P&G POLISHES ITS LEAD IN PAPER TOWEL

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Procter & Gamble Co. is only recently recovered from red-hot Bounty paper towel sales that created shortages, and indications are a test-market product could make the brand even hotter.

Quilted Bounty Rinse & Reuse, a thicker, stronger towel than regular Bounty that can be rinsed and reused like a cloth towel, is testing in Cedar Rapids, Iowa; Grand Junction, Colo.; and Marion, Ind. And while P&G wouldn't comment on future plans, a spokesman said, "We have favorable expectations for the product and it seems to be playing up to our expectations in these initial test markets."

RINSE & REUSE TESTS AT TOP

In consumer concept testing, done by AccuPOLL, Bounty Rinse & Reuse ranked in the top 10% of all new-product concepts, said Steve Phelan, VP at the researcher. Among current paper towel users, Bounty Rinse & Reuse scored high for novelty, value and purchase probability.

P&G's Rinse & Reuse, moreover, earned an "A" rating for being "new and different," which Mr. Phelan said is rare for a product in such a mature category as paper towels.

"Most people weren't planning to actually reuse the towels. .... We suspect people figure if the towel is reusable, it must be really tough and so it's better even for a single use," he said.

TV advertising for the product, testing since early this year, from Jordan, McGrath, Case & Taylor, New York, doesn't use an environmental message, instead focusing on the brand's ability to easily soak up big spills.

The campaign, augmented by coupons, is similar to the brand's national "Little Kids, Big Spills" creative.

"You can deliberately put [Bounty Rinse & Reuse] under water and use it almost as you would a rag or sponge," said the P&G spokesman, however adding that the towel isn't meant to be reused after it has dried.

PRODUCT SHORTAGES REMEDIED

It was only this month that P&G was able to ease allocations for Bounty, rectifying national product shortages. P&G actually lost 1.1 percentage points of its share for the year to date in the $2 billion paper towel category because it was unable to meet demand for new Bounty Select-A-Size, a quilted paper brand and multiroll packs.

P&G currently has a 36.7% share of the category, according to Dean Witter, Discover & Co., compared to Kimberly-Clark's 16.5% for its brand lineup including Viva and Job Squad.

K-C's share is down 3.1 percentage points for the year to date as compared to the same time frame in 1995.

The Bounty test comes as K-C makes plans to roll out improved products of its own next year. Using new technology from Europe that enables more absorbency, softer towels and cheaper production costs, K-C is readying a new-product assault.

Bonita Austin, until recently an analyst at Prudential Securities, said that although P&G holds the technological edge in toilet tissue and towels in the U.S. now, the new European technology could give K-C a big boost.

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