From grandma’s favourite toilet tissue to pioneer of sustainability in the hygiene paper sector: Hakle is transforming its brand. We talk with CEO Volker Jung about protecting mother earth, marketing the unmarketable and what the future holds for paper tissue products.
Hakle has been in the business of hygiene products for over 90 years. How does a traditional company keep up with the times?
When I came on board at the start of 2019, I felt the brand needed freshening up. Hakle the brand is famous across Germany and anyone over the age of 50 probably knew Hakle from their grandma’s bathroom. Which is a good thing. However this wasn’t reflected in the number of people who were buying our products. My job is to persuade a new generation of customers that Hakle can offer something different. Our focus is creating a feeling of well-being and comfort, while at the same time innovating to meet consumer demand for sustainable products.
Sustainability is a high priority for consumers. What responsibility do you as a tissue paper manufacturer feel in relation to climate change? Do you use sustainable alternatives to conventional paper production?
We feel a huge responsibility. The paper industry as a whole consumes 6.6% of Germany’s ’s energy – from water to produce the paper to heat to dry the rolls. And that is not forgetting the plastic wrapping which the rolls of tissue are usually packaged in. We are exploring alternative fibres to use in our products, such as grass. We are transforming our packaging by introducing paper wrapping for some of our products and also improving the recyclability of the plastic used for our Hakle Feucht moist tissue product. The lid and the wrapping were always made out of two types of plastic which made simple plastic recycling hard; now we are trying to improve this by using a single mono-plastic material.
But of course this change has its price and we are finding that in our industry it will take some time before consumers’ willingness to pay increases. We have also had some trouble persuading retailers of this and getting our more sustainable products on the shelves.
Is it possible to reconcile sustainability with the comfort Hakle stands for?
It is true, recycled toilet paper certainly has something of a sand paper reputation! It was always important for us to combine comfort and sustainability: this was the thinking behind our product Papier Pur – Natürlich Sanft (naturally soft), a 4-ply toilet tissue made from 50% recycled paper. Comfort is always in fashion - the richer society gets, consumers look for greater comfort. We have seen this in the development of toilet paper quality – years ago we were using only 2-ply and now it’s 4-and 5-ply as standard.
For the consumer, hygiene products tend to be considered low-interest products. How do you design an appealing marketing campaign for this?
For us it is about the art of caring. We also have to ask ourselves, what has an effect on our consumers? We want to emphasise feelings and we don’t need to put how our product is used at the forefront. We want to clarify our impact on mother earth by being transparent about how much energy and water goes into making our products. Any marketing campaign also has to recognise intercultural differences – there are real differences in toilet hygiene and how people use toilet tissue in different countries. Germans are folders, the Brits are wrappers, people in Mediterranean countries tend to crumple and the French like a coloured toilet tissue!
You describe yourself as a tinkerer with a passion for paper manufacturing. What is Hakle planning for the future?
We want to use alternative fibres like grass and we may expand our paper wrapping, if our customers want this. Personalised products, such as toilet tissue including a personal design or logo, are also ideas we are keen to develop. Ecommerce and buying directly from the manufacturer is a major future trend so we are really working to improve our webshop.
Of course we also have to plan for a future where products like the washlet (toilet with shower function popular in Japan) become more widespread, rendering toilet tissue obsolete. However, in my opinion, this is still a long way off!