Friday, 26 September 2008 20:08

Camel SNUS: An Open Letter to Reynolds America and RJRT

Written by Mr. UNZ
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dan-delan-rjrtNOTE: For those readers unaware, R.J Reynolds Tobacco Company (RJRT) , which markets Camel SNUS is an indirect wholly owned subsidiary of Reynolds American Inc.

Susan-Ivey1

So first, let me congratulate Susan Ivey on her promotion to Chairman, President, and CEO of Reynolds American Inc. and to her successor at RJRT as Chairman, President and CEO of that company, Daniel Delen.

And since it’s fitting as I’m writing you, I bought my first can of Camel SNUS Frost yesterday and am on my 3rd portion now as I write this. I will be exclusively using Frost until I’m done with this piece so as not to compromise its taste unfairly by using Swedish Snus.

 

I can understand why new American snus users like SNUS if they have had nothing to compare it to and why even some veteran Swedish Snus users buy a can of Camel SNUS Frost occasionally. The first portion was tough: it didn’t tingle: it burned....really burned.   But that’s why I’m sticking to Frost today…I’m letting myself get used to it.

brice_obrienrjrtBrice O’Brien is the Senior Vice President – Consumer Marketing, RJRT, I'm including his picture, not so much on the SNUS issue, but according to his company bio, was involved in the Marketing of Eclipse, the first smokeless cigarette which kept me from reeking of cigarette smoke, the odor that offends ¾ of the American population, apparently.

I don’t want to use the words “Reduced Harm”, confusing it with snus, but Eclipse was safer to the smoker in some ways, which was offset by higher carbon monoxide levels. But most importantly, it did get rid of that cigarette odor, making it easier to go through life as a smoker. Thanks for the attempt. If only you had tried and succeeded 40 years ago….. (I wrote an Eclipse article speculating on that too).

On my blog, I write about many subjects:  about what interests me at the time and there are many articles on the virtues of Eclipse…and pleas to Ms. Ivey to hire me to, I guess to replace you (sorry), in marketing them.  I may bring them over to SnusCENTRAL since the failure of Eclipse to capture smoker's hearts to the point where it placated non-smoking, cigarette smell haters probably led to RJRT moving to Camel SNUS.

That’s why Eclipse so excited me: it was a more discreet way to get my nicotine. And in some ways, it was less harmful than conventional cigarettes. It was VERY challenging to switch from 30+ years of Camel cigarettes (Light and Turkish Gold) to Eclipse.

We used to have personal choice and be able to take personal responsibility for our own actions.  I may be nicotine-addicted but I’m not oblivious to the risks of conventional cigarettes. I sacrificed on taste and went to Eclipse for those two reasons: nicotine with some alleged measure of less harm and, most importantly in America today, to be more discreet in that I smoked.

So it’s not ALL about the taste; although the Eclipse regular flavor I would not have been able to stick to. So taste is important too.

But we all also know that cigarette tobacco ranks at the bottom of the tobacco ladder, especially in taste. I stopped smoking cigarettes a couple of times with great difficulty and tried cigars. If I had a cigarette, ANY cigarette, during those periods it tasted and smelled terrible. At least the first one……..

You know the demographic breakdowns 1000 times better than I, but out of the 46MM+ American cigarette smokers left, the vast majority are nicotine-addicted or they would have quit under the social, political, employment and general negative stigma in America today. And as we all know, will be forced to quit cigarettes within the next (I’m guess-timating) 5-7 years when they are banned.

At the rate new snus products are showing up in test markets, I may be optimistic on that timeline. You would know better.

But again, you know all this: that’s why you in particular and Marlboro started test-marketing snus-like products originally a few years back. And why Lorillard, Nordic American, and who knows how many others have joined you.

I live in the Dallas market now but was relocated here from New Jersey in 2000.  So I had access to Camel SNUS, Marlboro “snus”, and Swedish Match Swedish Snus over-the-counter.

Like most Americans, I had no idea what snus was and immediately thought of chewing tobacco and with a New Jersey perception.

Especially you, Mr. O’Brien realize THAT challenge to nationwide snus & SNUS acceptance: the “Southern Red Neck spitting tobacco juice onto the dirt road” image that immediately comes to mind for consumers on the East and West coasts.

It was my perception until, ironically, I volunteered for a survey group study on Marlboro snus. They didn’t pick me but I learned enough to realize there was no spitting and how discreet it really was…

So as a loyal RJRT consumer, I tried a can of Camel SNUS….the 0.4 gram version.  It was…OK. But it was really discreet! I could even use it at work, at home……I would get used to the taste like I did to Eclipse Menthol because the other advantages were so great. I don’t know how much nicotine you had in those original 0.4 gram products…..you say you have 8 mg. in today’s version which is the same as regular Swedish Snus.

Just popped in another portion of Frost. The Frost is not going to replace my Jakobsson’s Ice Fruit or my Goteborgs Rape, but I might even use it again if I ran out of Swedish snus*. The taste is, like everything else with nicotine, better the more you use it.  You are accurate though, when you state that Camel SNUS only lasts 10 to 30 minutes.  At $5.50 a can in Dallas, I could easily go through a can a day making it not only more expensive than cigarettes, but because it lasts so much longer, a can of Swedish Snus will last me 3 days....and costs a lot less per can as well.

But sadly, here is where we, VERY STRONGLY part company.

Back with that first can, I didn’t even know about Swedish Snus until I went on the Internet looking for “discounted” Camel SNUS sales sites. When the PACT Act becomes law, that option will become much more challenging.

While searching the web, I learned the 200+ year history of snus: that it was NOT a 21st Century American Tobacco Company invention. It was invented in Sweden.

More importantly, I learned about the Swedish government regulating snus as a food product, the manufacturing process, what low TSNA’s meant, and read the long-term oral and lung cancer studies.

And then I learned a tobacco store five minutes from my house was a Swedish Match dealer.

I was a little nervous when I looked in my first can of General Regular Portion Snus. It didn’t look like the Camel at all. They were bigger and they were moist.
But when I put the portion in my mouth, I was stunned at the incredible taste difference. For me, it was like my first Cuban cigar after smoking Mexican Te-amo Meditation Maduros during my “breaks” from cigarettes.

BUT PUTTING TASTE and Phillip Morris COMPLETELY ASIDE, my outrage as a consumer and especially a 30 year+ RJRT customer, at Reynolds America, RJRT and especially Camel SNUS is Product Quality, Quantity, Advertising/Marketing strategy, Value for the Dollar and your completely cavalier and cynical attitude toward the consumer corporately.

Let’s start with Product Quality.

WE DO KNOW (at least you publicly proclaim, both in emailed inquiries and phone inquiries) Camel SNUS has 8mg of nicotine, the same as regular Swedish Snus, which is a good thing.

That’s important for a consumer to know because 8mg orally is equivalent to what the smoker now gets inhaling cigarette smoke. Marlboro “snus” has 20% less nicotine so the smoker-turned-snuser would feel nicotine deprived and either go back to cigarettes or mix them in, defeating the whole point of snus.

Even if I were 30+ years Brand Loyal to Marlboro Cigarettes, I would have chosen your SNUS because of the nicotine. Of course I would have to know about the nicotine levels, which I really had to really dig to find out.

Of course, neither of you offer a Strong snus in addition to the Regular: 11mg of nicotine; like the Swedish.

WE DO KNOW Camel SNUS is pasteurized which is good too but we don’t know to what effect because we don’t know the method and more importantly, we don’t know the TSNA Count! (for new readers, TSNA’s are the cancer-causing compounds found naturally in tobacco) But I did find the TSNA counts for some other products. The lower the number, the better.  Here’s a sampling:

Ettan Snus made by Swedish Match in Sweden has a TSNA level of 2.8.
OffRoad and Phantom, Snus made in Norway by V2 has TSNA levels of 0.7.

Those mean nothing unless you have something to compare them to. As this is America we’re talking about, here are some TSNA #’s on Chewing Tobacco:

Copenhagen has a TSNA level of 41.1
Skoal has a TSNA level of 64.0
Silver Creek has a TSNA level of 127.9!

BUT, Timber Wolf's TSNA level is 7.5 and Skoal Bandits Straight's TSNA's are 8.2.

QUESTION? If you were a chewer or a dipper, don’t you think that information would have just a little influence on which product you used? Even if you stayed with the Silver Creek because you just loved it, at least you would know the risk and had made an informed decision.

What is the TSNA count of Camel SNUS? You don’t publish it.

What are the OTHER ingredients? You don’t publish it.

HOW do you flavor it? You don’t publish it

With WHAT do you flavor it with? You don’t publish it.

What kind of TOBACCO you are using? You say it’s not cigarette tobacco and use the word “special” and that’s it. What does “special” mean?

WHAT does that 0.6 gram pouch really contain? Swedish manufacturers give total weigh in grams, and how much of that total weight is actually snus.

WHY don’t you publish your product contents? I know you’re not required to yet, but legislation is pending that could change a lot of things in the tobacco industry. You know that much better than I, and we are probably in agreement opposing most of them.  Perhaps not.

But the only other thing we know of apparent importance from your website’s SNUS FAQ's that you are emphatic (in all capital letters) about is: DON'T SWALLOW THE POUCH! With no explanation. That's a little scary.

I have accidentally swallowed Swedish snus portions, gave me a little nausea, especially on an empty stomach, I wouldn’t go running to Emergency Room over it. But your warning……..like I said, a little scary. You should clarify that on your website a little.


…………… UNPLANNED/UNEXPECTED NOTE………………

* I wrote this letter on September 25th throughout the day as I multi-tasked. As I said earlier, I intentionally only used Camel Frost SNUS that day and I was somewhat, to my surprise, a little more positive about the taste of it and meant it.  I'm coming to the conclusion that if you're nicotine addicted, your brain gives your taste-buds a pass.....to a certain point. Tolerable is not the same as enjoyable.

You will also note an asterisk next to those comments. I just inserted it. At about 6PM last night as I finished this post and was proof-reading it prior to publishing it, I suddenly was struck with a severe wave of dizziness. It didn’t pass. I had to go lie down.

I don’t know what caused it. I do a lot of snus each day and never experienced anything like that. I’m not saying it was even snus related or that the Camel SNUS Frost (I used 5 or 6 portions minimum yesterday prior to the incident) was a factor. Maybe it was a virus I had picked up.

It could have been caused by a lot of things. But I never had an attack that felt like this before. Maybe I’m allergic to something in the Frost? Not your fault.

But by not supplying an ingredients list, I have no way to know and am now afraid to use what’s left of the Frost SNUS.

It was my risk and choice to use the Frost SNUS, just as it was to smoke cigarettes all those years, but you do list at least partial ingredients on cigarette packs by law and I believe (I may be wrong here) I could ask you for a full list of cigarette ingredients and you would supply it; also by law.

H.R. 1108 may make this a moot point anyway, but as with the TSNA count; don’t you think consumers today have the right to make an informed choice? When I started smoking, no one cared what was in cigarettes except whether it was regular or menthol; filtered or unfiltered.

Today, you have light and ultra-lights as well as regular and unfiltered. It’s still the consumer’s choice, but obviously they wanted these options to be able to choose the level of risk (or perceived level of risk) they were willing to take personal responsibility for when selecting a currently legal; but like alcohol, product with risks associated to it.  Enough of them wanted it badly enough that your produced the light product. Enough smokers used it that they were and are big sellers for you.

[ UPDATE:  November, 2008:  It has just been reported that regardless of what "test machines" may show, to ACTUAL REAL WORLD CIGARETTE SMOKERS, there is virtually NO DIFFERENCE in Tar and other harmful ingredients in REGULAR FILTERED and LIGHT CIGARETTES!  I switched to Camel Lights based on a LIE. ]

…………END OF UNPLANNED/UNEXPECTED NOTE…………

But what’s REALLY, REALLY offensive is while you won’t talk about your own SNUS, you go out of your way in your marketing to associate SNUS to Swedish Snus. I did a whole article on your Camel SNUS website I’m not going to repeat here.

But it’s Wizard of Oz marketing at best; coming very close to even the legal definition of deceptive adverting at worst and, most insultingly, indicates the very low opinion and cynicism you have concerning your customer’s intelligence and access to information in the internet age.

Olga the Swedish Dressed e-spokesperson holding up a can of Camel Frost in the snowy mountains of what looks a lot more like Sweden than North Carolina?

A tab for Travel Tips when visiting Sweden? When did Reynolds get into the travel business? What does Sweden have to do with Camel SNUS made in North Carolina?

And your FAQ’s….the parsing of the word snus and SNUS (the latter I’m sure you own in some fashion) is simply unbelievable.

Every Single Question: if it’s specifically about the CAMEL SNUS actual product, SNUS is in all caps. But if it’s a question about snus in general or its advantages, you intentionally use the lower case snus. You even go as far as to mix SNUS and snus in the same question/answer when you can get away with it.

All because cigarette and other tobacco users are excited about snus, turn to the Internet to learn more, and there’s decades of documentation on Swedish snus…not so much on Camel SNUS.

You even created previously non-existent product verticals, all in an apparent effort to confuse American tobacco users into thinking “Camel SNUS, Swedish Snus: it’s all snus! (meaning by implication like Swedish snus). And we all know it’s not.

Mr. O’Brian, you couldn’t come up with a FACTUAL reason to buy Camel SNUS over Swedish Snus? I already gave you one with the 8mg of nicotine but that’s not on your website: I received that information in response to an email to you Customer Service Dept. (who did respond very quickly…kudos to the Manager of that department......and a follow-up phone call).

If you pasteurize your SNUS the way and to the point the Swedish do, you should have very low TSNA’s. Why don’t you publicize THAT as a reason try SNUS? Both Marlboro and Skoal doesn’t use the word “pasteurize” anywhere concerning their “snus's”. They use a drying method. I’m will to bet your TSNA’s are a lot lower than theirs.  At least I Hope SO.

Now let’s talk about Camel has always been known for: VALUE.

When I went to buy my SNUS yesterday, I noted that a carton of Camel Lights was $4 cheaper than a carton of Marlboro. Value. Good for you. A reason I stayed with you so long.

But when I went to buy my can of Camel Frost, most of which again were expired…she had to REALLY dig in the back for the October can. And they have Two Camel SNUS refrigerators.

At the 7-Eleven:
One can of Camel SNUS Frost: $5.49
Contents: 15 pouches with 0.6gr. of content each
Total Content weight: 9gr.

At Up in Smoke Tobacco Store in the Frisco TX Stonebriar Mall:
One can of General Swedish Snus: $4.95 (original, wintergreen or peppermint)
Contents: 24 pouches with 1.0gr. of content each.
Total Content weight: 24gr.

What happened to VALUE? Again, forget taste (for your sake, in this case): Camel SNUS is……..let’s just say “not competitive”.

Lorillard’s Triumph Snus has the same content count and weight as the General Snus. They’re early in test marketing but the absolute most I’ve heard it costing was $3.99 a can.

The profit margins on Swedish Snus are a lot less than on cigarettes. You apparently want the best of both worlds...snus at cigarette profits. Reynolds America, RJRT, and Camel as a brand BETRAYED NOT JUST ME, BUT ALL YOUR LOYAL CUSTOMERS!  You played us all for fools.  And we bought it.

NOT THIS TIME!

I do want to leave you with some free advice…for old times’ sake.

Everyone is worried about American taste versus Swedish Taste versus Norwegian Taste. TASTE is not the biggest or even most important difference in the snus world UNLESS you are bench marking it against cigarettes, which is the wrong way to go about it. When it comes to Taste, I would think of snus in terms of cigars or pipe tobacco.

The ONE Thing that makes the American market unique is cigarette-type BRAND LOYALTY. With cigarettes, once you find a brand you like, you generally stay with it for life unless something radical changes. You may occasionally buy another brand or borrow a cigarette from someone that’s not your brand, but BRAND LOYALTY is a given in the US.

Snus is a different animal, especially outside the US. People have “rotations” where they change brands or types on a regular basis. Some new American snusers are doing that because they think they’re supposed to. And because most are still experimenting to see what their favorites are.

BRAND LOYALTY has been the staple of the American Tobacco Industry since its inception. I had a coupon for a free can of Marlboro “snus” too but I used the Camel one because I was LOYAL to the BRAND for so long.

Most of the 46MM+ smokers who will be forced off cigarettes when they’re banned may be BRAND LOYAL by habit…at least at first.

BRAND LOYALTY is also a two-edged sword: When Consumers feel they are being cheated or ripped off by “their brand”, they’ll drop a brand they’ve used for decades and NEVER come back. It doesn’t matter how many coupons you send, how many incentives, you lost them permanently.

They will never buy another Reynolds product again:   Brand Loyalty in the American cigarette world means more than the consumer only buying a particular brand: it’s because on the manufacturer side, you’ve convinced the consumer you are worthy of their loyalty; that you care about them; that you value them. It’s almost like you’re part of the family.

It’s not logical but it’s uniquely American, especially for cigarettes and motor vehicles. A Ford truck owner would not be caught dead in a Chevy showroom.

It used to be true for American cars too, but now to a lesser degree once their brand loyal customers learned the difference between American and Japanese, and then European cars.

For the same reason you are going to squander your cigarette brand loyalty on your present SNUS product and marketing course: a brand loyal consumer betrayed is a brand loyal consumer lost.

In the case of Camel Snus, people are discovering that you are over-charging them for less of an unknown snus-like product named SNUS while trying to convince them that Olga’s in Sweden selling Camel Frost.

And your FAQ explanation of why you dropped the portion quantity per can from 20 to 15? Especially when they discover that 24 grams per can is the norm, not 9 grams in your new “bigger pouches”? Nice design job there, by the way. Make the pouches thinner but longer and they appear larger.
How are your sales in Atlanta and Columbus comping to last year now that Triumph is there?  Probably way too early to tell but it will be interesting to track.

So from a former brand loyal customer, forget Olga. Put out a quality product, let people know what’s in it, and make it competitive in price, quality and quantity. Or keep putting out your existing product but cut the price to $2.00 a can.

Cigarette Smokers and Brand Loyalty: SO hard to BUILD, SO easy to MAINTAIN....or Lose, SO impossible to ever WIN BACK….for ANY product under that brand name.

Sincerely,

Mr. UNZ

Former 30+ Year Loyal Reynolds Customer, NEVER to return.

September 26, 2008

Read 13194 times Last modified on Wednesday, 29 January 2014 12:40

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