Competing brands have long slugged it out over which roll is softest, or which roll lasts the longest. But they have never competed over wetness.
But yesterday, the Kimberly-Clark Corporation announced its intention to retrain the nation to use wet toilet paper.
Kimberly-Clark introduced a new form of wet wipes for adults, Cottonelle Fresh Rollwipes, which hang from a dispenser above a family's dry toilet paper.
Last year, Americans bought $799 million in moist towelettes, a 5.3 percent increase from the year before, and Kimberly-Clark took the largest market share, 41 percent, according to Information Resources Inc.
But the leading moist towelette brands are all baby wipes, and Kimberly-Clark is betting that adults are ready to use them, too. Peggy Nabbefeldt, the marketing director for Cottonelle, said that one out of four Americans already used a moist tissue after they use the toilet.
Kimberly-Clark spent $100 million to develop the new product and will spend an additional $40 million to market it, running ads and installing Rollwipes in health clubs and spas. Rollwipes, which will sell for $8.99 for a dispenser and four rolls, will reach store shelves in the Eastern states by next summer. A set of four replacement rolls will cost $3.99.
''You would not think of this as a category that they could do innovation, and here they are,'' said Amanda Tepper, an analyst for J. P. Morgan Chase. ''They are swinging for a big one here.''
Ms. Tepper said she thought Rollwipes were a good investment for the company. Shares of Kimberley-Clark rose 71 cents yesterday, to $66.22. Still, the costs of rolling out the product will hurt earnings this year, and Ms. Tepper lowered her estimate yesterday by 5 cents, to $3.63 a share.
Kimberly-Clark contends Rollwipes are the first wet, flushable toilet paper on a roll. But DeWitt Paul, president of Cotton Buds, a company in California, said his company's Moist Mates reached shelves four months ago and do everything Rollwipes promise.
Linda Bartelt, the president of the wet wipes division of Kimberly-Clark, contends that the Moist Mates dispenser does not work very well. Mr. Paul, of course, disagrees.
''Once you start using it you wonder how you ever got by without it,'' he said.