paper trees representing green paper trends

Distributors who are only focused on their next sale sometimes have a difficult time seeing the forest for the trees (pun intended). In other words, they are concentrating only on revenues from consumable paper products that they miss how these products are evolving and opening the door to stronger sales stories.  

In this roundtable, Sanitary Maintenance asked towel and tissue manufacturers to share what they believe to be past and future trends that will impact sales moving forward, as well as strategies distributors can implement to support pushing these products.   


Joe Raccuia
Owner & President
Morcon Tissue


Laura Ashley
Marketing Manager
Resolute Tissue


Mohamed Abaas
Sustainability Specialist
Sofidel America

What paper trends did you see come to fruition in 2023?  

Raccuia — We definitely saw a resurgence of interest regarding cost in use and labor savings for tissue and towel products throughout 2022 and 2023. Post pandemic labor shortages, as well as higher wages, are still top of mind for end users. 

Abaas — In 2023, we saw a greater push to incorporate sustainable products in facilities, emphasizing transparent reporting for those products. End users want to understand where the products they use come from and how manufacturers are taking proper steps to minimize their environmental impact in creating those products.  

Ashley — We recognized three paper trends in 2023: 
The first was a marked increase in customers converting from folded paper towels (C-folds and multi-fold towels) to hardwound roll towel dispensing systems. This seems to be driven by pressure for cost control by eliminating or reducing waste, both in the towel usage itself, but also in the labor hours/costs to replenish. The fact is that folded towel end users tend to use more folded towels per hand dry than roll towel end users — at a 2:1 or 3:1 ratio (2:1 means the average user takes 4 folded towels versus 2 hardwound towel sheets). With folded towels, users can easily take many more towels than needed per hand dry as opposed to the more controlled “one-at-a time” dispense of roll towels. Roll towel dispensers with length control settings allow facilities to increase or decrease sheet length as needed, which controls consumption and reduces waste. Minimizing waste is important to any sustainable paper program. Another reason end users migrate away from folded towel is a preference for the touchless roll towel dispensers (also known as hands-free or no touch), which are more hygienic. Today, people want to avoid touching most shared surfaces to eliminate any cross contamination. Hands-free roll towel dispensers exist in both automatic dispenser types as well as mechanical (manual) dispensers.
The other two trends we observed in 2023 were both related to tissue:
We saw increased adoption of small core tissue rolls. Small core rolls have more capacity per roll due to the smaller core, use less storage space and incur less labor costs due to less changeovers. Small core tissue is a very efficient format. 
We also saw a heightened interest in more fully enclosed tissue dispensers with limited tissue exposure. We see this interest particularly in schools and other public-serving facilities looking to demonstrate a more hygienic product. 

There has been another push for sustainability, especially in the paper category. What “green” trends in paper are you expecting for in 2024?  

Ashley — We expect facilities to continue to seek products that are certified to a well-respected fiber sourcing (chain of custody) certification. This certification gives peace of mind to distributors, facilities and end users as it ensures that the fiber processed meet minimum due diligence requirements related to risks of illegal logging and other important sustainability requirements. A certified sourcing logo also confirms that a third-party audit from a certified organization has been conducted as verification.  

Abaas — We can expect a more holistic view of “green” products when it comes to environmental and social impacts. In the paper industry, end users are becoming more aware of how laborers are treated, how forests are managed, and how manufacturing impacts local communities. 

Raccuia — First of all, we all need to be on the same page regarding what the definition of sustainability truly is. Is it recycled content, is it fast growing fiber resources, is it carbon footprint? Since our end users cross so many channels and segments it is difficult to have a one size fits all mentality. Our focus has been on reducing the amount of paper required to get the job done. 

How are you responding to these trends and how can distributors communicate that to their customers?  

Abaas — At Sofidel, we work to spread awareness of how using virgin fibers to make tissue paper is a sustainable option. We also produce a yearly report to highlight how we’re making strides to reduce our environmental impact and work with well-established, third-party organizations to ensure our products are truly sustainable.  

Raccuia — Not only have we invested in providing Green Seal product offerings, but we have also focused on developing innovative dispenser systems. Paper has also been engineered to provide superior absorbency and strength, elevating the guest experience with less paper being used. Distributors will have access to an innovative dispensing system with selective distribution while their customers will have built-in sustainability controls paired with enhanced paper grades that eliminate tabbing. 

Ashley — We take the time to educate our distributors on the fiber sourcing certifications and what they mean. Distributors can promote products that have certified fiber sources, such as SFI Certified Sourcing or FSC. Distributors can look for on-package certified sourcing logos with certification numbers, which prove that the manufacturer is certified and purchasing from certified forests and sources. 

How important is perception of paper in the public restroom and what successful strategies can you share to promote sustainability in these spaces?  

Abaas — Tissue paper is a simple but mighty product. One may think that it doesn’t take a lot of energy to make one roll of tissue paper, however, the usage frequency and production volumes are massive. The United States is known to have some of the highest toilet paper usage. This understanding should make us all more conscious and thorough in selecting a sustainable tissue paper/toilet product.  

Raccuia — Paper continues to be the most hygienic and efficient material to use in a restroom environment. Customers should not only look for green friendly products, but the way in which they are dispensed plays a big part in sustainability.  

What is the biggest sales hurdle when selling sustainable paper products and what advice do you have for distributors to overcome it?  

Raccuia — We have a good, better, and best approach within our napkin, towel, and tissue product lines that allows us to support our customers at a very high level. Understanding sustainability and green product solutions is the first step in providing customers options to choosing the products that best fit their customer base.  

Abaas — Fighting the misconception that alternative or recycled paper is more sustainable than virgin, especially from the whole system’s perspective. Also, ensuring purchasing managers for facilities are in line with choosing truly sustainable products that align with an organization’s clearly stated sustainability goals, like those that are part of the Three Bottom Lines: profit, people, planet.  

Ashley — Certified fiber sourcing has been around for a while and most of our distributors already know that this conveys assurances of sustainability. A sales hurdle, however, for distributors is separating fact from perception for their end users and letting end users know of sustainable options other than recycled paper. These discussions include illuminating the tradeoffs that exist with recycled paper (potential increased costs, less absorbency, lower strength of towels.) We also encourage distributors to identify folded towel end users and convert these accounts to a controlled dispensing system with waste limiting features. The end result will be less waste and less overall cost in use, which not only makes the paper program more sustainable, but these accounts will remain as loyal customers. 

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Selling Sustainability of Towel and Tissue