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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
Prince Harry is clearing enjoying the Commonwealth Games judging by this photo
people(a real one this time)
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
News
Your picture is everything in the shallow world of online dating
i100
Life and Style
Attractive women on the Internet: not a myth
techOkCupid boasts about Facebook-style experiments on users
Sport
Van Gaal said that his challenge in taking over Bobby Robson's Barcelona team in 1993 has been easier than the task of resurrecting the current United side
football
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

Defendant Personal Injury 2+PQE

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - NICHE DEFENDANT FIRM - Defendant Pe...

Java Developer

£45000 - £60000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: JAVA DEVELO...

HR Business Partner (Maternity Cover 12 Months)

£30000 - £34000 Per Annum 25 days holiday, Private healthcare: Clearwater Peop...

Microsoft Dynamics AX Developer

£475 - £550 per day: Progressive Recruitment: MDAX / Dynamics AX / Microsoft D...

Day In a Page

The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on