In the Thick of It


Ads in the paper products category used to be strictly about performance and price as giants in the industry like Procter & Gamble and Kimberly-Clark traded claims about absorbency, softness and value.

But over the past year or so, eco-consciousness has entered the picture as more consumers are asking, “How green is my toilet paper?”

While smaller brands like Seventh Generation have been touting their greenness for a while, this month a major player, Marcal, is linking the use of its products with deforestation. “Paper from paper, not from trees,” the headline beneath one print ad reads, referring to the fact that Marcal’s products are made from recycled materials. One TV spot breaking from the Ocean Group, New York, shows a bird flying into a tree to feed its young. “This tree was not created to become a paper towel. It has bigger jobs to do,” a voiceover says. The spot closes with a child running around the kitchen carrying a roll of paper towels, and the brand’s mantra: “A small, easy step to a greener Earth.”

With the $30 million effort, Marcal is testing consumers’ resolve. A counter trend in the industry is the growth of ultrasoft toilet tissue like Cottonelle Ultra, Quilted Northern Ultra Plush and Charmin Ultra Strong, the latter of which placed third on market research firm IRI’s New Product Pacesetters list, with $144 million in first-year sales, excluding Wal-Mart. Environmentalists take issue with the “ultra” products since they rely on standing trees rather than recycled materials to give it a plush feel. To address this, P&G rep Dewayne Guy said both Charmin and Bounty have undergone product upgrades to allow consumers to use less of either product. Seventh Generation, likewise, increased its toilet tissue softness by 20 percent this year without any negative environmental impact, said David Kimbell, svp of marketing.

Despite its latest round of ads, Marcal is far from being the greenest player. In a recent ranking by environmental nonprofit group Greenpeace, Marcal earned a “could do better” score in the toilet and facial tissue categories for using only 30 percent post-consumer content. Char-min and Scott, meanwhile, use no post-consumer or recycled content in toilet, towel and napkin segments, and so placed towards the bottom. Both brands also use chlorine compounds in the bleaching process, which, as Greenpeace points out, emits carcinogens.

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