Originally created 04/28/01

Rollwipes see delay in release

Southeastern shoppers will have to wait until July before they can add a much-anticipated Kimberly-Clark Corp. product to their grocery carts.

The release of Cottonelle Fresh Rollwipes, a moist toilet paper, has been delayed because equipment problems at the Beech Island production facility have slowed the product's inventory buildup.

"We want to make sure we have the higher levels of inventory," Company spokesman Dave Dickson said, adding that retailer demand for the product is strong.

The Dallas-based consumer products company was scheduled to release the tissue in May or June. The product will appear first in Southeastern stores.

Mr. Dickson declined to elaborate on the equipment problems at the 130,000-square-foot plant, which is located five miles east of downtown Augusta.

He characterized the problem as a delay in the installation of certain machinery components.

The new Cottonelle plant, the only operation charged with making the new product, is an $80 million expansion of Kimberly-Clark's 2-million-square-foot Beech Island tissue plant, which produces various bathroom and facial tissue brands and Huggies brand diapers.

The expansion, completed last month, created 100 new jobs at a compound that already employed more than 1,100 people.

Despite the flood of orders, Kimberly-Clark has revised its profit prediction for the product this year - from $150 million to $125 million.

"That reflects the time difference we won't be in the Northeast market," Mr. Dickson said. He predicted the expansion there would be later this year, but he did not say what month.

Although the company's first-quarter earnings rose 3 percent this year, Wall Street analysts said this week the company is underperforming based on its traditional earnings growth. Chairman and CEO Wayne R. Sanders said the expressions of concern by brokerages were unfounded.

"Given our good sales momentum and expectation for continued earnings growth, I am disappointed by the Street's reaction to our first-quarter earnings announcement," Mr. Sanders said at the company's annual meeting Thursday.

Higher energy prices were cited as part of the reason for the lower first quarter.

The new Cottonelle product is being marketed as the first pre-moistened, dispersible, toilet paper dispensed from a roll. Kimberly-Clark, which spent three years and $100 million developing the product, said its studies show a quarter of adults already use some form of moist wipe to supplement traditional, dry toilet paper.

The product's four-roll starter pack, which includes the special dispenser, will retail for about $8.99. Four-roll refill packs will sell for $3.99

Reach Eric Williamson at (706) 828-3904.


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