On a roll: why the bottom line is booming in the world of toilet tissue

Alasdair Fotheringham, in Barcelona, attends Tissue World, the global gathering of the elite in one of the few recession-proof industries

TissueWorld is the most important annual congress on the planet for what some coyly call "the soft hygienic tissue paper business". But despite the huge white banners flapping on the walls of Barcelona's Gran Via trade fair centre last week, and the impressively long queues for business clients to pick up their accreditations in the vast entrance lobby, a fair percentage of the 175 or so exhibitors find any media interest bewildering.

"You're gonna write about us?" one top American producer says before almost sniggering: "Well, it's going to be a really boring article ..." And indeed on the accreditation form there is no section for press passes; in Tissue World magazine, lavatory paper is mournfully described as "a commodity product distinctly lacking in glamour".

But why be so bashful, when tissue paper provides a few gleams of light in southern Europe's singularly gloomy economic tunnel?

Take Spain, where tissue paper is one of a handful of industries beating the current recession, with overall sales up 2 per cent in 2012. Or Portugal, where the Renova company has just come up with what they claim to be "the sexiest toilet paper on Earth" (to me it just looks black). Even in Greece, one top tissue-paper producer has turned heads by installing a biomass burner in his factory, to beat soaring fuel prices. All this in an industry with 4 per cent annual global growth and an $80bn trade turnover.

People's preferences for their nether regions' cleansing accoutrements chime with clichés about national character quite as much as more visible "lifestyle choices". Germans, industry insiders say, like their lavatory paper strong and uncompromising.

Italians have a weak spot for pretty paper designs and a softer texture, with plenty of niche products (in more senses than one) such as handbag-sized packets. (Italy is also home to the archaeologist Silvio Fioravanti, who has the world's largest pocket hankie collection – 11,972 and counting. But that's another story.)

We Brits, true to our reputation abroad for being boring and sensible, are far less fussy about style, size or texture – we just want to be 100 per cent sure we are getting value for money each time we heave a 16-roll package into our supermarket trolleys. And perhaps we are right to be. "I can show you data that would clearly blow your mind," one industry insider says, perhaps overstating his case a little given the subject matter, "showing how the cost-cutting supermarkets came to these big suppliers and said 'I need you to have this price point for this package with so many rolls in it.'

"So what they did was reduce the length of the pad and each sheet, packaged it exactly as they wanted and in fact you're paying 15 per cent more on average." But only if you're not careful when buying: "If you look at the packaging," he warns, "you'll see it."

As anybody fumbling hopefully in search of tissue in a public restroom in Spain knows, thanks to government cuts lavatory paper is becoming increasingly thin on the ground. But the recession has had some positive knock-on effects for the industry.

Kimberly-Clark's line of mini, wet-paper packs that was introduced last year has now cornered 5 per cent of the local market, thanks to the packets' portable nature, not to mention the unforgettable name of Culitos Besables (Kissable Bottoms). Other booming mass markets include China (the biggest there is for very functional, plain types of paper), where thanks to urbanisation, the market is growing by an average of 8.3 per cent per annum and is expected to continue increasing at that rate until at least 2021.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
life
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Sport
Amir Khan is engaged in a broader battle than attempting to win a fight with Floyd Mayweather
boxing Exclusive: Amir Khan reveals plans to travel to Pakistan
News
Stacey Dooley was the only woman to be nominated in last month’s Grierson awards
mediaClare Balding and Davina McCall among those overlooked for Grierson awards
Voices
Joseph Kynaston Reeves arguing with Russell Brand outside the RBS’s London offices on Friday
voicesDJ Taylor: The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a worker's rant to Russell Brand
News
Twitchers see things differently, depending on their gender
scienceNew study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
News
i100
News
Xander van der Burgt, at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
scienceA Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Senior Private Client Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: SURREY - An outstanding high level opportunity...

Austen Lloyd: Construction Solicitor - London

Very Competitive Salary : Austen Lloyd: NICHE CITY FIRM - We are making a disc...

Austen Lloyd: Construction Solicitor - London

Very Competitive Salary : Austen Lloyd: NICHE CITY FIRM - We are making a disc...

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Day In a Page

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick