On paper, 2009 would have to be a hot year for the category. In a recession, buyers typically cease to keep pace with the Joneses and choose cheaper home-brand alternatives or stop buying the material altogether when viewed as discretion, as in the case of facial tissues and kitchen rolls. In fact, kitchen towels dropped by 7.6%.
But though things were difficult, the fate of the category was not as bad as predicted. The sale of toilet paper this year increased in value and quantity (by 3.1% and 1.7%, respectively). Price inflation is responsible for much of the appreciation, but factual volume is also positive as it fell 0.7% last year.
The recession has encouraged buyers to buy fewer but larger packages that they believe offer higher value and, predictably, the industries are selling well. Contrary to expectations, however, buyers have not left any brands or premium lines.
Strong advertising has played an important role in boosting brand sales, with Andrex making the most of it, translating a 0.3% drop in sales last year to 6% growth. Along the way, it has captured some market share from Velvet, where a 0.8% increase in sales last year led to a decline of 0.7% this year.
But innovation and advertising have also contributed to the success of the Kimberly-Clark brand. Even in a recession, it is important to keep innovating at the premium end of the product spectrum, says Andrex Marketing Manager Steve Coghlan. “The category is 100% infused, so the game is about how we humans can act,” he says. “If you make the proposal right and do it right, people will go shopping regardless of price.”
Andrex Shea Butter, launched by Kimberly-Clark in March, is a typical example (see box), and Coghlan predicts strong sales during the festive period, where consumers typically give in. Other premium innovations are possible, he says, and Andrex Moist offers a great opportunity to add value to the category.
Due to the high innovation and advertising measures of Toilet For tissue brands, the private label value lagged overall subcategory growth this year, quite unlike the year before, when it was nearly five times higher (9.4% vs. 2.9%).
Brands also outperformed their own label in the sub category “handkerchiefs”. Total sales increased by 3.4% and volume by 6.1%, as the fear of swine flu prompted buyers to “catch, kill, kill” as the government had recommended. A Kimberly-Clark brand dominated again, with Kleenex sales rising 6.6% this year.
The expectations were not high at the beginning of the year, admits Mark Zander, marketing manager of Kleenex. “We all came into the year with a certain trepidation on our faces,” he says. “There was a concern that it was a product category that you did not always have to buy into.”
Swine flu did not increase sales so much because people became ill, he says, but because retailers supported the government’s campaign by doing promotions and promoting products more prominently in the store. “Making tissue visible encouraged people to buy more frequently.”
The sale of Kleenex Hygiene Kits, launched last fall, rose 1,000% in May, as swine flu hit a turning point, while sales of Kleenex’s antivirus product line increased by 400% from 7% to 8% of total category growth. Pocket packs also benefited from the outbreak.
But, Zander said, swine flu was not the only factor behind the sales increase. Strong innovation and marketing were important again.
This year, the brand has taken advantage of last year’s introduction of Kleenex Mansize in a compact format, supported by the Kleenex: Elephant ad. The people who buy Mansize handkerchiefs, they now buy 33 percent more often, says Zander. Kleenex Mansize sales have increased by 22 percent. Convenience is crucial, he adds, which is why Kleenex launches a new ultrathin men’s bag package in January.
As elsewhere in the newspaper, the diaper subcategory this year has been focused on advertising – with 60% of sold goods. The result was an increase in sales, but a lower value than the growth of the big four at the expense of Boots. Pampers and Huggies continue to lead the category, but there was an interesting new entry in Babycharm, which has been fully disseminated since its launch last November and has grown a lot.
Environmentally friendly products continue to grow, and the premium sector is also experiencing strong growth, with advertising activity lowering the average price. Again, it was the brands that ranked high and had their own label that lagged behind the category in value and volume growth.