PM USA Invests in R & D

New $350 million research center focuses on reduced risk tobacco products

Angel Abcede, Senior Editor/Tobacco, CSP

RICHMOND, Va. -- Betting its future on reduced-risk and tobacco products adjacent to its core business, cigarette manufacturer Philip Morris USA (PM USA) openly discussed its new, 450,000-square-foot Center for Research and Technology with CSP Daily News, emphasizing architectural and interior attributes designed to foster collaboration and creativity.

The $350-million facility boasts spacious common areas with modular furniture, curved glass and even the ability to write on walls if one of the estimated 500 scientists and engineers who will eventually [image-nocss] populate the facility has a sudden revelation.

We're doubling the capacity for research, but we're also accelerating our R & D, Dr. Rick Solana, senior vice president of research and technology for PM USA, told CSP Daily News during a media tour in Richmond. So what you see in this building is a lot of glass, low walls on cubicles and small offices10 x 10so as to encourage people to get out of their offices and interact with their colleagues.

The company will also integrate scientists from different disciplines, researchers, engineers, marketing personnel and support staff, grouping them not by department but by project as a way to diversify internal teams and foster new perspectives. So-called sensory scientists will work with harm-reduction technicians, and marketing types will interact with engineers to quickly develop potential products that consumers will accept.

Consumers have to choose to buy what you produce, Solana said. You can succeed in making a [reduced-harm] product, but the effort will not succeed if people don't want it.

Solana, who will oversee the facility, said c-stores can initially expect products that are adjacent to PM USA's current core line, but he would not elaborate further.

The company is already testing products both within established categories as well as those a step or two outside the norm. David Sylvia, director of media affairs for PM USA said the tobacco manufacturer is currently field testing two new flavors of cigarettes, one called Marlboro Smooth and the other called Marlboro Virginia Blend. The latter comes from the bright flavor profile of Virginia tobacco. Sylvia said the new flavor lines fall into the company's core-business category.

A spit-less pilot of the new Marlboro Snus, a branded product using its tried-and-true moniker, is ongoing in the Dallas-Ft. Worth market, while along the same lines, its Taboka introduction continues testing in Indianapolis.

Sylvia mentioned yet another test, this one in Atlanta, that started last month involving a Marlboro-branded, moist-snuff tobacco (MST) product in original and wintergreen flavors. While Snus (pronounced snoose) and Taboka fall into a new product, same consumer category, he said the MST offer branches off into a new product, new consumer scenario.

Though Sylvia would not elaborate on any current findings with regards to the ongoing tests, he did say that consumer awareness was a major barrier. With a new product, people just don't understand, he said. Getting them aware is a big challenge. Awareness and understanding is critical.

Any testing in place to date will potentially accelerate as the new research center hits capacity. At present, only about 100 people work in the new structure, but Sylvia said the goal is to employ 500 by fall's end.

Sylvia noted a few structural facts about the building:

50 miles of piping.

500 miles of wiring.

7,000 tons of structural steel.

90,000 square feet of glass.

24,000 cubic years of concretethe equivalent of about 60 miles of sidewalk.

Media guests also viewed a conference auditorium, two common areas, the library, the cafeteria, testing rooms and laboratories. In one testing room, focus-group participants could sit in individual stalls equipped with a spit bowl and ventilation. Small panel doors allowed scientists in the next room to give the test participant the product in question. In a laboratory, valves for the delivery of gaseous chemicals, long counters and storage space provided the necessary environment for scientific study.

Solana said that the new resources will allow scientists and engineers to focus on two things: reduced risk and products that are viable for the company.

Angel Abcede, CSP/Winsight By Angel Abcede, Senior Editor/Tobacco, CSP
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