Sunday, 21 August 2011 20:02

Swedish Match Cares

Written by Mick Hellwig
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Swedish Snus, Pride and Profit

Swedish Match cares about the bottom line.  Sorry to tell this to those of you who thought Swedish Match wasn't a big publicly owned company intent on making profits.  The difference to most American eyes is how they get there.

I learned a lot on my recent trip to Sweden to visit two of Swedish Match’s production facilities. I learned a lot about the company’s history as well as some of their vision/goals for the future. While they were guarded about a sharing too much, they were almost transparent compared to American tobacco companies.

We literally saw two things in Sweden that we were told that we didn't see and couldn't talk about. Both are finally available on-line and shortly on Norwegian store shelves, namely Lab Series 05 Strong Portion and 06 Extra Strong Portion snus. Also available on-line and soon over the counter in American convenience stores are the new General Nordic Mint and Classic Blend snus. So those horses have already left the barn.

The Swedish Match Factory in Gothenburg, SwedenThe thing that stuck with me most was how much attention Swedish Match pays to every step of the process, from the farmers that grow the tobacco, to the curing, blending, production, storage, shipping, sales and all the way to finally the consumer.

Swedish Match tobacco buyers have a strict set of standards the farmers must follow. Silly stuff like paying the farm workers a livable wage, a place to live with a roof.  Limits on chemicals: now they even just released the new organic General Green Harvest white portion snus.  General Green Harvest is certified chemical fertilizer and pesticide free.

Even their standard tobacco is very low in fertilizer and pesticide use.  The buyers don’t buy from large warehouses full of tobacco like most companies; they deal with specific vetted farms.  A core sample is taken from every single 200 kilo tobacco bale and sent to Swedish Match for testing before delivery.

If the tobacco does not meet their GothiaTek standards, Swedish Match rejects it.  The rejected tobacco is sold by the farmer to whoever wants it cheap on the tobacco spot market.  Who knows where it ends up and in what products?  Does anyone really know what the Russians and Chinese make their cigarettes from?

The Swedish Match production factories were some of the cleanest places I've ever been in, including some hospitals. In the “new” facility in Kungälv we had to don boot covers, hairnets, and lab coats. Yes, even though my hair is less than a ½ inch long I still had to follow the rules.

The entire production is almost totally automated. The are humans there I believe only to maintain the machines.

Swedish Match treats its employees better than most companies here at home. They have a cafeteria, but that term is selling this eating area short. Considering the setting the food was amazing. No it was not specially done for us; this is the type of feed they get daily. I was curious and asked a couple of the employees, when we had a free minute to mingle.

Each and every Swedish Match employee we met in Sweden was seemingly genuinely happy to meet us and to furthermore help us. They were friendly, even the ones that were not officially involved with our tour group.

The “old” factory in Gothenburg had an open air enclosed by 4 walls of the factory break area. It was about 50 feet wide, by maybe 100 long. Set up like a little Zen garden.  Foliage, a small stream, benches and local birds, all in all a very peaceful and relaxing spot to get away to in the middle of the work day.  

And, to my mind the biggest perk of all, each employee is entitled to one can of snus, from the two large snus fridges, per day. The only catch is they have to break the seal on the can before exiting the building.

Swedish Match
follows this all up by making sure the finished product is shipped in refrigerated trucks, likely not necessary most of the year in Sweden, and making sure the product is displayed properly and refrigerated. Say what you like about whether snus needs to be cold, but Swedish Match makes sure their standards are followed.

Then we have us. They really do listen to what we, you and I, have to say. I know there are people in Sweden that read every article, forum and blog post they can find. Some of our ideas and suggestions are rejected as not fitting the company’s goals and some are implemented and improve the product.

Either way the fact is they do seek out our thoughts which is almost unheard of in the American tobacco industry.  In my many years of using American tobacco products I have only once been asked for my opinion.  My opinion was ignored, but they did ask.

Since entering the snus and snuff communities I have had several requests and opportunities to voice my opinion to the manufacturers.  I maintain e-mail contact with representatives of a few tobacco companies and consider some of them friends.

I have yet to hear one word from RJR/Altria/Lorillard et al. I know they all read SnusCentral’s articles and forums, but they don’t bother to participate.  V2 and to a lesser extent Swedish Match have an on-line connection with the forums.  I’ve noticed a bit of that in the snuff and pipe tobacco communities also. I appreciate the effort.

All of this is what makes me so vocal and persistent in my defense and use of smokeless tobacco; Swedish Match in particular. They really do care, and I believe it is about more than just the bottom line.  

Yes, Swedish Match is a for-profit corporation and needs to make money but they go about it in a very modern, yet old fashioned way. They care about their consumers, their employees, and customer service while taking advantage of every technology available.  If the technology doesn't exist they are trying to innovate it.  Snus, Pride and Profit can coexist.  At least in Sweden.



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