LONDON, May 12 (Reuters) - Philip Morris International's
$16 billion bid for smaller rival Swedish Match
highlights the urgency among cigarette makers to tap new and
potentially less harmful alternatives as regulation and health
concerns snuff out traditional smokes.
Marlboro maker Philip Morris agreed on Wednesday to buy
Swedish Match, one of the world's biggest makers of oral
nicotine products. These include Snus - a sucked tobacco product
the firm says is less harmful than smoking - as well as Zyn
nicotine pouches, which are used the same way and tobacco-free.
Both are niche products, but are growing, with Swedish
Match's almost 50% share of the global tobacco-free
oral nicotine market putting it ahead of both British American
Tobacco and Altria Group in that category.
Thomas Russo, managing partner at Gardner Russo & Gardner
which owns shares in both Philip Morris (PMI) and Swedish Match,
welcomed the tie-up as opening a "new field" for PMI's
smoke-free products, which include iQOS tobacco heating devices.
"It's a deal that would continue industry consolidation
that's been underway for the past decade," he said.
Russo's U.S. investment firm has a 0.47% stake in PMI and a
0.09% holding in Swedish Match, according to Refinitiv data.
Tobacco companies have scrambled over the past decade to
find new markets as regulators crack down on cigarettes and more
people quit smoking due to the health risks.
Snus - a Swedish-style snuff - is a moist, smoke-free
tobacco product that is placed behind the upper lip, either
loose or in portioned sachets. The global market for snus
increased from 7,000 tonnes in 2008 to nearly 10,000 tonnes in
2019, according to data firm Euromonitor.
In 2019, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the
marketing of Swedish Match's Snus as less harmful than
The possible PMI-Swedish Match deal is the latest in a
string of investments by the $900 billion-plus tobacco industry
in potentially lower risk products, including e-cigarettes and
tobacco heating devices.
Euromonitor estimates the global market for smokeless
tobacco, e-vapor products and heated tobacco was about $67
billion in 2021, nearly three times the size it was in 2016.
PMI Chief Executive Jacek Olczak said last year his company
had spent more than $8 billion on reduced risk products since it
began developing them a decade ago.
He said then that PMI would reach its 2025 target for 50% of
sales from smoke-free products by growing its existing business,
rather than acquisitions.
But buying Swedish Match, would give PMI - which was spun
off from Altria in 2008 - an established U.S. market and
distribution system, Bernstein analyst Callum Elliot said.
"That said, the deal hasn't gone through yet," Elliot added.
"I imagine that Swedish Match is a business that could be
appealing to other players within the industry, and we wouldn't
be surprised to see a counter bid from other companies,
particularly Japan Tobacco Inc."
A Japan Tobacco spokesperson said the company does not
comment on rumors or speculation.
PMI, the No.3 cigarette company in 2020 after China National
Tobacco Corp and British American Tobacco (BAT), has not been
alone in its attempts to expand beyond combustible tobacco.
News of its move on Swedish Match sent Altria shares down
about 9% on Tuesday as investors worried about a step up in
competition for the U.S. company.
In 2018, Altria bought a 35% stake in e-cigarette company
Juul Labs Inc for $12.8 billion. A year later, it bought 80% of
Burger Söhne Holding AG, allowing it to distribute the Swiss
company's On! oral nicotine pouches.
Other rivals are watching with interest.
"We think a multi-category strategy in tobacco and nicotine
is the right one," BAT's chief marketing officer Kingsley
Wheaton told Reuters on Tuesday.
BAT is the world No.2 in tobacco-free oral nicotine products
behind Swedish Match. Sales at its "new categories" division
jumped 51% to 2.05 billion pounds ($2.52 billion) last year,
helped by its e-cigarettes and oral nicotine products.
The London-listed company is aiming for the division to
reach revenues of 5 billion pounds, and profitability, by 2025.
"As our business transforms, our portfolio transforms, and,
so too, our competitive landscape will evolve," Wheaton said.
While PMI is pursing Swedish Match, other rivals prefer to
go it alone.
Imperial Brands is focusing on developing its own
products in the heated tobacco market, particularly in Europe, a
But there is still all to play for.
"The whole next-generation product space is still very
nascent - no one in the industry has yet created any next
generation product which really, fully replicates the experience
of a smoked cigarette or a traditional cigarette," the
($1 = 0.8131 pounds)
(Reporting by Richa Naidu
Additional reporting by Rocky Swift in Tokyo
Editing by Josephine Mason and Mark Potter)