Wet toilet tissue yet to win over consumers

Cleaner, fresher, shinier…and convenient! As lifestyles become increasingly demanding consumers are willing to integrate almost any product which offers these qualities in their daily routines. Starting from the household cleaning segment to personal care and cosmetics, disposable wiping products claiming convenience, ease-of-use and cleanliness, have become a booming business in recent years, reaching over $4.5 billion in value in 2002 according to global market analyst Euromonitor.

Moist toilet tissue the next success?

The once unique baby wipes category, accounting for the bulk of sales, has finally reached maturity but the boundaries for similar product formats aimed at a variety of household and personal cleaning tasks are continually being pushed. New product offerings ranging from make up removal and deodorant wipes to furniture polish, floor, glass or stain removal wipes are seeing heavy marketing support by manufacturers and continued acceptance and recognition by consumers. But have consumers embraced the concept of wet toilet tissue – will it become the modern wipe breakthrough?

Development of luxury products has been the driving force in toilet paper sales in most mature markets in the last few years with innovation being a key strategy in boosting value sales. The advent of value-added products such as patterned, scented, lotion-enriched, moisturised tissue has been the focus of manufacturers recently, aiming to satisfy the continued consumer interest in more sophisticated products. While adventurous, consumers are essentially conventional in their usage patterns, especially when it comes to commodity products such as toilet tissue. They are only prepared to pay a premium if they see better value in a product and distinctive benefits are clearly communicated.

On the market for several years in the US, for example, moist toilet paper is now being watched more closely by the industry as investment in technology is continually evolving the quality of this niche segment, adding bulk, softness, and a cloth-like feel to the product’s features. Despite considerable investment in product development and innovation, changing consumer behaviour and habits is always a challenge, particularly with toilet paper where the function of the product cannot be addressed directly in advertising and promotion.

The old and the new

Prior to launching its revolutionary product in the latter half of 2001 in the US – Cottonelle Fresh Rollwipes – the first pre-moistened wipe on a roll, Kimberly Clark carried out a survey showing that over 60% of US consumers conceded that using a moist wipe approach is cleaner and more refreshing than standard toilet paper alone. Despite this optimistic speculation and the company spending over $100 million the launch, popularity among consumers has been limited and expected returns have not yet transpired.

In the same year Procter & Gamble purchased the company Moist Mates as a quick defensive response to Kimberly Clark’s launch re-staging the brand as Charmin Fresh Mates and launching it nationally. Both products come in dispensers that attach to the standard toilet paper dispenser found in every home, a concept which is meant to ensure that the two formats are interchangeable. Hopes for future growth are still open, although distribution of the two products remains limited and the original intention of Kimberly Clark for a national launch is still confined to the Southeast of the US.

Consumer acceptance not straightforward

Possible reasons for disappointing sales of wet tissue in the US, the world’s largest toilet paper market, are numerous. The association of wet toilet wipes with infants, which constitutes a stigma in terms of adult usage, and the fact that most toilet needs are met adequately by conventional toilet paper, which is far less expensive, are just two barriers constraining sales growth. Consumers have not yet embraced this departure from the accepted forms of toilet tissue and manufacturers still face a marketing challenge to effectively communicate product benefits.

On a more positive note, while wet tissue has not radically taken off in Europe, this format benefits from greater appeal and demand in countries such as the UK, Germany and Switzerland. Almost 36% of Swiss consumers use moist tissue in combination with standard toilet paper, and the ever growing demand for luxury products in the UK has favoured sales of Kimberly Clark’s Andrex Moist, albeit holding a mere 3% of total toilet paper value in 2002. Industry opinion on the future development of this niche segment may be optimistic but reservations are equally high.

In Japan, the second largest and most sophisticated wipes market, a pre-occupation with cleanliness among consumers and continued product development has led to a thriving business for both domestic and personal use wipes. Due to their novelty, wet toilet wipes may pick up in the short term but long-term results are uncertain, as price-sensitive consumers are more likely to refrain from higher-cost purchases.

The way forward

With such tentative prospects ahead, marketing moves by manufacturers have focused on diversifying the positioning of toilet wipes to promote usage. Products such as Georgia Pacific’s Quilted Northern Moist Ones are also marketed for use when travelling or for freshening hands and face, thus overlapping with the all purpose personal wipes segment.

At the same time, there are indications of increased product segmentation, exemplified by the recent launch of Kandoo flushable toilet wipes by Procter & Gamble, a brand extension of Pampers specifically aimed at children aged 3-7 who are in the process of potty training. Introduced in the UK and France in 2002 and backed by a strong advertising campaign, the product hit store shelves in both countries with a positive mark.

Whether seen as a toilet paper supplement, an all purpose wipe or a potty training wipe, consumers have yet to recognise the benefits and versatility of the product and balance added-value with the cost premium. Overall sales of wiping products are certain to accelerate, as demand for convenience will continue and quality improvement will remain at the forefront of manufacturer plans in the future. Whether wet tissue becomes an integral part of the market and this new approach to toilet paper is truly accepted by consumers in the years to come, however, remains to be seen.