AS TIME ROLLS ON

If paper manufacturers and supermarket retailers get their way, the four-roll bathroom tissue package may succumb to the same fate as the eight-track tape: it may become a relic of years past. While the four-pack is still the category's top seller, years of heavy promotional activity have robbed it of its profitability. As a result, larger packs are being rolled out to revive the bathroom tissue business."We're

If paper manufacturers and supermarket retailers get their way, the four-roll bathroom tissue package may succumb to the same fate as the eight-track tape: it may become a relic of years past. While the four-pack is still the category's top seller, years of heavy promotional activity have robbed it of its profitability. As a result, larger packs are being rolled out to revive the bathroom tissue business.

"We're trying to get some profit back into the category because there wasn't any profit in the four-roll," said Larry Good, vice president and general manager at Bob's Super Saver, Gardner, Kan.

Club-size packages of bathroom tissue, Good added, will continue to consume more of the space currently allotted to four-roll packages.

The entire category had $2.3 billion in sales, an 8.5% increase, for the 52 weeks ending March 24, 1996, according to Information Resources, Chicago. Unit sales, however, decreased by 9%. Retailers contacted by SN attribute the unit sales decrease to heightened promotion of club-size packs.

"There's a lot more support for multirolls, nine-rolls, double-rolls and 24-packs," said Peter Jost, grocery buyer at Harp's Food Stores, Springdale, Ark.

Mike Skowronek, a buyer at Copps Corp., Stevens Point, Wis., cited a similar trend for his stores. "As far as cases, right now my best item is a Cottonelle four-roll in white," he said. In dollars, Skowronek added, the Kleenex double-roll 12-pack performs best.

Large-pack sales, according to most retailers polled by SN, are helping the category become profitable again.

"If you're in a market where everybody's giving away four-packs, your margins are a little bit better" with the larger packs, said Bruce Anderson, vice president at Gordy's, Worthington, Minn.

But the larger sizes are forcing retailers to expand their shelf space.

Ream's Food Stores, Salt Lake City, adjusted shelf space to make room for the eight- and 12-packs, said Carl Willoughby, assistant general manager.

Draeger's Supermarkets, Menlo Park, Calif., also adjusted its shelves when it added eight-roll packs to its set, said Matt Buckman, general buyer.

"We changed the vertical profile from 68 to 72 inches," said Buckman. "We added a shelf and went from 19-inch depth to 24-inch depth." The eight-pack is the only large count that it carries.

Doug Keller, buyer, Save Mart Supermarkets, Modesto, Calif., is making room for large packs outside of his traditional bathroom tissue shelf sets. Keller said Save Mart opted to stock large packs of bathroom tissue in wells because they hold more inventory.

Despite the category's state of change, most retailers admitted they are only in the preliminary stages of implementing category management for bathroom tissue.

"We're struggling, yet we're trying," said Skowronek of the Copps Corp. "Once we partner with a vendor, we'll be able to get their input and information from IRI or ACNielsen."

Harps and R&M Foods, Hattiesburg, Miss., have recently formed category management partnerships with Procter & Gamble.

"We've outlined our objectives and put in place the necessary parameters to really enact what our outline is for the category," said Jost of Harps. R&M Foods is still in the preliminary stages of their partnership with Procter & Gamble, said Darryl Martin, buyer/merchandiser.

Some retailers, however, told SN that the 4-pack is hardly passe; they will continue to promote the traditional 4-roll packages.

"Four-packs are what we still use to drive the category," said Save Mart's Keller. "We like to do that because most club stores don't." He added that 4-pack promotions give Save Mart a better price image in its marketplace.