Most every upstart brand hopes for a big breakthrough, that golden moment when its product gets picked up by a magazine, featured in a TV segment or appears on some celebrity’s social media account. There are many ways that a formerly obscure brand can suddenly gain the spotlight and, with it, the chance to go big.
Entrepreneur Samira Far thought that her own brand, which is called No. 2, would get its big break sooner or later. She did not think that break would come because of Covid-19.
“This is a weird one for sure,” Far told Adweek. “We weren’t banking on it.”
Founded last year, No. 2 is a toilet tissue made from bamboo—a fast-growing woody plant whose durable pulp eliminates the need to cut down forests. As such, it falls into a growing but still modestly sized category of sustainable products—household goods that cost a little more but get tossed into the shopping cart by consumers who are increasingly worried about the fate of the environment.
After her research revealed that whole forests get leveled to make toilet paper, whose rolls come wrapped in polyvinyl chloride, Far figured the segment was vulnerable to a challenger brand like hers.
“When the industry is dominated by one type of service or product, there’s always room for disruption,” she said. “I felt that the brands and the way they were packaged in bulky plastic was very, very outdated.”
But Far had her work cut out for her. Toilet paper is a very big business. It’s worth $9.7 billion in North America alone, according to data from Euromonitor International. But it’s a category ruled by habit—a family tends to choose a brand and stick with it—and dominated by the big boys. Nearly three quarters of the toilet tissue market falls under the control of a triumvirate of corporations: Procter & Gamble boasts a 29.4% share, Kimberly-Clark has 22.6% and Georgia-Pacific controls another 22.4%. These companies sit on marketing budgets worth literal billions.
Then Covid-19 appeared. As many a news story has documented, one of the first items stripped from store shelves was toilet paper. According to NPD, bathroom tissue sales in March and April were up by 58% over the same period last year. Put another way: Freaked-out consumers in full-on hoarding mode spent $1.6 billion on toilet paper.
And once shoppers could no longer find their usual brand on the shelves, they took desperately to the internet—where Far’s brand was waiting. No. 2 could be found on a handful of speciality sites like Goop, on the brand’s homepage and, fortunately, on Amazon. Far began seeing a dramatic sales rise on March 9, then a surge two days later. Within 10 days, every last roll had sold out.
“People were clearly going to Google and seeing where they could find toilet paper, because it was the first time people could think about toilet paper,” Far said. “It’s usually something they don’t think about.”
But now that most of the panic buying is over and Far’s stocks are replenished, the challenge is to make the most of the unexpected opportunity. Far will need to do that with the brand’s differentiation.
Visitors to No. 2’s site will learn, for example, that the world cuts down 27,000 trees every day to make the toilet tissue that does the world’s wiping. Bamboo is a far more renewable resource because a bamboo forest grows to full height in as few as four years, versus at least 20 (and perhaps even 50) years for a deciduous forest.