The Empty Toilet Paper Roll Torments Families. Procter & Gamble Has an Answer.

Date : 10/16/2019 @ 3:44PM
Source : Dow Jones News
Stock : Procter and Gamble Co (PG)
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The Empty Toilet Paper Roll Torments Families. Procter & Gamble Has an Answer.

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By Ellen Byron 

Kim Gilroy ranks changing the toilet paper roll as the most annoying household chore "because it's the easiest," she says. "It takes two seconds and no one wants to do it."

Ms. Gilroy, a fitness coach in Manchester, N.H., for years has nagged her three sons and one daughter, ages 13 to 19, about replacing the roll instead of setting a new roll on top of the empty one. She hung a sign in her family's main bathroom that reads "Changing toilet paper will not cause brain damage." Still, empty rolls piled up.

Then Ms. Gilroy saw an ad on social media for a giant toilet-paper roll the size of small tire. It had 1,700 sheets, the equivalent of 24 rolls.

After confirming the ad wasn't a spoof, she ordered her first Charmin Forever Roll, sold online by Procter & Gamble Co.

The roll is one foot in diameter, compared with roughly 5 inches for conventional rolls. Too large to fit in most holders, the Forever Roll comes with a starter kit that includes a free-standing, stainless-steel one. "It lasted 21 days," says Ms. Gilroy. "Yes, I was still the one who changed it when it was empty."

Technology has yet to conquer the tyranny of the empty toilet paper roll. Brands threw their best marketing, engineering and packaging at the problem. The bottom line: They can't make a roll that really lasts forever, or solve family strife caused by the eventual appearance of one small cardboard tube. They can only delay it.

Some 85% of U.S. adults agree that walking into a bathroom with an empty toilet paper roll is one of the most frustrating bathroom scenarios, P&G research found in a March survey of 2,015 adults.

"With families what we hear is that it actually creates ill feelings toward other people in the house," says Rob Reinerman, innovation director for P&G family care.

Toilet paper brands rolled out ever-larger sizes, setting off an escalating arms race of "double," "triple," "jumbo," and, most recently, "mega" rolls.

Now, the Forever Roll is even bigger. Last month, Charmin announced the Forever Roll XL, with 50% more sheets than the 12-inch version. Ms. Gilroy immediately ordered the new size and subscribed to future shipments every two months. "I don't know how much bigger they can make it, but I would buy it if it lasted a year," she says.

Charmin, after launching "mega plus" and "double plus" rolls in 2013, introduced "super mega" rolls in 2017.

With Forever Rolls, Mr. Reinerman wants to determine whether some consumers so badly want to avoid changing the roll that they are willing to change their holder. "That spawned the idea of the Forever Roll, an unapologetically large toilet paper that lets you go a month without changing it," he says.

Forever Rolls initially were available in 8.7-inch and 12-inch diameters, but more than 90% of customers chose the larger size. "Our hypothesis was that it would be a slow and gradual trade up to the larger roll, that people would dip their toes in with a small version and make their way up with time," says Mr. Reinerman. "It was the exact opposite."

Scouring consumers' comments and reviews, he noted a glaring omission. "There was a complete absence of people complaining that the roll was too big," he says. "At what size will consumers tell us that it's too big?'"

The Charmin team decided to drop the smallest Forever Roll. It kept the 12-inch roll and added a 13.2 inch Forever Roll XL.

The XL weighs 3 pounds and holds 2,550 sheets, about as much as 36 rolls, P&G says. The starter kit costs $29.97 and includes a stand or wall mount and two rolls.

Andrea Oertel ordered the XL version of the Forever Roll. "You can't make a toilet paper roll big enough for me," she says. "The bigger it is, the less I have to change it."

Ms. Oertel, a physical-education teacher in Fredericktown, Mo., recalls when her son and daughter were children she would change the toilet-paper rolls a couple of times a week. "It doesn't matter how many times you show the kids, they're not going to do it," she says.

Now, the giant roll sits in her home's hall bathroom as a joke to her family, who still leave empty rolls behind, even as adults. "I wish this would have come 20 years ago," she says.

Jackie Mills, a real-estate agent in Maryville, Tenn., bought her first Forever Roll to tease her husband. "I'm sick and tired of him not changing the roll," she says. Recalling how her sons, now adults, neglected the chore growing up, she shipped rolls to them, too. When the rolls, which sit in all three of her bathrooms, needed changing after about a month, the job fell to Ms. Mills, again. "Me, me, me," she says.

Mr. Reinerman says buyers seem to fall into two groups: Those who are proud of their purchase, and those who are embarrassed. "Some people love the fact that it's a conversation piece," he says. "And there's another group where they're not sure whether or not it's acceptable."

Dylan Nelson, a Minneapolis-based photographer, bought the Forever Roll starter kit so he could photograph it.

He eventually decided to install the roll in his apartment's only bathroom, which he shares with his fiancée. "It really has lasted a month, but it is embarrassing," he says.

When friends come by, Mr. Nelson offers a quick warning. "Hey, there's a comically large roll of toilet paper in the bathroom, but you know it's actually pretty convenient," he says. "That's the only way I can preface it."

As the mother of two young children, Rachel Smith initially was drawn to the big roll for convenience sake. But she realized it would be an entertaining addition to the guest bathroom. "We're not a very serious household," says Ms. Smith, a church-volunteer coordinator in Riegelwood, N.C.

She and her husband recently hosted a family reunion of about 25 people. In preparation, Ms. Smith changed their half-gone Forever Roll to a new one so its full size would stun guests.

"When people went in the bathroom, we would hear them laughing," she says. "I hope there's enough toilet paper in there," Ms. Smith said she called through the door. "If you run out, just let me know."

Write to Ellen Byron at ellen.byron@wsj.com

 

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

October 16, 2019 11:29 ET (15:29 GMT)

Copyright (c) 2019 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

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