blend Limited Edition Snus was probably the best example of snus making as an art until its official death after the 2012 Edition.  Frankly, after the superb 2008 and 2009 Kardus Superior Blend releases, I was less and less impressed each year. 

It became apparent that the tobacco in particular but other ingredients as well were simply not up to the levels worthy of that kind of price commanded for 200 grams of loose snus.

General Onyx Portion Snus has been the long-reigning top production snus of the General snus brand.  It is not my all day/every day General snus product...it would be like eating cake every day, but it has never left my rotation since I first discovered it 6 years ago.

General Onyx isn't going anywhere right now but it is about to be replaced as General's showcase snus.

The General Variation Series of snuses are a tribute to the passion and genius of Johan A. Boman, creator of the original General snus recipe back in 1866.  General Variation essentially asks the question if Johan Boman had chosen a slightly different end result by carefully blending in some different flavorings to his General Snus, what amazing snus experiences might have resulted?

We'll find out the answer in Week 4 of 2014 with the release of the first two General Variation Series snus offerings; General Variation Smoky Oak Portion Snus and General Variation Rustic Blend White Portion Snus.  Our SnusCIA is planning on "obtaining" early samples of both General Variation snuses so I can give you my thoughts pre-release. 

I haven't been this excited about a new General Snus release since General Ekstra Sterk portion snus was released back in December 2010.  As was the case 5 years ago, Swedish Match has a lot to prove to me with the execution of the General Variation Series snus concept. 

What do the General Variation Series snuses taste like?

As is also often the case with Swedish Match, their detailed new flavor profile descriptions ask more questions than supply answers; for me at least. 

General Snus Variation Series - Smoky Oak and Rustic BlendMaybe something is lost in the translation.  Reading these in Swedish doesn't help me much either as I'm not literate in Swedish.  My taste buds find it difficult to envision how these diverse flavors will come together without tasting them. 

This is especially true with the General Variation Series as, on top of Smoky Oak and Rustic Blend flavor  descriptors, the taste of these snuses will also be unmistakably recognizable as General Snus.

Here are the official General Variation flavor descriptions of these first two releases:

General Variation Smoky Oak Portion Snus:  Rich and full-bodied tobacco character with hints of tar, pipe tobacco, and oak wood fire, and slightly bergamot and leather.

General Variation Rustic Blend White Portion Snus:  Full-bodied and spicy tobacco character with hints of dried herbs, citrus and allspice, and slightly resinous and rosemary.

Now combine these with the basic General Snus flavor profile:  spicy snus with peppery overtones and a hint of citrus.         

Hmmm.  I hope these are helpful to you. Leave a comment below if they are.

As for me, the Smoky Oak Portion snus eerily brings to mind elements of a long discontinued (and sorely missed by some) Swedish Match snus whose name must not be spoken.

The Rustic Blend White Portion snus description of "slightly resinous" is a new one for me.  How all these will meld together with the General snus flavor profile is a question I won't be able to answer until the SnusCIA is successful in their mission.

The only point worth noting is that both flavor descriptions are completely different. 

Unlike General Original Portion snus and General White Portion snus, the taste differences are not limited to the amount of moisture and type of portion pouches used.  Rustic Blend and Smoky Oak are two completely different tasting snuses.

You'll be able to answer these questions for yourself the week of January 20th.  Moe Unz, Snus Legend and Store Manager of the SnusCentral.com Snus Shop has assured me they will be well stocked with both General Variation snuses the day they are released.

Heresy or a Reboot to Historic Swedish Snus?

General Snus creator Johan Boman will be rolling over in his grave with the release of the General Variation Series snuses; either in joy or......not joy.

Unlike the various General mint and licorice versions which are very popular outside of Sweden but are more General Snus in name only, General Variation snuses are a nuanced and deliberate re-tuning of the 150 year old, never seen in public, General Snus core recipe itself.

Will General Variation Smoky Oak portion snus and General Variation Rustic Blend white portion snus be the holy grail of magical ingredients, inspired creation, and true snus craftsmanship combined? 

Are these the snuses which those who love tobacco-centric snuses and particularly the original General Snus flavor profile have been waiting for?

They had better be, and future General Variation Series releases as well.  Almost 150 years of General Snus history is at stake, not to mention the very soul of Johan Boman may he rest in peace.

I'm optimistic that the General Snus Variation Series will be an outstanding success.  Swedish Match is arguably the most innovative snus manufacturer on the planet. 

They must be VERY confident in General Variation to release it.  The Variation Series are not just new snuses you try out and either de-list or make a part of the catalog depending on snus consumer acceptance.

General Snus is the most popular brand of snus in the entire world.  You just don't tamper with the very heart of that success or cut any corners without deliberation; at least not anymore.

The General Variation Series will be a huge success because failure is simply not an option.  The damage to the brand and to Swedish Match stock values would be significant.  No pressure, though, Swedish Match, no pressure at all...

Market Share the old fashion way:  making the Best Product

The years-long snus retail price war appears to finally be over in Sweden.  It is long past time for all Swedish snus manufacturers to refocus on the true lovers and taste appreciators, existing and future, of historically REAL Swedish snus regardless of which country they may call home. 

My New Snus Year's wish is that 2014 is the year Swedish snus resets their priorities.  Simply making a snus in Sweden and slapping a label on it isn't good enough anymore.  There are less discreet nicotine alternatives to cigarettes which are as much a competition as another snus manufacturers brands.  Drawing a clear line between them is essential.

Tobacco; the very core component of Swedish snus, and the way different tobaccos are blended should be primary driver of what a snus will taste like.  The time of grinding up cheap tobacco and high nicotine stems, then hosing them down with artificial flavorings should stay confined to budget snuses if at all; not extended up through the premium and super-premium snus brands.

Modern Swedish Snus, the promise of 2014, and some pent-up snus frustration

The General Variation Series snuses are the first official announcement of a return to the historic roots of what separates Swedish snus from other smokeless tobacco products from around the world.

Islay Whisky Portion Snus by Conny AnderssonThe tortuously long wait for GN Tobacco's Islay Whisky Portion Snus by Conny Andersson will soon be over with a January 2014 release.  Hopefully no last-minute corners will be cut in manufacturing, tobacco, or ingredients and Islay Whisky portion snus will be worthy of its creator; legendary tobacco and snus expert Conny Andersson.

Now we have two super premium true Swedish snuses to look forward to after New Years day.  A return to the historical greatness of Swedish snus does not have to totally revolve around new products.

Maybe Skruf AB will even bring the percentage of rose oil and tobacco quality in Skruf Snus back to where it was 5 years ago.  It would be great if Skruf Snus actually tasted like Skruf Snus again.

Maybe those Swedish snus manufacturers whose products are being sold into the US market should stop worrying if their products are sweet enough for poor Reynolds Camel SNUS-ruined American palates.  It is no accident that the first three General mint flavored snuses are only packaged with FDA-required US labeling to this day and only sold OTC in the US.

Americans also don't like being taken advantage of and are pretty good with internet searches; after all, American Al Gore invented the internet.  Instead of bragging how Camel SNUS has an 80% US market share, perhaps they should be more concerned about the 20% they don't have. 

Keep in mind that these numbers only include snus sold over the counter in US stores and exclude the huge internet snus market. 

Further consider that through their massive cigarette distribution network, the availability of Camel SNUS more than any perceived quality of Camel SNUS is responsible for their weak 80% market share.

Wrap all that in the fact that snus, both REAL Swedish snus and American snus, has less than a decade of exposure in the US.  The entire US Snus market in 2013; all 100%, is about the size of....the snus market in Norway alone.

Reynolds American should be concerned and rightly so.  For Swedish snus makers, this is an opportunity.

Being the best sells product.  Value does not necessarily equal price but quality can not be faked indefinitely.

There is a place for quality budget priced snuses in the market.  But simply being the cheapest by any means possible and relying on marketing hype alone...there is a long list of $0.99 American snus brands consigned to the dustbin of history for pursuing that business model; a good number of Swedish snuses as well. 

At the other side of the spectrum, snus consumers around the world will pay a little more for a super-premium REAL Swedish snus.... IF the snus is outstanding enough to justify the price.  Focus-group tested logos, snus can art, sugar, and cheap ingredients do not make a snus...except maybe at RJRT.

If a snus manufacturer puts their mind to it, they can dazzle both consumers and share holders alike once again.  After all, it has been done before. Johan Boman did it in 1866 with General Snus.  Jacob Fredrik Ljunglöf created the Ettan snus recipe in 1822 and along with Jacob Berzelius, made Ettan the world's first steam pasteurized snus. 

It also wouldn't hurt if someone slapped the Swedish government in the face and reminded THEM that Swedish snus is Swedish history is Swedish Culture is uniquely Swedish.

The EU Snus Ban KILLSHow many more times will they raise the punitive tax on snus?  If consumers are going to pay more for premium quality snus, it should be for the quality, ingredients, and craftsmanship; not by snus tax increase after snus tax increase after snus tax increase.

The Swedish Consumer Ombudsman and those responsible for the Swedish public health who should be lobbying for increases in the cigarette tax in Sweden and reductions to the snus tax if they at all cared about the health and well being of the Swedish public they supposedly represent.

Instead, why in God's name is the Swedish Consumer Ombudsman senselessly attacking and bringing the Swedish Snus Store on Main Street in Stockholm to court...for advertising violations, no less??  What is next; shutting down the Swedish Tobacco and Match Museum as Swedish tobacco history is somehow an embarrassment to modern Sweden?

If you want to talk about embarrassments to modern Swedish history, one has to look no further than the EU Swedish Snus Ban; now in place for twenty years and destined for another 10 to 15 years after Sweden's humiliation by the EU Commission in 2013.

I'm not even going to start detailing the failure after failure of the Swedish government in getting the immoral, illegal, and anti-free trade EU Swedish Snus Ban lifted.....cowardly, weak, self-hating hypocrites...THEY should be forced to use American snus until they grow a backbone and stand up for Swedish trade rights and Swedish tradition.

Swedish Match's General Variation Series will set a new standard of pride, Swedish craftsmanship, best in class products for their consumers, and deserved profits for snus in Sweden.  We can only hope they won't be the only Swedish snus manufacturer that follows this course in 2014; dragging the Swedish government along with them, kicking and screaming if necessary. 

Gott Nytt Snus År!  / Happy New Snus Year!Great Seal of the Swedish Snus Ambassador to the United States

LARRY WATERS

Swedish Snus Ambassador to the United States
Reporting from the SnusCENTRAL.org Bunker somewhere in Texas

Damn right Larry Waters is a Founding Member of SnusCentral.org! 

Read 51943 times Last modified on Monday, 10 August 2015 17:17

7 comments

  • Comment Link Callum Wednesday, 08 January 2014 05:15 posted by Callum

    Great article. As an amateur snus user in Australia, I have ordered several dozen different tins in an attempt to try them all. What I am finding now though is that it's not an artificial flavour that will satisfy me but instead a deep, rich flavour that only a quality snus will provide. Don't get me wrong, melon and cinnamon seem like fun flavours and WILL appeal to some, but I feel I want the deep and mature flavours so much more. It IS like a beautiful vintage wine vs. a box of $3.99 wine from the local garage. To each their own, but I'm about to get so much more sophisticated about my snus.

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  • Comment Link Larry Waters Wednesday, 01 January 2014 02:20 posted by Larry Waters

    Hi Carl L! Quick answer for you: my understanding is that if the Smoky Oak and Rustic Blends are well received, there will be additional Variation offerings over time.

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  • Comment Link Larry Waters Wednesday, 01 January 2014 02:14 posted by Larry Waters

    Hi zebrasnuser! You're not going to get an argument out of me on the quality and taste of Ettan. The beauty of true Swedish snus is the variety of high quality snuses to choose from.

    Swedish tastes do differ from American. They are more fond of salt, black licorice, and bergamot than we are exposed to.

    Swedes are not big fans of artificially sweet snus or sweet mint snuses in general. General Dry Mint Mini, Large Mint, and Wintergreen aren't even sold over the counter in Sweden.

    The GR' juniper and lingonberry flavorings were the most radical ones there were....until Reynolds and Camel SNUS came along.

    Reynolds learned quickly with their 2006 portion and white portion prototypes (made by BAT)that mass marketing a Swedish-style snus wouldn't work for them so they changed the rules.

    Suddenly, snus was SUPPOSED to taste like candy and not deliver enough nicotine to allow smokers to quit cigarettes completely.

    Philip Morris USA test marketed a round can Swedish made snus flavored in Regular and Menthol which fortunately died a quick death.

    Having no plan and no clue what to do next, they assumed Reynolds did and created at best a bad imitation of Camel SNUS. Their US market share dropped every year; particularly in 2013. Altria fixated on Lorillard (who had Swedish Match make their Triumph Snus and should have succeeded...except Lorillard dumped it into only two test markets with no effort or follow-up and decided it had failed) and their Blu e-cig. I wouldn't be surprised if Marlboro snus disappeared in the next year or two.

    Sweden saw the US market for snus as a goldmine waiting to be plucked...Go west, Swedish snus!

    They miscalculated the speed in which the US market could be conquered because of two things:

    Americans only knew smokeless tobacco through dip and chew. Before discovering Swedish snus, my vision of smokeless tobacco was the cowboy spitting tobacco juice onto a dog's head I had seen in a movie.

    Americans had no tradition of snus and no idea what real snus actually was.

    The second miscalculation was one of scale: Swedish snus manufacturers viewed the US as a single country. In reality, its more like 50 different countries; all having to be educated as to the virtues of Swedish snus especially over cigarettes...which was made impossible when the Tobacco Control Act and the PACT Act were passed in 2010.

    And so the story goes. I don't usually get this wordy but I've been chain-snus Ekstra Sterk portion all evening.....

    Hope there was an answer in there somewhere. :-) And enjoy your Ettan snus plus an occasion can of Onyx...and maybe even Variation Smoky Oak!

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  • Comment Link Larry Waters Wednesday, 01 January 2014 01:34 posted by Larry Waters

    Hi Rick! In Sweden, I think General Variation poses more of a risk than you might think; more to Swedish Match than the General Snus brand ultimately.

    The retail price wars may be largely over but the competition over market share isn't and never will be.

    The point of Variation is to change the focus back to who makes the best product, uses the best materials, and honors the historical significance of finely crafted Swedish snus during production and planning.

    Skruf AB is SMAB's largest competitor in both Sweden and Norway. Since they were acquired by Imperial Tobacco there has been a slow but constant downgrading of the quality of skruf snus.

    Five years ago, I couldn't go a week without at least one craving for skruf.

    Today, the rose oil is barely discernible and the quality of the tobacco they're using has decreased. There is a bitterness to skruf now that never used to be there.

    I still use the skruf Selection white portions as they do taste like the tobacco is a better or at least not as bitter. I'm still missing the rose oil and sadly, my skruf cravings.

    If SMAB can change the game back to quality-centric, craftsmanship and innovation of snus over packaging and pouch design, they could lock in the higher end snus consumers in Sweden before skruf could course-correct. They believe the reward is worth the risk of tinkering with the hallowed General recipe.

    If the General Variation concept is not successful, it will leave SMAB worse off and their shareholders unhappy. There are a lot of undesirable outcomes possible after that.

    For snusers, that will mean despite more varieties of snus, there will be less new or even existing snuses which will be worth using. Swedish snus will continue to be dumbed down...PBR beer over craft beer, if you will.

    Not a snus world I would be happy in.

    Admittedly, I do tend to dwell in worst case scenarios as you well know.....

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  • Comment Link Rick Charles Wednesday, 01 January 2014 00:54 posted by Rick Charles

    Good article Larry! I look forward to trying SM's General Variation, sounds like I'd like them both.

    You commented that, "failure is not an option. The damage to the brand would be catastrophic", but I really don't think so. I think that the brand would survive, just as Coke or Pepsi has, even with all their failed attempts at brand extensions.

    All in all, they're probably going to do quite well with these, and once the new flavors are "fully vetted" by the rest of the world's consumers, they'll launch them in the US. Who knows with SM, it's always a guessing game. When I think they should zig...they zag, lol.

    Gotta love them, they do make good snus :-)

    Best,

    Rick

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  • Comment Link zebrasnuser Wednesday, 01 January 2014 00:12 posted by zebrasnuser

    I may be speaking blaspheme here, but Ettan portion is my all around favorite. I liked General long portions and ONYX, but the bergamot is just something that leaves a bad taste in my mouth after awhile. The new smoky oak sounds like one I will try, but only if the bergamot is not overpowering. Why is it such a popular flavor in mostly pure tobacco snus? Some of us find it distasteful and unpleasant. General would get more of my money if they made a snus that focused on the tobacco flavor and left the other flavors (like mint, I hate minty snus) where they belong, in that filthy Camel and Marlboro sh!t that most Americans idolize.

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  • Comment Link Carl L Tuesday, 31 December 2013 23:16 posted by Carl L

    I like the idea. I hope they pull it off well. Are there going to be more general variation snuses in the future?

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