White Cloud: The Brand That Wouldn't Die (2023)

tried to kill it.

Nearly a quarter century later, Walmart deemphasized it as aprivate brand.

But White Cloud refuses to die.

In fact, the toilet tissue is rebounding as a national brand atWalgreens and a handful of supermarket chains, as well as atWalmart and its online affiliates, and on Amazon. That's due toKruger Products, the Canadian manufacturer that now owns the brandfor tissue categories, relaunching White Cloud this year with newpackaging, and a marketing campaign built around a recent on-airpromotional tie-in on "Live With Kelly and Ryan," arranged byEmpower MediaMarketing inCincinnati.

It's just the latest turn in one of the twistiest tales inpackaged-goods history. The story of how White Cloud went from aProcter & Gamble national brand to private label and was thenreborn again is one of entrepreneurship, luck and persistencetrumping corporate efficiency.

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Rescuing the brand

White Cloud isn't now and never has been close to being acategory leader. It had a roughly 5 percent share of thethen-roughly $4 billion toilet paper category when P&G flushedit in 1993, according to The New York Times. Nearly a quartercentury later, as it emerges from being a Walmart-only brand, WhiteCloud has approximately a 2 percent share of the U.S. toilet paperbusiness, according to Kruger.
With all-in toilet paper sales of around $10 billion (rounded upfrom Nielsen's $8.4 billion figure to account for unmeasured cluband offline sales), White Cloud sees about the same $200 million inconsumer sales it had when P&G discontinued it.

But there's more to White Cloud today. It's a brand name incategories such as paper towels at Walgreens and some supermarkets,as well as cotton balls, cotton swabs, diapers and baby wipes atWalmart and online.

The man who rescued the brand from the dustbin of packaged-goodshistory and still owns trademark rights for most categories outsidetissue products is Tony Gelbart—CEO of Boca Raton,Florida-based White Cloud Marketing and former CEO of oral-caremarketer Carewell Industries. He is now also working on plans toexpand into even more categories.

The life cycle of a zombie brand

The brand name goes back to 1913, according to U.S. Patent andTrademark Office records. P&G acquired it in 1958 as part ofits acquisition of the Charmin Paper Co. But White Cloud was alwayssecond fiddle to Charmin, despite getting vigorous challenger-brandmarketing in P&G's former every-brand-for-itself model,including $7.7 million in measured media support its final yearunder P&G, according to Kantar Media Intelligence.

White Cloud ads in the 1980s showed women earnestly proclaimingthat their husbands didn't care about toilet paper, only to beconfronted by hubby's secretly taped testimony to the contrary
(in ads from Leo Burnett). Later, animated clouds were shownmanufacturing White Cloud in the sky as side-by-side demos showedWhite Cloud's superior softness and thickness compared with a"leading brand," which was P&G sibling Charmin. Another showsan earnest animated cloud conducting market research in Miamiasking a woman whether she buys White Cloud because it's softer orthicker.

By the early 1990s, however, P&G was moving from brandmanagement, where ambitious junior executives in adjacent officesbattled each other as fiercely as outside rivals, to categorymanagement, where general managers tried to keep P&G brandsfrom cannibalizing each other, sometimes by picking winners andlosers. White Cloud lost. Charmin squeezed it out in 1993 just asWhite Cloud turned 80 years old, folding its softer-thicker productrange into Charmin Ultra to boost the category leader.

Leo Burnett's loss was a gain for D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, whichhandled Charmin. In the agency world's own game of categorymanagement, DMB&B was later folded into Publicis Worldwide, and Leo Burnett became asibling in Publicis Groupe.

Different playbook

White Cloud's euthanasia is the sort of move that companies havemade repeatedly in decades since, but the playbook is differentnow. Companies generally try to sell their old brand names or keepthem going at some minimal level to prohibit someone else fromusing the trademark.

That didn't happen with White Cloud. Instead, Gelbart, who in1994 was still CEO of Carewell, which was competing with P&G intoothbrushes, laid claim to what appeared to be an abandonedtrademark. P&G tried to get it back, but Gelbart prevailedafter five years of litigation through the U.S. Patent andTrademark Office. In 1999 he relaunched White Cloud as a premiumprivate-label with Walmart. He sold the tissue rights to Kruger afew years later, and worked with other manufacturers to expand itinto other Walmart categories, including at various times papertowels, facial tissue, cotton balls and swabs, diapers, trainingpants, wipes, laundry detergent and fabric softener.

Changing strategy

By 2008, White Cloud had annual sales of $600 million across allthose Walmart categories, according to an investment bank thattried to sell Gelbart's remaining trademark rights the followingyear. But Walmart also decided to remove White Cloud from itsdiaper shelves in favor of its own Parent's Choice brand. P&G,fighting a rearguard action on multiple fronts against its oldbrand at Walmart, looked to move into some of that space with itsLuvs brand, and launched a WhereIsWhiteCloud.com site that woulddirect to pitches for Luvs.

Ultimately, Walmart returned White Cloud baby products to itsshelves in at least part of the country and on Walmart.com (andlater Jet.com). But even in its private-label life, White Cloud wasnever Walmart's top priority.

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That led to the end last year of a 10-year exclusivity agreementfor Walmart to sell White Cloud products, says Nadia Durasamy,marketing director of Kruger's consumer business.

"Walmart's strategy recently has changed, where they're focusingon their Great Value brand," Durasamy says. That includes bothfocusing on lower-priced products to compete against Aldi and otherprivate-label-intensive retailers, as well as a more premiumproduct akin to White Cloud, although it continues to carry thelatter too, just on less shelf space.

"Walmart is considerably underdeveloped compared to all theircompetitors in the private-label space," Durasamy says. "And it'stheir No. 1 priority to get their fair share of the market."
Walmart declined to comment on its private-label strategy.

No regrets

White Cloud's national-brand reemergence includes Wakefern'sShopRite and Price Rite supermarkets, and St. Louis-based Schnucks,with more to come. "We're happy with where it is," Durasamy says."But it's going to take quite a number of retailers to get [WhiteCloud] back to its peak" before Walmart started deemphasizingit.

The "Live With Kelly and Ryan" promotional partnership thatplayed out this fall focused on the brand's "No Regrets"message—that moms may have small regrets in other parts ofeveryday life, but "we want to make sure she doesn't have the sameregrets with her paper products," says Empower spokeswoman MeghannCraig. "We wanted to pair the No. 1-rated bath tissue product withthe No. 1-rated talk show."

Consumer Reports has rated White Cloud a "Best Buy" on the basisof quality and price in its last two toilet-paper testing cycles,in 2014 and 2016.

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So what does White Cloud actually stand for as a brand after allthese years, with multiple owners and forays into far-flungcategories? It's about quality at a value price, say both Durasamyand Gelbart.

White Cloud's marketing-services team also includes Slingshot for creative, Speakeasy for socialmedia and Anthem Worldwide for design. It's had minimal mediasupport until recently, mostly coupons in newspaper inserts ordigital apps, and most people recall it as a Walmart brand ratherthan from its P&G days, Durasamy says. But it retains a premiumposition, competing quality-wise with some Charmin products as wellas brands such as Kimberly-Clark's Cottonelle or Georgia-Pacific'sQuilted Northern, and a tier above the latter's Angel Soft,according to Durasamy.

But White Cloud is priced 10 to 15 percent below its qualitypeers, she says.

In tissue as well as other products, the idea is to have WhiteCloud compete with premium brands at a lower price, while offeringretailers better margins than national brands, akin to what theymake on private labels, Gelbart says.

AFG owns the White Cloud trademark for wet wipes, but Gelbart'sWhite Cloud Marketing retains it for most other categories,including feminine hygiene products, cotton balls and swabs,laundry and cleaning products, home furnishings such as mattressesand pillows, and even hair care and cosmetics. (It's not involvedwith a White Cloud e-cigarette brand.) Gelbart says he's talkingwith manufacturers about expanding the brand into other retailers,piggybacking with Kruger in some of those other categories.

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But Gelbart, like just about everyone involved with White Cloudover the years, has other priorities, including working with someIsraeli firms to commercialize consumer technology such asAutobrain, a device that plugs into automotive computer systems andinterfaces with a mobile app to monitor maintenance issues anddriving habits of teen drivers, among other things.

"I've had some offers" for selling the White Cloud brand, hesays. "And I don't know what I'm going to do, because I'm movinginto high-tech stuff."

It could be that White Cloud's next chapter is about tounspool.

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