NEW YORK -Newport cigarette maker Lorillard Inc. (LO) announced Monday it will soon enter the market for moist smokeless tobacco products, but said that an earlier joint venture with Swedish Match AB (SWMA.SK) to develop a new product in the U.S. had been mutually terminated.
Moist smokeless tobacco is a type of tobacco product that is popular in the U.S. and widely sold by companies like Altria Group Inc. (MO) through brands like Copenhagen and Skoal. Sales of these smokeless tobacco products have risen in the U.S. even as cigarette sales have dropped.
Lorillard didn’t provide details of the new moist smokeless tobacco product it will sell in the U.S. but said that an existing joint venture with Swedish Match to develop a new “snus” tobacco product for the U.S. had been terminated. Snus is a nearly 200-year-old Swedish product. In 2006 Lorillard entered into a joint venture with Swedish Match North America to develop and study the possibility of marketing a tobacco product for the U.S. market called Triumph Snus.
Snus differs from most smokeless tobacco products in the U.S. as it is created through a special pasteurization process. It comes in small pouches and doesn’t require spitting. On a conference call, Lorillard said the snus product didn’t make gains in the test markets in the U.S. and that it may not have been the right time for the product in North America. Lorillard appears to be betting that Americans will continue to lean toward traditional formulations like moist smokeless tobacco, as opposed to newer forms they are less familiar with.
Other companies are still saying they believe snus has a future in the U.S. Altria and Reynolds American Inc. (RAI) have launched snus products, but sales of these products have generally stayed relatively small. Both these companies, however, say they are expanding the reach of their snus products.
A spokesman for Reynolds American, David Howard, said the company has been very pleased with sales of its Camel Snus product and believes that it is a “viable” product. The company rolled out Camel Snus nationwide in the first quarter of 2009 after putting it in test markets for almost three years. “It’s a small market but we believe there is potential growth for that market,” Howard said. An Altria spokesman, Brendan McCormick, said the company is pleased with the results of its Marlboro Snus product in test markets and will be expanding it nationally at the end of March.
Swedish Match sells its flagship snus brand General in the U.S. as well as another brand called Catch. These were sold outside of the Lorillard joint venture and will continue to be sold here. Swedish Match will also continue selling the moist smokeless tobacco products, such as its Red Man and Timberwolf brands, it already sells in the U.S.
“We remain committed to the U.S. market,” Lars Dahlgren, chief executive of Swedish Match said in an email statement. The company says the dissolution of the Lorillard joint venture has no bearing on its snus joint venture company with Philip Morris International Inc. (PM). That venture aims to distribute snus products outside of the U.S. and Scandinavia.
Lorillard’s fourth-quarter earnings fell 6.2% on declining volume and increased manufacturing and marketing costs, though sales rose with the help of higher prices.
Lorillard dominates the market for menthol cigarettes. Lorillard’s Newport brand represents the bulk of its U.S. sales and its U.S. volume fell 6.5% during the quarter, though its U.S. market share rose to 10.32% from 9.86%.
Overall, the U.S. cigarette industry has seen volumes drop amid higher taxes and bans on smoking in public places. But Lorillard has held up better since its Newport brand has been able to grow its market share.
By Anjali Cordeiro
Of DOW JONES NEWSWIRES