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Second-tier brands like those of Fort Howard Corp. are supposed to be an endangered species. But while some much larger brands lost share in paper products categories last year, Fort Howard brands such as Mardi Gras, Soft & Gentle, So-Dri and Green Forest gained share in their major categories.

For instance, according to Nielsen figures compiled by Dean Witter, Green Forest's dollar shares rose from 3.9% to 4.1%-including a 4.7% share by the fourth quarter in toilet tissues. In a paper towel category dominated by Procter & Gamble Co.'s Bounty, Fort Howard's share rose from 4.9% to 5.4% in 1995, including a 6.2% share in the fourth quarter.

Overall, Fort Howard says its combined share in categories where it competes, including facial tissues and napkins, has risen from 6% to 9% since 1985.

Fort Howard has relied on consumer research and strong trade marketing, says Jim Riehl, VP-marketing. Filling consumer niches and using low-cost production to provide retailers and consumers a better value have been keys to Fort Howard's success, he says.

One example is Fort Howard's 6-year-old Green Forest brand of paper products, made from 100% recycled fibers, priced generally 10% or more below premium brands at retail and targeted to educated, environmentally conscious consumers.

"The key is reaching a small but very committed group of consumers who believe that by closing the loop and utilizing products that contain recycled paper we can really make a difference," Mr. Riehl says.

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