Andrew Romeo - An Insider's Perspective

Andrew Romeo is a long-time veteren of the snus and associated industries.  A New York native, Andy has worked throughout Europe and is currently building distribution networks in Russia.

Wednesday, 06 June 2012 13:22

Mike Bloomberg Tries to Look Busy with Coke

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Mike Bloomberg Looks Busy:  Now with the Soft Drinks

Bloomberg teaches Soda 101Welcome once again to liberal hold-fast New York City, where you cannot smoke in the park, Central or otherwise (Coming Soon to an apartment building near you!), and soon, you will be deprived of your Big Gulps, Super-Sized High-Fructose-Corn-Syrup-laden Cokes/Pepsi's/Dr. Peppers/Mountain Dews/Sprites/7-Ups/Hires/Mr. Pibb, etc., if they are sold by food service or small convenience in servings over 16 ounces (Supermarket and grocery sales of higher volume packs are not affected, ostensibly, as they are used over an extended period of time in the home).

As Jon Stewart recently pointed out, , one can still order a mountainous heart-clogging pastrami and beef tongue sandwich from the Carnegie Deli followed by Hooters’ wings in New York (if you can find the Hooters), but XXL sugary drinks have got to go.

We live in an age where individual consumers can comment about products and services on the Internet, and make an immediate impact on the companies who provide them.

That is, if the companies are listening. And, when they are, how they use this close-contact data, and then, to what extent they rely on it as a reliable gauge of public opinion. This kind of data can be an amazing boon to a company looking to achieve true consumer feedback, and, simultaneously, it can be a crutch which eschews the expense of market research for the morass of what can amount to cheap Internet trolling.

Here are two extreme examples:

Famous tobacco expert and author Andrew RomeoParliament has been a popular cigarette in Russia since the late 1990s. Unlike in the US, it is super-premium, priced above Marlboro alongside brands like Davidoff and Sobranie.

In 1998, during the financial crisis, we heard in informal talks with PM Russia, that while the majority of Russian smokers traded down to 'local' crap cigarettes to save money, Parliament sales remained steady, and the brand became a symbol of prosperity and wealth.

Like many brands, it is available today in Russia in multiple SKU's of varying strengths and diameters. Many men in Russia/CIS smoke super-slims, for example, and almost all segments boast super-slim variants, with LD at the bottom, and Parliament at or near the top.

It is said that 2012 is going to be a year of big changes in the Russian tobacco industry. Rotating "DG-V" (EU-style) health warnings began last year, and most feel public places restrictions are imminent, as well as massive price hikes (a pack of Marlboro costs about US $2.50 today). WHO tar and nic ceilings (10/0.1) are already in place. Thus, all local factories have been shut or sold. Only the big boys remain after Donskoi Tabak went to Imperial last summer.

Friday, 18 February 2011 00:00

Notes from a veteran of the Swedish Match Wars

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Andrew Romeo reporting from a very cold RussiaHaving caught up with the news of Swedish Match’s legal initiatives vs. BAT, and especially the boys at V2, I thought a bit of perspective is in order. When I was promoted to head Gallaher Sweden AB in 2005, we were in the midst of being sued by Swedish Match for producing snus products which were almost identical, from a packaging point of view, to their market leading positions with General, Grovt, Ettan and Probe.  The product inside had also been radically improved.

Swedish Match went after Gallaher Sweden because, at the time, Gallaher had redesigned Gustavus standard in a black can, while also launching Gustavus '1e Kvalitet' (same meaning in Swedish as 'Ettan') in a dark yellow can and Gustavus 'Grovt' and Gustavus 'whiskey' in brown and reddish brown cans, respectively.  Gallaher had indeed overstepped the line in terms of copying the designs and names of SWMA's main product lines.

Monday, 27 September 2010 19:34

WHATEVER HAPPENED TO SNUS IN THE USA?

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If I recall, the cost of a mini-snus factory should not run over $3 million.  That’s with standard primary and Mertz machines, plus re-wetting, and, the variable, refrigerated facilities for storage.  No white, unless you want to fake it, but then it looks like used Pampers.

  • Lab, small offices, locker/shower room, disposable food prep clothing, etc. and so forth. A mini-factory can be run with six people, a manager, and a lab guy.
  • Swedish Match requires a snus shelf-life of 18 weeks under proper refrigerated conditions.
  • Why has no one installed a simple Swedish snus factory in the USA?
  • What happened to the much ballyhooed American producers like Nordic-American?
  • Where did Swedish Match go, and why do they continue to annoy me anyway?

I ran a snus factory in Vargarda Sweden for Gallaher (now JTI) for two years.  The factory, formerly belonging to Gustavus AB, perfected its snus product under Gallaher, and launched a few interesting The Vargarda Snus Factoryproducts, the most important being LD, which, for the first time, put a major global cigarette brand into the world of Other Tobacco Products (“OTP”).

The factory bled money until one brief moment when we had reached an annualized volume (read: best month ever, and multiply by 12) of 10m cans with LD at 7 SKUs in 2006.

Why?  Labor:  52% of my cost.  Materials: 37%.  Tobacco and controllables:  The rest.

Factories need volume to break even and pay wages, and, without cigarettes, snus start-ups are not viable.

Well-meaning mistakes have been made in the US:  Liggett-Vector Group took the first plunge with two product lines (remember ‘Grand Prix?’), but they were imported and not true heat-pasteurized ‘Swedish’ snus products, despite their point of origin, SnusAB, in Sweden.

Liggett, internally, is dedicated to providing smokers with reduced-harm alternatives, and truly thought snus was one path to take. Yet, the consumers spoke, and, with an excise hike on smokes not having the hoped-for effect on smokeless sales, they eventually abandoned the project.  Close to my heart, as I worked for the sister company ‘Liggett-Ducat’ (LD) and Gallaher/LD in Russia for years.

Nordic-American Smokeless, close to my heart, as I ran the Norwegian sister trading company “Taboca AS” for 1 ½ years, also tried.  Co-investment with Swisher in a snus-y factory division in their Western Pennsylvania facility led to the launches of ‘Klondike’ and ‘Nordic Ice.’ “Snus-y?”  Because the product is fermented.  Just like the SnusAB product.  Many consumers complained on-line of its cloying sweetness and dryness.  Website is disabled.

American Smokeless (Discreet):  Tom, your website is gone (all searches go to UST), yet your snus has been rated the best of the lot for fullness of flavor.

RJRUSA and PMUSA?  If you are reading this, you know their products are generally reviled on a quality basis, especially for cloying sweetness and awful mouthfeel.  Yet, unfortunately, they hold the greatest promise of eventually providing the product you want.  Why?  They make cigarettes.  They have warehouses filled with snus-making equipment.  RJR has access to BAT’s snus-making abilities (major shareholder), and PM to Swedish Match’s (partners in snus outside Scandinavia.  1847.).

Swedish Match:  And this brings it down to the prime question-mark in the industry:  The major piece of news that never, ever happened in 2009/10.

Albeit, SWMA is fighting many battles:  The EU, for one, which in the Big Tobacco lunatic fringe, was closed to snus by Philip Morris International and/or Big Pharma in the 1990s.  Yet, the two companies (minus Big Pharma) are now great buddies for smokeless around the world, and SWMA seems to keep throwing local business into PMI’s maw (South Africa smokes being one).

But, the USA is anemic. Since SWMA has re-organized for the 1700th time, and now has a “smoke-free” division with world-wide coverage, the US gets the “Original Pursuit” campaign, which is a mono-brand (General) tribute to NYC drunks out on St. Patrick’s Day, art galleries, and some kind of hang-gliding.  And then, they announce the product’s availability has increased by 300 shops after 8 months.  Not in NYC or LA, or Chicago, mind you, but the USA.

When I worked at Pepsi, 300 shops in a start-up was 5 guys working for a week.  And the Swedish Match sales staff should know that.

In the US, the problem Swedish Match has had, in all its attempts at “educating” consumers these past two decades, is boring black and mustard-yellow cans, and ‘education’ campaigns at shops in major cities.

Go out there, and put your new products in 7000 shops.  ALL the Shell stations, and ALL the Exxon stations. ALL the 7-11’s.  You guys can get into 7-11…you’re all over them in Sweden and Norway. Invest money, knowing you will throw product away, but it’s better than the damned hang-gliding or art galleries.  No-one cares about that.

In the US, ONLY Swedish Match will get this ball rolling.  With its new innovative products and packaging, it can only succeed.  Increase shelf life, and get out of the fridge business, except in tobacconists, but get out there! You’ve got a whole damned sales force, and cash, and the best, most cared for products in the business.  Get your US snus factory open and kick some ass. Save some smokers’ lives in the process.

ANDREW ROMEO

Reporting for SnusCENTRAL.org
St. Petersburg (Russia) 2010
Wednesday, 26 May 2010 17:00

BP Can't Stop Screwing Up.

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I am a liberal.

Don't like guns, but won't hug any trees.  I eat animals, and distrust big corporations because I have worked for them.  The FDA is over-worked, under-skilled and on the take.  So is the Interior Department.Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?

But the corporations I worked actually had their ducks in a row.  Pepsi was always just a bit better than Coke, and Gallaher Group (now part of JTI) always has us attend crisis management meetings with our PR agency, Burston Marsteller, annually.

It's a good thing British Petroleum doesn't make snus or soft drinks for all our sakes.

CRISIS MANAGEMENT

This is a huge topic for public companies because it is designed to, when properly executed (WITH the help of the PR agency), mitigate any losses to shareholder value by assuring them that the company is in full control.

In consumer goods we cover (in no real order)

Tuesday, 20 April 2010 01:00

Those DAMNED ICELANDISTS!

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The Long Volcanic Ash Plagued Wait for Home


I’m sick.  Sick and tired of those volcano-cloud apologists who won’t let us get on our damned planes and do the shit we’re meant to be doing.A Russian IL-96 pilot smirks at the volcano grounded planes as he prepares for takeoff

I mean, why can’t I get on the damned plane? The sky is blue, for Christ’s sake! The Germans have flown ten flights, the Dutch have flown ten flights, and the Russians aren’t even paying attention.  Maybe they have super-planes.  Why don’t we have super-planes?

I think the whole EU has gone Icelandist.  I mean, why does everyone believe them?  If the volcano is costing the airline industry $200m per day, why isn’t there a NATO force attacking the volcano?  Filling it up with jello or something?

Iceland has the population of Binghamton, NY.  Easy-peasy population re-lo and bomb the place away, filling the volcano with some kind of resin-y goo which will give us all a break, and maybe excite an engineer somewhere to produce an engine that doesn’t die from volcano ash, i.e. the Russian super-plane.

I mean, President Medvedev flew to Krakow for Kachynski’s funeral in his Russian (super-plane) IL-96 (irony!), while everyone else in their Boeings and Airbuses and armored cars (Angela Merkel) stayed put.

All because of the damned cloud.  Iceland’s a nice place.  It’s the Icelandists I can’t stand.

Surviving on vodka and peanuts,

ANDREW ROMEO

STILL waiting for a flight
Venting at SnusCENTRAL.org
Sunday, 28 February 2010 21:47

THE NANNY STATE: RUSSIAN STYLE - Introduction

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Preface:  Andrew Romeo and Russia

Having moved from the mother’s love of an international ‘big tobacco’ job at Gallaher, to the aggressive, tactical point-and-shoot “small-fish” job as a small snus company director in Scandinavia (Taboca AS), I now find myself in Russia. Again.

Russia, for me, is where my career started.  I studied the language in the 1980s at school and at Georgetown University, traveling to the then USSR first as a wide-eyed teenage tourist in 1982, and then as full-fledged student of Russian for a semester in 1985.

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