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HISTORY OF SNUS

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  • 1700 – 1800: We are all tobacco farmers
  • 1800 – 1900: Snus grinders and snus manufacturers
  • 1900 – 1950: Founding of the tobacco monopoly
  • 1950 – 2000: Ambitions in a free market
  • 2000 – Present day: More than 200 years of craftsmanship

1700 – 1800: We are all tobacco farmers

In 1724, King Fredrik I himself commissioned the Swedish people to grow tobacco. Tobacco was considered a commodity and indispensable for Swedish society. Although Swedes had been growing tobacco since the 17th century, this created an upsurge. The Crown’s ambition was high – we are to be self-sufficient in terms of tobacco within four years.

While Sweden did not fully realize the initial goal, we did make good progress. By the mid-1700s, tobacco was being grown in 72 Swedish and 12 Finnish towns. By the end of the same century, half of all tobacco used in commercial manufacturing came from local suppliers. From the start, growing tobacco was a job for women. This knowledge was passed from mother to daughter and many female seasonal workers came to the tobacco fields every spring. As competition from international tobacco import intensified, the last commercial tobacco growers eventually shut down in 1964. One of the last growers was Mor Alida and plants from her tobacco field can be seen today at Snus- och Tändsticksmuseum (The Snus and Match Museum) at Skansen in Stockholm.

1800 – 1900: Snus grinders and snus manufacturers

Snus became popular in the 19th century. The snus (snuff) of the 18th century was dry, inhaled through the nose and often used by nobility. It was around this time that snus morphed into a moist blend that is shaped into portions and put in the mouth. This change also put snus into a completely different social context. Now it was enjoyed by working-class men.

The 19th century was also a time when snus production became a profitable business idea for many tobacco manufacturers. Snus was cheap to make and demand steadily increased. New snus brands were surfacing constantly, a few of which have survived through to today. Jacob Fredrik Ljunglöf’s tobacco plant launched Ljunglöfs ETTAN in 1822, a snus brand that would become synonymous with snus during that century. With a recipe cloaked in secrecy, Ljunglöf’s Ettan gained a special place in the heart of Swedes. J A Boman & Co will forever be associated with General. Johan Adolf Boman, who founded the company in 1861, had a vision to create the best snus early on. He realized his goal with the 1866 launch of General, a blend of 22 different types of tobacco and a drop of bergamot oil. General is still sold today, 150 years later, both in Sweden and abroad.

1900 – 1950: Founding of the tobacco monopoly

The Swedish government needed to fund two large and costly commitments at the beginning of the 20th century: an upgrade of military defense in a time of unrest and the first national pension system. It was decided to nationalize and monopolize tobacco production plants to raise the money. AB Svenska Tobaksmonopolet was founded in 1915 following 14 years of negotiating, investigating and debating.

The tobacco monopoly’s first task was to take over approximately 65 competing snus companies and an extensive range of snus. Some 103 snus brands, including Ettan and General, were on the first price list from 1915 and an endless number of packages. Both WWI and WWII came to play an important role for the monopoly. Following a severe shortage of raw materials and rationing during WWI, demand for all types of tobacco products skyrocketed after the end of the War. Swedish snus consumption reached an all-time high in 1919. At that point, consumption was at 7,000 tons of snus, which corresponds approximately to today’s level. Sweden’s population numbered six million people, putting annual consumption at 1.2 kilos per person. Over the next few years, snus declined in popularity as consumers preferred other tobacco products. American cigarettes in particular became increasingly popular after WWII.

1950 – 2000: Ambitions in a free market

The 1960s were a time of change for snus in many ways. The monopoly had outlived itself in the more globalized market that was now emerging. In 1961, the company changed its name to Svenska Tobaks AB and became a company that competed with other companies in a deregulated market. Snus itself also changed shape, to a certain extent, with the unveiling of portion snus.

Soon after the expiration of the tobacco monopoly, Svenska Tobaks AB (today Swedish Match) launched the round can that we today associate with snus. This was a period when cigarettes had overtaken snus. During the inter-war years, cigarettes had become a status symbol, symbolizing youth and prosperity, while snus packaged in oval paper containers was considered dated. Snus again gained acceptance among the broader population with help from its round can and suddenly, the snus can was an item carried by blue-collar as well as white-collar workers. Forming a portion of loose snus is an art and one that, for those unaccustomed to it, can be considered difficult and messy. Consequently, snus enjoyed an upswing in the 1970s when portion snus was introduced. Tre Ankare was first and helped to further expand the use of snus. Catch, the first flavored snus, was presented in the 1980s. After numerous negotiations and changes in ownership, a group was founded in 1994 that included production of tobacco, matches and lighters. Tändsticksbolaget had previously been renamed Swedish Match and it was decided that the company would take the English name. The Swedish state no longer owned shares in the company.

2000 – Present day: More than 200 years of craftsmanship

Swedish Match of today bears few likenesses to the monopoly founded in 1915. The same applies to how we use snus. But some of the 20th century snus brands still exist today. This in a time when more and more snus manufacturers and products are entering the Scandinavian markets.

Loose snus was succeeded by portion snus. Then flavoring was added to portion snus. The turn of the millennium brought with it the launch of white snus, a drier portion with less drip than standard portion snus. During this period, production of brands such as Rallarsnus ceased, while new brands such as Kronan and Kaliber were brought to market. The most common brands are still those that have been a part of Swedish snus tradition for more than a century, including Ettan, General and Grov. Today, more than one million Swedes use snus regularly. Meanwhile, snus has also won more devotees outside Sweden. Swedish snus is advancing in the US and the same is true in Norway. Besides Swedish Match, there are also other manufacturers, such as Imperial Tobacco (Skruf) and Gotlandssnus.