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Snus-maker Swedish Match hits Wall Street

Swedish Match North America marketers started in Vail. Now they are handing out silvery sample packs of snus, a traditional Swedish-style snuff, on Wall Street.

It’s the clearest sign yet that the Chesterfield County-based company has a different strategy for snus than that of the nation’s top two tobacco firms, which also are pushing the smokeless tobacco.

One element: The company is selling snus as a high-end product.

“We are emphasizing the Swedish cachet,” Richard Flaherty, president of Swedish Match North America, said yesterday when asked about the Wall Street push.

The company’s Stockholm-based parent still makes the original variety of snus, a type of snuff made from tobacco cured by steam, instead of heat in the usual American manner. Unlike American-style moist snuff, it does not require users to spit.

Its General brand snus costs more than either the Marlboro brand that Henrico County-based Altria Group is selling or Reynolds America’s Camel brand, which has carved out the top spot in the U.S. market.

And Swedish Match is breaking step with Altria and Reynolds in another way, too.

“We’re not marketing snus as something for when you can’t smoke. We’re marketing it as an alternative to cigarettes,” Flaherty said.

Unlike Altria or Reynolds, Swedish Match does not sell cigarettes.

By targeting people who like winter sports at places like Vail, Colo., Swedish Match is looking for a different kind of customer than are the big U.S. tobacco firms, Flaherty said.

The company is looking for smokers who just don’t want to smoke at all.

That’s why another key target group for Swedish Match is going to be parents who worry about secondhand smoke at home, he said.

Focusing on subsets of tobacco users is one reason why General isn’t popping up in convenience stores.

Instead of jostling for tight shelf space in convenience stores with two of the toughest competitors in that arena, Swedish Match has been focusing on relatively fancy tobacco shops, Flaherty said.

Last year, the company expanded the number of locations for it General brand snus from 100 stores to more than 600. The expansion is continuing this year, Flaherty said.

Now, it is starting to move to specialty cigarette and cigar stores, Flaherty said.

“We’re being very deliberate,” Flaherty said. “But we’re definitely expanding.”

By David Ress, Timesdispatch

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