Loo roll GettyImages-1211609772

The end of Covid restrictions and social distancing have led to one heck of a resurgence in cold and flu symptoms. And that’s been a boon for makers of facial tissues.

The sector’s added £33.4m, with volumes up 15.4% as a surge in sneezes and runny noses boosted demand, says NielsenIQ senior analytics executive Eric Mills.

Kleenex had by far the largest absolute gain, up £21.8m thanks to a 14.2% rise in units. Its dominance is no surprise, considering the market leader accounts for 93.4% of branded tissue sales and 59.3% of the market.

Brits were “preparing earlier in the year for the cold and flu season, stocking up on winter essentials including facial tissues well in advance”, says a spokeswoman for brand owner Kimberly-Clark.

Winter was not the only driver of Kleenex sales, however. The end of lockdowns in July 2021 meant more time outside in warm weather, when hay fever is at its height.

The spokeswoman points to an April 2021 study by Kleenex and Allergy UK, which suggested 49% of Brits suffer from hay fever. It’s a finding Kleenex uses to push its Allergy Comfort Tissues – which “have been specially designed to help with hay fever symptoms so allergy sufferers can enjoy the great outdoors when the sun is shining”, she adds.

As Kleenex is cleaning up, so too are the other top brands. Newcomer Softy has stormed straight to the number two slot with a £1.3m gain, Handy Andies has grown value 59.1%, and Cushelle is worth 29.9% more.

Cushelle’s secret to success is affordability, suggests owner Essity. “We’re seeing shoppers trade into retailer own brands to try to spend less – so brands are selling less volume but inflation is helping value growth.” Not Cushelle, though; it’s grown units 48% as average price has fallen 12.2%.

Below the top five, Mills highlights sustainability-focused brands as ones to watch. Chief among them is The Cheeky Panda, up 14.4% in value. However, volumes are down 9.8%. This is the result of other eco-challengers stealing share through innovation, suggests  Cheeky Panda CEO Julie Chen.

In toilet tissue, the brand’s year has, similarly, been one of rising value and declining volumes. Though that’s very much in line with the overall sector’s performance. A full year of fewer loo breaks at home has seen 217.3 million fewer rolls go through tills.

As such, the only thing keeping the market in value growth is an 11.2% rise in average price, with brands up even more at 11.9%. And names such as Cushelle, Petal Soft and Regina have got costlier still – by as much as 22.4%.

This only strengthens the position of value lines, which are benefiting from cash-conscious shoppers trading down. “Price inflation has led to consumers leaving the traditional channels to discounters and wholesalers, as well as looking for cheaper alternatives,” says Mills at NielsenIQ.

This is backed by the data, which shows own label shedding volumes at a much slower rate than brands: 3.9% versus 10.6%. And value brands such as Little Duck, Best One and Aria – all of which boast an average price lower than private label – are flourishing. In fact, Little Duck has grown value from £6.2k to £7.5m and sold 25.5 million more rolls.

Quality focus

In the face of such enthusiastic downtrading, an emphasis on superior quality is key to helping the pricier brands maintain value share, Mills suggests.

He points to Andrex, which is up £6.6m after pushing the comfort of its posh Supreme Quilts lineup. A nine-pack is currently available in Tesco for £6.75, while nine rolls of its core Classic Clean is £5.60.

Another sign of the brand betting on premium propositions is the April launch of Ultra Care. The skin-friendly range, which bears the same price tag in Tesco as Supreme Quilts, taps demand for “great quality products that last longer”, says a spokeswoman for brand owner Kimberly-Clark.

“Toilet tissue brands are having to evolve their product offering quickly, to ensure they are meeting evolving consumer needs.”

Those needs include an emphasis on sustainability. To satisfy this, brands and retailers are offering more sheets per roll – at a relatively modest higher rsp – to reduce use of cardboard tubes.

As Mills explains: “This creates greater efficiency and sustainability by reducing packaging, storage space and transport emissions.”

Andrex, Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Asda are among those to offer fatter rolls. Cushelle’s gone one further by axing the tube entirely (see Top Launch, p129).

While more sheets per roll potentially benefits both the environment and Brits’ bank balances, it can also have drawbacks – as Asda discovered in November.

Shoppers took to social media to complain the new double toilet rolls for the retailer’s Shades own label brand didn’t fit standard household holders. One Twitter user called the chunkier rolls “ridiculous”, while another suggested Asda should have continued “using the original roll size but with eco-friendly packaging”. While Asda declined to comment to The Grocer, it had previously insisted Shades toilet rolls were “one of our most popular own-brand products”.

That popularity makes sense given the downtrading trend – to which kitchen roll has also fallen victim. Own label volumes are down much less steeply than branded ones. And, as with loo paper, price sensitivity has contributed to serious losses for some.

Take Regina. It’s shed £16.6m. That’s the biggest absolute loss of any brand – exacerbated  earlier in the year by being out for about six weeks in Tesco, amid what’s believed to be a pricing dispute.

Escaping the downward trend, sector leader Plenty grew value 5.4% – through being “the only brand investing in the category”, according to owner Essity.

Looks like it’s on a roll.

Top Launch 2022

Cushelle Tubeless | Essity

Cushelle Tubeless Range Shot

Cushelle’s removal of cardboard tubes from its loo rolls in August was a “complete catastrophe”. Well, that’s according to former Blue Peter presenter Peter Purves. He was talking about the loss of a key component of amateur crafts. For legions of eco-conscious, cash-strapped shoppers, it was a brilliant move: cutting cardboard waste while offering twice as many sheets. Brand owner Essity said it would also end household rows about how to dispose of tubes – a common occurrence, apparently.

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