Tissue 2022: an Ames Room?

December 11, 1973 fell on a Tuesday, the most unusual Tuesday in the history of the tissue industry. A few days later, Americans stormed supermarket shelves, buying up all the toilet paper supplies. The same thing happened in 2020. But what will 2022 be like for Tissue products? Are we facing stable changes in consumption or… an illusion?

Harold Vernon Froehlich, Johnny Carson and the Big Binge (of toilet paper) of 1973

On Tuesday, December 11, 1973 (as described in detail by the New York Times), republican congressman Harold Vernon Froelich, from Wisconsin, where the paper industry was buoyant, issued a press release highlighting the shortage of toilet paper stocks. In the communiqué (a few weeks earlier a similar dispatch had been universally ignored), he hypothesized the risk of national rationing. This time the press picked up and amplified the message, but it was only on December 19 (thanks to Johnny Carson mocking the toilet paper crisis on his show) that panic broke out in what is still remembered today as The Toilet Paper Shortage.

Similar scenes played out in 2020, when toilet paper became so rare that we saw armed robbers steal rolls from a supermarket.

The Ames Room



The Ames room is a famous optical illusion conceived by Adelbert Ames Jr. who worked on Hermann von Helmholtz’s hypotheses regarding the importance of perspective. It is a room made up of three walls which, from the front, appears absolutely normal. The wall that faces the observer, however, is slanted, but the lines and the furnishings are altered to compensate visually. So everything seems normal… until a couple of people enter the room. At this point, the subject closest to the observer looks abnormally large compared to the other – a child can appear much taller than a basketball player. Lacking visual clues that reveal the slant of the wall facing the observer, the brain is unable to explain what is happening because it cannot associate the scene with “plausible reality”. 

It is an optical illusion, as mentioned, based on the deception that the distortion of the vanishing lines creates in the brain.

Determining the demand for Tissue in 2022 and the risk of the Ames Room

The explosion in consumption linked to the pandemic has led to an unprecedented increase in the production and sale of Tissue products. Some Away-From-Home sectors have been adversely affected, but the consumption of paper for hygienic-sanitary uses has literally boomed.

What trends will remain significant beyond the crisis? And which will prove to be no more than flashes in the pan?

Spot illusions and plan wisely: understanding the reasons behind the explosion in Tissue consumption

First of all, it is important to consider the time dynamics of consumption. In the initial phase, there was a tendency to hoard things considered essential, including toilet paper, cleaning products and food basics. Subsequently, realizing that the emergency wouldn’t be over any time soon, e-commerce sprang up: the convenience of purchasing combined with the perception of hygienic safety (going to a department store, even where permissible, was considered by many to be a risk), led to an expansion in the range of products purchased online. 

Another thing to consider is “who” buys large stocks of hygienic-sanitary Tissue products: this interesting study analyzes and psychologically profiles the “hoarders”, indicating that “both buying and hoarding behavior are likely to be preceded by stressful life events.” In summary, the biggest hoarders:

  • have a low tolerance of uncertainty 
  • show traits of a susceptible character (in stressful situations this trait can lead people without compulsive disorders to hoard stocks)
  • show cognitive bias in relation to the scarcity of available supplies
  • have suffered from clinical personality disorders (latent to a greater or lesser degree)
  • are less cooperative
  • are likely to have lived in complete isolation during the pandemic.

Once out of the pandemic, free from stress, the influence of many of these characteristics will recede, causing a contraction in consumption.

Then there is the issue of those who hoard to resell… but we’ll leave that for another time 😉

Something that can be considered stable is the increase in the consumption of goods which fall under the category “personal hygiene”. Tissue paper products, being disposable, are perceived as “healthy”. The tendency to purchase a wide range of products for personal (handkerchiefs, tissues, etc.) and household hygiene (in April 2020 the purchase of paper for the home in Italy increased by 28.9% compared to the previous year) is likely to continue to rise for the foreseeable future. Certain habits are here to stay: from childcare to animal products, from personal to home hygiene, the Caring Economy will continue to be important.

This trend will be mirrored in the Away-From-Home sector, favoring paper placemats, napkins, rolls and dispensers made in such a way as to guarantee the lowest possible risk of contact. The needs of the health sector will be significant, where the demand for paper for rapid tests (which use paper with incorporated antigens to check for the presence of the virus) will be relevant.

The online purchase of Tissue paper products has opened up new market dynamics and relationships between producers and consumers (even older consumers). For items such as toilet paper, the trend will remain at significant levels, and practicality will dictate that many will prefer home delivery (a pack of rolls is light but bulky). The demand for white label products will continue to be significant.

Tissue in 2022: some suggestions

  • post-stress product communication
    as mentioned, there has been a widespread change in purchasing behavior driven by anxiety and uncertainty. It is possible that, once the crisis is over, many will return to their former habits, at least in terms of quantity. However, it must be borne in mind that the impact of Covid-19 has been significant and that, like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), the pandemic will leave an indelible mark on the minds of a large percentage of consumers. Anything which triggers the prospect of a new wave of risk could plunge us back into a state of alert. Anke Karl (University of Exeter) has conducted a study that demonstrates how seeing threatening faces activates the amygdala and causes a state of generalized stress (this nervous system response is typical of those who have experienced severe stress or who are suffering from PTSD). But such reactions can be mitigated by images of people receiving emotional support and affection. Social support has a calming effect and prevents anxiety, which is why product communication must emphasize care, affection, satisfying relationships between human beings, and protection. Branding activities will have to move in this direction, to reassure people that they are not alone. This will heighten the trust (and loyalty) of consumers toward brands.
  • travel boxes and all-in-one
    travel and tourism are among the activities that will resume but, as already mentioned, attention to personal hygiene and general sanitation, is a behavior that will endure. For this reason, manufacturing companies should check the opportunity to add personal hygiene kits to their offer, bundling tissue paper products with sanitizers/disinfectants for example. The travel box proposal could be a winner, with a tailor-made assortment of wipes, napkins, handkerchiefs, sanitizing paper, toilet paper, masks and sanitizing detergents to use on vacation
  • organic tissue papers
    so-called “organic tissue papers” (made from fibers such as bamboo) represent one of the most interesting market developments, both because they respond to a need among consumers for natural products, and because they are the personal hygiene solution favored by the millions of people around the world who suffer from sensitive skin (some 80% of people suffer from skin hypersensitivity, albeit in varying degrees of severity)
  • two ply
    multi-ply Tissue papers are very absorbent and meet the needs of consumers. However, as the layers increase, so does the cost and especially in those markets where the premium products segment has exploded, this is not a great way forward. Three, four or five layers also mean greater use of environmental resources, and present a dilemma for those who are sensitive to ecological issues. For this reason, some observers consider the two-layer format to be the most interesting, because it keeps price and waste in check while still able to absorb satisfactorily. If focusing on two plies, however, it is crucial that texture and embossing are optimized to increase absorbency
  • life cycle and reuse
    connected to the pandemic is the awareness of how protection of biodiversity is essential for the health of the planet and its people. The demand for Tissue paper made from recycled fibers will grow but so will trust in those brands that can define the life cycle of their products in terms of reuse and recycling. While washable and reusable Tissue paper alternatives are something else entirely, being able to communicate to end consumers that the purchased Tissue product is based on sustainable raw materials, processing, converting and transport, and all without waste, will be critical
  • private labels galore
    even Amazon has its own toilet paper now. The production of private labels will be increasingly important in the future (the influence of this segment during the pandemic is proof of this), and companies will have to organize themselves to meet production demands which will evolve over time. Process plants and organizations able to put differentiated materials, processes, additives and packaging into production quickly, efficiently and safely, will be at a distinct advantage
  • from differentiation to product customization
    from kitchen towels customized for special occasions, to one-off “sets” of paper products totally customized in color, printing and size, the tissue paper product is no longer an inflexible commodity. 2022 could be the year to exploit Tissue’s personalization and customization potential.

Illusion, perspective, reality. For a discussion on all these issues and on the opportunities presented by those who create the technological systems that can support your company’s production potential, contact us.