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Toilet roll: are you being short changed?

Puppy toilet roll

Stories of shrinking supermarket essentials are rarely good news for your pocket. Well we’ve found that toilet roll has been shrinking, but the price has barely budged. So do you feel short changed?

When we asked Which? members to tell us which products had shrunk we were inundated with responses, but the one which kept cropping up was toilet roll. Several eagle-eyed contributors contacted us about Andrex toilet roll shedding sheets over the years.

Contributors such as Paul W who left this comment on Which? Convo:

‘Have Which? looked at toilet rolls? It is noticeable that they have reduced in width, not by very much, but a millimeter reduction means a “free” full roll every 100 for the manufacturer. When I built shelves in the airing cupboard to take toilet rolls a 2 roll height just fitted, now there is room to spare.’

So we decided to investigate further, delving into the archives to when we tested toilet roll in 2006 and 2008.

Caught short

What we found was that the standard Andrex toilet roll used to have 240 sheets, it now has 221 sheets – an 8% reduction. Andrex ‘Puppies On A Roll’ had 221 sheets per roll but now has 190 – 14% less.

But when we checked the price of the pack of standard Andrex four pack, we found that it stayed around the £2 mark.

Not content with this we continued our quest and investigated the length of Andrex toilet roll from 15 years ago.

This wouldn’t have been possible without the help of one Which? member who still had a pack of this artefact stored away and kindly sent us photographic evidence. This investigation revealed that Andrex toilet roll used to contain 280 sheets per roll – 59 more than the current pack.

Andrex said that the most recent size change was in early 2015 and that it didn’t drop the RRP:

‘We invested significantly in improving our product strength and softness. Reducing the roll by a very small number of sheets (this equates to five to six wiping occasions) has helped make this multi-million pound investment possible.’

Andrex also told us the earlier change took place in 2001, however, it said the RRP had dropped by roughly the same amount and that it had made improvements.

Shrinking products

Toilet roll isn’t the only product we’ve found to be shrinking – biscuits, juice and coffee are just some of the other products that we’ve also spotted slimming down. But as far as we’re concerned, these shrinking products are all very well and good, providing it’s not a sneaky way of increasing prices.

So do you feel short changed by shrinking toilet roll? Or do you think that it doesn’t matter? Have you noticed any other shrinking products?


I believe it was 1996 when Mr Barwise [subsequently chair of this consumer charityfor 6 years?] was employed to write a paper to the EU commission on behalf of a UK firm opposing the merger of Kimberley Clarke with Scott Paper.

It was a very major takeover as evidenced by this
” Jul 24, 1995 – A strong new competitor to Procter & Gamble Co. approached the world stage last week with the proposed merger of Kimberly-Clark Corp. and Scott Paper Co. But analysts say the biggest losers in the deal could be smaller brands caught in the crossfire. The $6.8 billion deal would give Kimberly-Clark …”

Quite a lot of detail in the EU summary on the market in each of the EU countries.
This is an example of some of the detail :
(13) For instance, ‘recreping` is a process used by Scott for its premium Andrex product which involves heavily dosing the base stock with chemicals. Another process, ‘Through air dried` (TAD) or ‘blow drying` creates softness in the end product by forcing the paper fibres to protrude vertically from the sheet. This is an additional process after that of ‘paper preparation`. This process creates an exceptionally soft product and it is used by KC on its branded toilet-tissue products as well as by Scott in producing its new super premium ‘Andrex Gold` brand. Scott has now decided to rebrand it under Scott’s pan-European brand ‘Scottonelle`.

I think that the US and EU have been too accommodating to the idea that four or five firms makes a market competitive. It does not. Effectively you have a group of firms all reasonably satisfied with the status quo who act in uncooordinated concert to the betterment of the firms. The advantage the US has is that whistleblowers on unethical practices like cartels are financially rewarded to come forward.

Think Unilever, and Procter and Gamble, and soap powder and the EU fining them several hundred million euros to see how working in concert big businesses work the public over.

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Seventy to the dollar? And the wholesale price includes a profit margin! It probably does not include shipping, though.

The retail price in the UK for seventy would be around £2.80 – £3.00 [inc 5% VAT]. Some mark-up.

Interesting . . . but where are we on the manufacturing cost of toilet rolls? Everyone has to use these day-in day-out and they carry VAT at 20%.

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I was under the impression that nearly all the toilet tissue sold in this country was made here from paper and materials sourced here [of which a percentage is recycled]. Since a supermarket own-label soft tissue retails here for about 33 pence a roll [inc 20% VAT] that’s not such a huge mark-up on the [US] 20 cents a roll average manufacturing cost [if I read your figures correctly – five rolls to the dollar seems a rather high production cost to me]. It would be good if we could get UK manufacturing costs per 1,000 rolls.

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You are right, Duncan. I don’t think we can pursue this much further because reliable data is not available. There is clearly a discrepancy between my retail prices [Sainsbury’s Super Soft: 9 Rolls for £3 = 33p a roll including VAT] and your wholesale prices at 65 – 85 pence a roll. Perhaps all the cheap stuff is made in China and we are killing the planet bringing it here and sending empty containers back there [or filling them with rubbish for recycling].

Wow. It really is tricky to discover who makes toilet tissue, but I now have some facts and figures. “The top 10 tissue parent roll exporters account for approximately 68% of the global total. Italy and Indonesia are the two largest suppliers; in 2014 Italy had slightly higher parent roll exports than Indonesia, while in 2010-2013 Indonesia took the top position. Italy is the pan-European supplier of tissue parent rolls. Western Europe accounts for 63% of its total exports and Eastern Europe for 31%, leaving only 6% for deliveries into other regions. About half of Indonesian tissue roll deliveries go to other Asia Far Eastern countries, China and Japan, 22-23% to North America, 13% to Oceania, 11% to the Middle East and the remaining 3% to other regions. Deliveries to Western Europe are minimal. Indonesia’s parent roll exports fell by more than 30,000 tonnes in 2014, primarily because of lower sales in the Middle East, in the United Arab Emirates and Iran, in particular, and North America (which is not shown by the US import statistics, so there may be an error in the Indonesian statistics).”

It’s not economic to transport soft toilet tissue great distances, because of the bulk, apparently, so Italy has cornered the European market and, through cunning recycling and marketing, now produces massive ‘parent’ rolls of multi-ply paper, and send it to the countries who have companies who then slice and dice it to make the fluffy loo rolls we all like.

So something else we owe the Romans, although, to be fair, the Chinese probably invented the technique c. 6th century AD, something disapproved of by visiting Arab travellers, who thought it a dirty technique.

http://www.dlmach.com/Approximate-Cost-of-Toilet-Paper-Roll-Production-id63010.html is one Chinese manufacturers explanation.
For those wanting to buy cheap toilet paper try here https://www.alibaba.com/showroom/toilet-paper.html?spm=a2700.7724857.main05.1.404c52b4Y5Dc1z For example you can pay around 10 cents a roll (plus shipping no doubt), but you may want to get together with friends and family to make use of 76800 rolls.

Checking loo roll manufacturing info on Ocado:
Andrex – Kimberly-Clark – Made in UK
Cushelle – SCA Hygiene Products – produced & packed EU
Velvet – SCA Hygiene Products – produced & packed EU
Nicky – Sofidel – country of origin UK
Nouvelle – Sofidel – distributed by Intertissue
Regina – Sofidel – country of origin UK
Ocado – country of origin UK
Waitrose – countries of origin UK / Switzerland

The pulp could be transported from elsewhere though.

My grandparents had a toilet in a block in their yard. The local newspaper was cut into squares, pierced in one corner and with a piece of string was hung from a nail on the door. Seems a good current use for many newspapers, particularly the weekend editions. Would it be more environmentally-friendly to wash and dry the necessary area rather than waste so much paper – around 1 million tonnes a year in the UK. In Europe, Sweden uses the most – around twice as much as Malta, the lowest. I wonder why?

I often thought that this would be a good use for the motoring section of the Telegraph. The local free paper has announced that it will be ceasing publication so I won’t be going down this route. I wonder how many people in the UK use (rather than have) bidets.

We had a local greengrocer who saved all the tissue paper wrapped around oranges for us and that was cut into squares threaded with a piece of string.

Our bathroom had a bidet in it when we moved in, but we didn’t use it so didn’t replace it when the bathroom was refurnished.

That might be false economy because toilet tissue is designed to disintegrate when flushed away and other paper might accumulate and cause a blockage. I wonder how many children have assumed that a bidet is a drinking fountain.

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It all depends how much you use are have to flush away and the drains ? We used newspaper for years and never blocked the drainage system It’s other things that block the drains Disposable nappies and waste fat not small bits of newspaper

That’s the way many people who do not have toilets around the world do Left hand for cleaning yourself and the right for eating and do not even touch their food with the left hand

I have noticed a change to Lidl’s Super Soft Toilet Tissue recently (March 2018). The thickness of the paper has reduced compared to the rolls purchased previously. There has been a 15% weight reduction per roll. I contacted Lidl and have been sent a full refund for the 9 roll pack purchased. I asked Lidl to confirm that the thickness has indeed been reduced but am still awaiting a reply. The price has not changed for at least the last year or so. I can clearly see that Lidl are attempting to remain competitive on price, but to achieve this, the quality of this product has been compromised. I’m not very impressed!

Is it me or is Andrex becoming a bit more difficult to flush. Is there so much air in that sheets that it has become buoyant?

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janet n says:
20 September 2018

At least the Izal toilet paper was a good size.
Sheets are getting small length and width ways as well as not so many sheets per roll
BUMS are getting bigger so 2 sheets doesn’t do the job any more, like it used to. Manufacturers must be raking in the profits

Caroline says:
16 May 2019

I’ve recently noticed that Andrex toilet roll didn’t feel quite the same on further inspection it’s now only 2ply it used to be 3ply I’m now looking for a nice soft 3 ply paper …

Having cupboards full of the stuff I have just compared one of the current embossed Andrex rolls with their previous flat type. The flat type was two-ply and overall quite thin but the embossed type is single-ply but thicker and possibly slightly more absorbent. There appears to be no change in the width of the rolls, the diameter of the core or the overall size of the roll. It was not convenient to count the number of sheets in each type so I cannot report on that.

I am not sure that regular Andrex was ever three-ply. There comes a point where extra thickness is not helpful.

Helen Cameron says:
17 August 2019

I’m sure Sainsburys toilet rolls are narrower than they used to be. The cardboard inner is only about 4 inches long. This also enables them to look like good value when comparing the price per (narrow) sheet -sneaky.

If you want to see just how much our loo rolls and kitchen roll are shrinking, weigh them.

If the kitchen rolls carry on shrinking, maybe they could be used as toilet rolls.

We’ve had the opposite problem; they seemed to have introduced larger and longer kitchen rolls which are too large for our dispenser.

That sounds like the giant rolls. Years ago I switched to a vertical stand and in the seeming absence of international standards for the dimensions of kitchen rolls it seemed to be the best solution.

The thing is they didn’t look giant in the store. Only when getting them home…

If you had been a Boy Scout in your youth you might have been prepared with a tape measure. I wonder if Baden Powell would have approved of laser measures.


Carolanne McAndrew says:
6 September 2019

Just bought a 9 pack and thought the rolls looked suspiciously slimmer! Down to 170 sheets per roll now! What a rip-off! Time to shop around.

Fewer sheets would not be a problem if each sheet was slightly longer to compensate but I bet that was not the case.

Try M&S – 200 sheets/roll.

I’ve bought Andrew loo rolls for as many years as I can remember but I have a small shelf that used to only fit one roll the second was squeezed in and the third wouldn’t for at all. Today I bought another pack of 9 and would you believe 3 rolls literally all fitted in on the shelf. I’ll not be buying Andrew again as I don’t like to be kidded

Vicky McIntosh says:
5 January 2020

I recently bought a large pack of Andrex toilet rolls and feel the quality is not nearly as good as it used to be. Do Andrex make 2 types of toilet paper? I am really disappointed with the quality and will be going to another brand next time I need to get more.

I have noticed poor perforation with a recent batch. Not the world’s biggest problem but another indicator of deteriorating product quality.

There’s a limit to the amount one can pare off the sides and the roll before it becomes noticeably thinner than the competition. If this affects use then sales will fall. Putting the price up for the same roll tells shoppers that it is going to cost more and they have to make a choice whether to accept this. Shrinking the product is seen as underhanded since the roll is being reduced deceitfully. This is a product that can be shrunk without it being too obvious on the shelf, particularly if the packaging is clever. When people find out, as they obviously have, it makes them cross and does nothing for the brand. I’m afraid that this is one of life’s little pin pricks that I can’t be bothered to get steamed up about. A toilet roll is a toilet roll and, so long as it works I don’t count the sheets. That is a lazy approach and not particularly consumer savvy. Perhaps Which? has done a loo roll test for performance, quality and size. I don’t remember reading it, but it would be a good short cut to finding the best buy on the shelf without the effort finding out oneself.
“We found that the average bottom could be wiped using three brand A wipes, but only two from brand B, etc.”

Jane Aitman says:
21 August 2020

I noticed that the toilet roles “supreme quilts” have reduced in quality, not price. I haven’t bothered to count the sheets but did weigh the roll, which used to be 134 grams and has now gone down to 129 gram. Whilst this may seem picky, I noticed because the quality is less, and thinner. I understand that Andrex say they have not changed since 2015 – why then the reduction in weight/thickness?

Jane – That is a very small reduction in weight and could be accounted for by a change to the cardboard tube. I trust the product still performs adequately.

Bamboo Toilet Paper.
Thank you to those people who buy the stuff. You are supporting forest devastation for the demand for bamboo toilet paper and bamboo tooth brushes. Seems Which does not think of this issue. Just the same for Chick peas and Palm oil.
And don’t believe the Forestry Stewardship scheme clears trees for timber in a manageable sustainable way way. Just like the dribble said for palm oil.
Everything has consequences.

Zoe says:
4 June 2022

I have noticed everything is being reduced and costing more, toilet rolls are not just being reduced but the paper is getting thinner, so you use more. Crisps used to be 30g bags now there 25g bags as they fill them with air so it looks like you get more but you don’t. Iike I said it’s everything you buy you get less but pay more. I would be here for ever if I had to make a list. Some people say supermarkets have to make a profit, but can you imagine how much profit they make. If the pound shop can sell something for a £1 and make a profit and say you go to Asda and they sell the same thing for £3 well you can see straight away they make a profit which I think is shocking.

Every thing is getting smaller and thinner especially toilet rolls you get less on a roll and you have to use more paper its that thin and costs you more, it shouldn’t be allowed, Crisps used to be 30g bags now there 25g bags filled with air so you think your getting more in a bag but your not. Which costs you more. I remember when we used to pay 10p for a bag of crisps and a bag of crisps was worth eating as they where filled with hardly any air in the bag. But like I say it’s not just toilet rolls and crisps it is everything. If I had to make a list I would be here for ever this needs to be stopped. I wouldn’t like to say how much profit super markets make, when the £1 shop can sell something for a £1 and make a profit, and the super market sells the same thing for double the price. So that just shows you. England is in that much debt and it’s only going to get worse but putting the prices up and up isn’t going to make things better. Especially when everything is getting smaller.

Zoe — The only way to compare prices between pound shops and supermarkets is to use the unit prices [by weight, quantity/number, or volume]. Food products sold in pound shops are usually in special pack sizes in order to bring the retail price down to £1 and these special sizes are not usually found in supermarkets. Pound shops are generally cheaper than supermarkets on a unit price comparison but sometimes the larger packs, multi-buys and special offers available at supermarkets can be better value if you can afford them. It still pays to shop around.

The weight of single-serving crisp packets was reduced in response to government advice on the recommended maximum daily allowance of the ingredients. I am not convinced that it was a successful move since people who are dissatisfied with the number of crisps in a 25 g packet will tend to consume another packet whereas most might not have done so with a 30 g packet.

Yes, it’s always worth looking at the unit price. Buying a larger pack or bottle is not always the best value for money.

One reason that packets of crisps contain air is to protect them from from damage during transport and storage but in many cases it’s just to make it look like you are getting more for your money. For example, packets of assorted biscuits can look large but can have an inner tray that takes up space.

Looking at the unit price (e.g. 89p per 100g) helps allow us to make comparisons. Whether you decide to spend 89p per 100g or £1.20 per 100g will also depend on quality and how much we are happy to spend.

In the UK, the unit price is usually shown in small type, presumably because the retailer would prefer us to focus on price rather than value for money.

From what I understand, UK supermarket profit margins are generally between 1 – 3%. That leaves little room for getting things wrong, like wasteage. There seems no evidence for excessive profits.

Many commodities are increasing in cost; the retailers can either increase prices accordingly or reduce the pack size and maintain the price. In the end, the consumer has to pay for what happens on world markets.

Product quality is just as important to many as price. While I would not buy value sausages (I look at meat content) I find many supermarket own brands just as good as branded goods, and significantly cheaper. A good way to save money, whether that is crisps (not essential) or frozen chips (maybe more useful) or bread (essential for many) is to buy own brands.

I would like to see the Which? Cheapest Supermarket, announced each month, include own brands instead of branded goods wherever they are reasonably equivalent. I don’t want to pay extra for a “name” when that essentially seems to be substantially spent on marketing and advertising.