Natural Foods Merchandiser
Become an eco-friendly paper pusher

Become an eco-friendly paper pusher

Tips to improve sales in eco-friendly paper products, including educating employees and customers on the benefits of recycled paper, displaying large-and small-pack paper products, product placement and keeping up with improvements in the recycled-paper brand products

The statistics are startling. If every household in the United States replaced just one roll of virgin, bleached-fiber toilet paper (500 sheets) with an eco-savvy roll, 423,900 trees would be saved, according to the National Resources Defense Council. The stats are similar for other papers—paper towels, napkins and tissues.

Natural products shoppers are taking note, stocking up on eco-paper of every kind. In the past year, sales of eco-toilet paper grew by 6 percent, and paper towels were up 3.4 percent in the natural channel, according to SPINS, a Schaumburg, Ill.-based market research and consulting firm for the natural products industry. Facial tissue sales also grew—but only at a barely sneeze-worthy half percentage.

Still, as part of the total market, recycled paper has a long way to go. SPINS reports that while natural toilet paper brings in a little more than $11 million a year for natural grocery stores, conventional options rake in $77 million at mainstream grocery stores. How can retailers convince consumers to go green in the bathroom and kitchen? How can eco-paper compete with traditional rolls? The key ingredients are education, displays and pricing.

Offer information to consumers—without browbeating. The NRDC’s guide, at, contains user-friendly statistics comparing conventional versus eco-paper. Try inserting a few of these stats into your store’s monthly bulletin or e-newsletter. Set up shelf talkers that extol the benefits of recycled paper.

“Our own experience says sustainability is a strong merchandising message,” says James D’Agosta, senior vice president of sales for Elmwood Park, N.J.-based Marcal Manufacturing, a green paper company. Marcal has long used recycled fibers in its economy-priced paper towels, toilet paper, napkins and tissues, but in 2009, the company relaunched its brand as Marcal Small Steps to better emphasize its products’ 100 percent–recycled content. D’Agosta says the positive response has been overwhelming.

Create eye-catching displays

There’s an established image of rough, uncomfortable bath-tissue products—good for the planet; bad for your bum. “The key is to stress that the performance of recycled-paper products is getting closer to that of conventional brands in the characteristics that consumers care about,” says Allen Stedman, president of British Columbia-based Planet, which makes Green Forest brand paper supplies.

What are those characteristics? Softness for bathroom and facial tissue, and absorbency and strength for paper towels, according to Stedman. But if you can’t effectively demo paper goods, how do you get this message across to dubious customers? By maximizing your use of displays, says John Murphy, senior vice president of sales at Burlington, Vt.-based Seventh Generation, which makes a variety of eco-paper products.

“At a minimum, you should have a paper display in your store 36 weeks per year,” Murphy says. Displays should feature a balance of large- and small-pack paper products. “Larger sizes are the preferred consumer choice, while smaller sizes provide an opening price point to reach experimental customers,” he says.

Cleaning up: the future
Recycled-paper brands are also seeking to improve products and boost sales. Seventh Generation upgraded its paper line this year. “We were able to dramatically improve absorbency in our towel products,” Murphy says, “which is a key consumer performance driver for repurchase.”

Brent Coons, director of the SPINS Product Library, points out that the future of natural-paper goods lies in reusable, biodegradable products; a greater acceptance of eco-friendly paper items among mainstream consumers; and an increase in effectiveness. In this way, he says “try it” naturals shoppers will become “must-have-it” naturals shoppers.

Marketing paper products

Healthy Living Natural Food Market in South Burlington, Vt., teamed up with Seventh Generation to offer a great short-term sale. The independent store ordered 150 packages of Seventh Generation toilet paper and created a towering endcap display. The paper push generated a little more than $7,000 in sales.

“If you can secure a great deal, go bigger and better on the endcap. Large displays will make a statement and drive sales regardless of what product you’re displaying,” says Jessica Piccirilli, marketing coordinator at Healthy Living Natural Market.

Piccirilli also suggests grouping non-food items (like paper products) by color—for example, all-green packaging on an endcap tying together toilet paper, paper towels and other eco-goods, or packages of paper towels with picnic or holiday fixings.

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