By DAVID KOENIG, AP Business Writer
DALLAS (AP) - Seeking to wipe out potty discomfort, Kimberly-Clark Corp. is plunging into the market with a new product, moistened toilet paper on a roll.
The maker of Kleenex, Huggies and Kotex believes its latest creation could be the biggest advancement in toilet paper in a century - since someone thought to sell tissue on a roll.
The Irving-based company said Tuesday that it plans to spend $40 million marketing Fresh Rollwipes under the Cottonelle brand name, one of its biggest product introductions ever. Company officials say annual sales could hit $150 million within a year and $500 million in six years.
The product will be introduced in early summer in the Northeast and Southeast, the company said.
For several years, Kimberly-Clark has sold flushable moistened toilet paper that comes in a tub - similar to baby wipes, except that the fibers break apart in water, like ordinary tissue. In fact, the rapid growth of the wet-paper market persuaded company officials to see if they could refine the product.
The company surveyed 2,000 consumers and found that 63 percent of them occasionally used something wet - often a baby wipe or regular toilet paper sprinkled with water - after going to the toilet. About a quarter did it daily.
To make moistened toilet paper a big seller, company officials figured they had to put it on a roll, in tiny perforated squares like conventional toilet paper.
Beginning with prototypes in 1997, company engineers developed a plastic dispenser that attaches to the toilet-roll holder in most bathrooms. The moistened toilet paper can be unrolled from the top of the device, leaving room below for a roll of regular toilet paper.
Now the company has to persuade people to buy it - at $8.99 for a dispenser and four rolls, $3.99 for a 4-pack refill.
"Using a moist product cleans and freshens better than dry toilet paper alone," said Peggy Nabbefeldt, a Kimberly-Clark marketing director. "They have to realize this should be a normal part of a universal task."
But the advertising must also be, well, subtle.
"There's only so much people want to hear about with a product like this," Nabbefeldt added.
After top-secret tests in consumers' homes, company officials believe they've got a hit on their hands. Some of the testers didn't want to give up the dispensers, said Linda Bartelt, president of the company's wet wipes sector. Bartelt said she's been using the product herself for a year and a half and can't imagine life without it.
Lilly Penhall, an 18-year-old college student from Plano, said her parents "are very particular about their toilet paper," and might find the new paper appealing.
"As for me," Penahall said, "I don't care as long as it's paper, it's cheap and it works."