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