Capturing the Herd

Black Buffalo offers a unique alternative to moist smokeless tobacco—starting with the humble leafy green.

September 19, 2022

By Sara Counihan

ALEXANDRIA, Va.—Every good story starts at the beginning, and the story of Black Buffalo starts with edible leafy greens (think kale, collard greens, or cabbage)—yes, the same kind you chop up for a salad or throw into your smoothie. Leafy greens are not the typical start to most stories, and certainly not a typical start to a moist smokeless tobacco (MST) alternative product, but that edible leafy green is what makes Black Buffalo’s origins so unique, and its products a standout in an increasingly crowded category.


Mark Hanson, co-founder of Black Buffalo, had a dilemma. Like many adult tobacco consumers, he found he was dipping MST too often, and he wanted to quit. He surveyed the market to find an alternative product to the hard stuff and, ultimately, found the industry to be woefully lacking in both quality and variety, so he decided to make his own alternative to MST.

After five years and over 20,000 of hours of research and development, Hanson, with the help of his co-founder Jeffery David, finally landed on a variety of edible leaves in the cabbage family, and this plant species, when grown, harvested and processed according to Black Buffalo’s methods, behaves just like tobacco across every important dimension—texture, aroma, color, flavor—except Black Buffalo’s leaves have no naturally occurring nicotine or other unwanted compounds specific to the tobacco plant.

“MST is a crowded category that seemingly differentiates itself just by brand alone, so a new brand was important, but we also knew product quality was important. Product differentiation in this market is exceptionally important, and that’s where we differ,” said Matt Hanson, chief growth officer, Black Buffalo.

Black Buffalo’s green leaves start by being flue-cured, which means they are dehydrated under humidity and forced air, which turns the leaves from green into the same golden color as a dehydrated tobacco leaf. The flue-cured leaf has sensory properties that are amazingly close to those of a dehydrated tobacco leaf, said Hanson.

“Looks like it, smells like it, handles like it, even tastes like it, and importantly, our leaves are not fire-cured,” he said.

Fire-curing is a method that many other tobacco manufacturers use to create their MST products. This method imparts a dark brown color and campfire aroma to the tobacco; however, it can introduce unwanted constituents to the leaves. Black Buffalo achieves the same look and aroma as traditional tobacco by adding food-safe color and flavor, and then adds to its products pharmaceutical-grade, tobacco-derived nicotine.

“We have replicated the very best of what people love about traditional dip, which is the flavor, the aroma, the pack, the nicotine, and we’ve eliminated what people don’t like about it, which is the tobacco leaf material. Black Buffalo is offering a better product without sacrificing the ritual or experience of traditional products,” said Hanson.


Black Buffalo was founded in 2015, but the company’s foray into the convenience store industry didn’t happen until January 2022. Average sales for other tobacco products in c-stores grew 7.2% per store, per month last year, and smokeless tobacco increased 8.5% in gross profit over the previous year, according to NACS State of the Industry data. Why did Black Buffalo wait to tap into this lucrative market?

Read the rest of the story in the NACS Magazine article “Capturing the Herd” in the September issue.

Sara Counihan is contributing editor of NACS Magazine and NACS Daily. She can be reached at