A Guide to Swedish ZYNs: US vs EU

As the unofficial “home of snus,” Sweden boasts a much larger assortment of ZYNs than you might expect and definitely more than what’s available here. It got us wondering, what’s the reason behind this and when will we start to see some progress on the ZYN flavor front in North America?


 

It’s no secret that ZYN’s popularity has swept the US in recent months and the brand has also attracted a lot of news coverage. But did you know that ZYN’s flavor range here represents just a fraction of what you can buy in Europe?

 

We currently stock 10 flavors of ZYN in the US – including two unflavored varieties: Chill and Smooth. Compare that to the 15 on offer in Sweden and you start to get a sense of the so-called ‘flavor gap.’

 

US Flavors

Swedish Flavors*

1. ZYN Wintergreen 1. ZYN Cool Mint
2. ZYN Spearmint 2. ZYN Spearmint
3. ZYN Cool Mint 3. ZYN Espressino
4. ZYN Citrus 4. ZYN Citrus
5. ZYN Peppermint 5. ZYN Violet Licorice
6. ZYN Smooth (Unflavored) 6. ZYN Black Cherry
7. ZYN Chill (Unflavored) 7. ZYN Apple Mint
8. ZYN Coffee 8. ZYN Bellini
9. ZYN Cinnamon 9. ZYN Lemon Spritz
10. ZYN Menthol 10. ZYN Cucumber Lime
  11. ZYN Fresh Mint
12. ZYN Original
13. ZYN Gold
14. ZYN Ginger Blood Orange
15. ZYN Northern Woods

*Flavors for both countries are ranked here in terms of highest to lowest order volume as of April, 2024. Swedish ZYN sales data taken from Snusbolaget (Sweden’s biggest online retailer of snus & nicotine pouch products).

 

As you can see, only three US flavors currently overlap with the Swedish range – meanwhile, ZYN Espressino, ZYN Violet Licorice and ZYN Black Cherry are among some of the most popular you’ll find over in Scandinavia.

 

All Swedish ZYN Flavors All Swedish ZYN Flavors

 

Of course, Swedes have a longer history and deeper cultural connection with snus and nicotine pouches, meaning they have different regulations that make it easier to launch new products, and, therefore, easier for more exotic flavors to reach consumers.

 

But according to Nicokick’s VP of US Operations, Peter Grafström, this discussion is about more than just missing out on a few new flavors... The disparity can be explained (to some extent) by a Pre-Market Tobacco Application (PMTA), which was initiated by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) a few years back.

 

“Flavored nicotine in the US has become a bit of a political ‘hot potato.' The way I see it, it’s a balancing act between preventing youth access to these products (since certain flavors may appeal more to them than others), while still giving adults the full range to choose from as an alternative to cigarettes, for instance.”

A Bit of Background 

You could say awareness of ‘oral tobacco alternatives’ in the US started to grow around 2015/16, driven in large part by the demand for vapes. At this time, there were very few rules in place and ZYN was one of a handful of brands to really dominate the (as yet) untapped market alongside other nicotine pouch players, like Rogue.

 

With increased usage and competition, comes an increased need to regulate what products are being sold in the US – not only to develop an understanding of the category itself and manage any risks from a health perspective, but to also get on top of the social implications of selling these sorts of nicotine products over the counter.

 

So, the FDA introduced a requirement that meant manufacturers had to submit an application for every product they planned to sell in the US, including a review of those that were already for sale.

 

"Just one of these FDA applications for a single nicotine pouch product costs several million dollars to certify it's safe for consumption and, in fact, less harmful than a cigarette."

 

An expensive FDA approval process An expensive FDA approval process

 

Only very few brands could afford this application and even fewer could foot the bill for several, so the range of products and flavors naturally became quite restrictive.

The Backlog Begins

Despite the hefty price tag attached, the FDA still received more than six million submissions to go through (spanning nicotine pouches and vapes), which has kept them busy ever since.

 

Considering the fact they’re now completely focussed on approving/denying the sale of products in the existing market, it has stalled innovation and limited the adoption of flavors from other, more open markets.

 

“The FDA seems to only be approving unflavored products right now, while there’s an ongoing evaluation of the flavored variants. This has seen many manufacturers hold back on submitting more applications given the huge delays they’re already facing and the sunk cost if their products don’t get the thumbs up they need.”k

Social Responsibility at the Forefront of the Flavor Debate

At the same time, the explosion of vapes and questionable marketing tactics in recent years has complicated matters for the FDA’s approval process and really slowed things down.

 

There’s been a boom in viral videos attracting young people’s attention as well as high-profile examples of companies who are just now facing the consequences of ‘unlawfully targeting underage consumers’ and being forced to pay massive fines.

 

Over-the-counter access to these addictive nicotine products at gas stations and convenience stores has made the regulatory landscape even more challenging too, since age verification cannot always be guaranteed there. This is a big reason why online retailers, like us, set up robust controls to sell nicotine pouches in a responsible way.

 

"We think it is a moral issue just as much as a legal one, so we've taken a firm stance on preventing underage access."

Preventing underage access to nicotine pouches like ZYN Preventing underage access to nicotine pouches like ZYN

 

Not only does Nicokick have both on-site and in-person ID checks when placing an order and receiving it, we’ve also made the conscious commercial decision to never stock or promote anything that could be interpreted as appealing to people under 21 years old (such as candy flavors or products with cartoonish graphics).

 

Some states have taken a different approach by choosing to roll out a flavor ban to try and curb consumption by minors, but Peter thinks this is missing the point.

 

“Flavor is not inherently bad. By depriving adults of options, you’re limiting a large chunk of their choice when it comes to making the switch from smoking. Companies need to hold themselves accountable and ensure that their products don’t end up in the wrong hands. If this is done properly, then I don’t see why one day we couldn’t secure access to a wider assortment of flavors for the right, age-appropriate customers online.”

Where to From Here?

What regulators need to understand – and can learn from Sweden’s example – is that nicotine pouches like ZYN, seem to be an effective way of reducing the national smoking rate. The latest Oral Tobacco & Nicotine Pouch Report (2023) points to the fact that more than 50% of men and women pick up nicotine pouches as a means of cutting down on cigarettes or completely transitioning away from tobacco products.

 

Why do people start with nicotine pouches? Why do people start with nicotine pouches?

 

The maturity of the market in Europe is also something for the US to strive for as Sweden is on the cusp of being declared the world’s first smoke-free country.* Not only that, but they've managed to do it 17 years ahead of the EU’s target. According to Smoke Free Sweden’s Report, roughly 14% of Swedes either use snus or nicotine pouches on a daily basis and while we can’t say these two facts are directly correlated, anecdotally, we know this is a big reason why less people are choosing to light up.

 

*This is defined as less than 5% of the adult population smoking.

 

Clearly anything to do with nicotine is a complex regulatory issue, but one that we feel very passionately about. Peter is optimistic about the future of smokeless tobacco-free products and the direction we're heading.

 

"My best guess would be that we see the FDA get on top of this first batch of approvals within the next year or two. Once we start seeing some progress on this front, it should open up for a wider and more diverse category."

 

Potential for a more diverse nicotine pouch category Potential for a more diverse nicotine pouch category

 

Until then, could ‘snus tourism’ be the next big thing? Certainly, if you’re curious about flavors like ZYN Gold (with notes of dried fruit, cedar and caramel) or ZYN Bellini (peach, green grapes and tea) then Sweden might just be the place to visit…