Originally created 01/17/01

Moist wipes rolled out as bathroom aid



After three years of secrecy and $100 million in product development, the world's largest tissue manufacturer has rolled out its latest innovation - wet toilet paper.

Kimberly-Clark Corp. announced Tuesday that its new pre-moistened wipe product, called Cottonelle Fresh Rollwipes, will hit stores in late May.

The product will be manufactured at the company's recently expanded Beech Island tissue plant.

The moist wipes, which are dispensed from a roll inside a sealed, wall-mounted holder, marks the first major development in toilet paper since it appeared in roll form in 1890.

The Dallas-based consumer products giant fully expects its one-of-a-kind product to catch on.

"What we found is that once people use the product, once they try it, they recognize the benefits," company spokeswoman Tina Barry said. "It very quickly becomes part of their daily routine."

The company's research shows that a quarter of adults already clean themselves with some form of moist wipe from time to time, either using folded baby wipe products or simply wetting dry tissues.

"What we have done is made the process much more convenient," Ms. Barry said.

The Cottonelle Fresh Rollwipes four-roll starter pack, which includes the special holder, will retail for $8.99. Four-roll refill packs will sell for $3.99.

The company expects sales to reach $150 million in the first year and rise to $500 million annually by year six. Kimberly-Clark expects consumers will use the product in conjunction with dry toilet paper, thus increasing the size of the $4.8 billion toilet paper market. The product's special dispenser, which can be mounted without tools, also holds traditional dry paper.

"It's a complementary product in what is essentially a mature market," said Stephen Keane, a consumer products industry analyst for Robert W. Baird & Co. "This is a new product category. It could be a significant contributor to the company's revenues."

Kimberly-Clark's last significant product launch was pull-up training pants in 1989, a concept that has been copied by competitors. The new wet wipe product is covered by about 30 patents.

Cottonelle Fresh Rollwipes will be manufactured and distributed from a top-secret, 130,000-square-foot facility being built next to the company's existing Beech Island plant just across the Savannah River from downtown Augusta.

The flagship facility produces the company's Kleenex and Cottonelle brand tissues and Huggies brand diapers.

"The people here are very enthusiastic about it," Plant Manager Jim Taylor said. "I think that probably the greatest sense of pride comes from knowing the upper management of the company has the confidence in us to know we can support new technology."

The $80 million project, expected to be complete by the end of March, will create about 100 jobs. The company had been mum on what the plant would produce since construction began last year.

Industry watchers had speculated the company would develop an electrostatic wipe to compete with rival Procter & Gamble Co.'s successful Swiffer household cleaning product.

The new wet wipe will be distributed along the Eastern Seaboard first. Print and television advertisements will begin appearing in June.

"It's much easier to understand once you see the product," Ms. Barry said.

Kimberly-Clark Corp.

Headquarters: Dallas

Products: Facial and bathroom tissue, paper towels, children and adult diapers, feminine hygiene products

Annual sales: $13 billion (1999)

Employees: 54,800 globally

Major brands: Kleenex, Scott, Huggies, Depend, Kotex

Top competitors: Procter & Gamble Co., Georgia-Pacific Corp.

Local operations: A 2-million-square-foot tissue plant that employs 1,150 in Beech Island. A 130,000-square-foot expansion will allow production of the company's new pre-moistened toilet paper product.

Source: Chronicle research

Reach Damon Cline at (706) 823-3486 or bized@augustachronicle.com.

Cottonelle Fresh Rollwipes

Manufacturer: Kimberly-Clark Corp.

Description: Pre-moistened toilet paper dispensed from a roll; to be used in place of, or in conjunction with, traditional toilet paper

Features: Paper breaks up in water like dry toilet paper; wall-mounted dispenser requires no installation tools and also holds a traditional spindle for dry paper.

Availability: Will appear first in East Coast stores in late May

Price: Suggested retail price for starter pack, which includes dispenser and four-roll pack, is $8.99. A four-roll refill pack will sell for $3.99.

Projected sales: The company expects annual sales of $500 million by sixth year.