Published on .

May 7, 2001

By Jack Neff

CINCINNATI ( -- Procter & Gamble Co., which pooh-poohed the idea of pre-moistened toilet paper on a roll just over three months ago, today announced it is acquiring Moist Mates, a privately held maker of a product virtually identical to rival Kimberly-Clark Corp.'s Kleenex Cottonelle RollWipes.

The move lets P&G take advantage of a hiccup in Kimberly-Clark's moist toilet paper rollout, which has been pushed back from June to July because of production issues and unexpectedly high retailer demand. Now, P&G plans to move into Southeast and Mid-Atlantic markets at about the same time as Kimberly-Clark. Neither company has announced a timetable for full national launch.

The product, to be rebranded as Charmin Fresh Mates, will be backed by advertising from Bcom3 Group's D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, New York, that debuts in August, P&G said.

Marketed in Europe
Moist Mates rolled into U.S. markets last year based on a product design marketed in Europe for several years. Like Cottonelle RollWipes, Moist Mates come in a roll in a plastic dispenser that hangs underneath dry toilet paper rolls. P&G will continue to use Moist Mates' contract manufacturer.

P&G said it has been looking at moist bath tissue technologies for some time and that the acquisition lets them quickly enter the marketplace.

"Moist Mates already had a terrific product concept," said Wayne Randall, global franchise manager for Charmin. "We took their product and upgraded it to improve dispensing. Now we'll add our branding know-how, sales and distribution capability and in-depth understanding of the consumer."

Left the door open
P&G President-CEO A.G. Lafley, in a Jan. 30 conference call with financial analysts, downplayed the potential impact of Cottonelle RollWipes, saying P&G research showed it didn't have broad consumer appeal.

But a P&G spokesman said Mr. Lafley had left open the possibility P&G would enter the moist bath tissue category, noting that both P&G and Kimberly-Clark had been working on such products for several years but found they had "generally narrow consumer appeal." He said Mr. Lafley had left the door open for a new entry into the category by saying "we're looking at all the possibilities and will respond appropriately."

The spokesman said P&G research shows 60% of consumers already use some form of pre-moistened toilet paper, ranging from wetting dry bath tissue to using baby wipes. He said the deal had come together quickly.

Kimberly-Clark has said it plans to back RollWipes with $40 million in combined advertising and promotional support, including TV, print and Web ads from WPP Group's J. Walter Thompson, New York. P&G did not disclose spending plans for RollWipes.

Copyright May 2001, Crain Communications Inc.

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