Convenience Is King
When it comes to cat litter, consumers have a lot of demands, but convenience tops the list.
When it comes to the cat box, the biggest issues are odor containment and tracking. Consumers also are seeking products that are low dust, easily scoopable, and safe for their cat and family members. And for most, convenience is a key factor.
“Consumers are looking for products that make their lives easier,” said Lisa Gay, co-owner of H3 Pet Supply in Stratford, Conn. “They want a product that can really contain the odor, even if they’re not constantly scooping, and ideally one that doesn’t create a mess all over their house.”
Along with convenience, consumers appreciate and seek out lightweight litters, said Andy Black, marketing manager for Mountain Meadows Pet Products in Lewistown, Mont. However, lightweight litters come with a trade-off in terms of tracking, Black noted.
“Lightweight litters are absorbent and control urine well,” Black said. “The downside to this trend is that the consumer will find light litter invariably does track farther from the litterbox.”
While tracking might be an inconvenience for some consumers, industry participants suggested that retailers carry lightweight litter options for cat owners who still want it.
“I believe that carrying a lightweight litter is a must because older customers or people that live in a third-floor apartment prefer it,” said Sherry Redwine, co-owner of Odyssey Pets in Dallas. “Ökocat is great because it’s lightweight and packaged in an attractive and convenient box with a handle.”
Many consumers are frustrated by the litter category, said Joey Herrick, founder and president of Lucy Pet Products in Thousand Oaks, Calif.
“The typical cat consumer has been trying multiple products and is still unsatisfied with the performance of odor control and has genuine concerns about the health of their cat and toxic ammonia that forms in the litterbox,” he said. “Let’s face it, the litterbox is the cat’s Porta-Potty that we’re asking the cat to go into two to three times a day. The litterbox needs to be a healthy environment.”
There’s no doubt that cat owners have some specifics in mind when purchasing litter. Manufacturers are listening to these demands and creating new products that meet cat owners’ needs, said Jean Broders, senior brand manager for World’s Best Cat Litter, a brand of Kent Pet Group in Muscatine, Iowa.
“A larger consumer trend toward more personalized products has the litter industry in an innovation mode,” Broders said. “While odor control is always a top demand, consumers are increasingly focused on pet safety and their own quality of life when it comes to cleaning the box. Litter manufacturers are working hard to produce and market products that address specific problems for consumers and their cats.”
Innovations in Litter
There have been several advances in the cat litter world. Inspired by the design of its Cleanprotein cat food, Dr. Elsey’s Cat Products recently rebranded its litter with a new look. Gina Zaro, marketing director for the Englewood, Colo.-based company, said the effort streamlines the look of the entire product line.
“When we started the redesign process, we had an epiphany—this is about providing a loving environment for cats,” Zaro said. “Nonuse of the litterbox is the No. 1 behavioral reason cats are abused, abandoned and placed in shelters. With this in mind, our first piece of business was the creation of a new tagline: ‘The litter cats love.’”
The rebranding also involved minimizing the color palette, refining the text, and making room for meaningful information and more inviting photography, Zaro said.
“Though a lot is changing, keeping our product colors similar to what they have always been was important for us to make the transition easy for our loyal customers,” Zaro added.
Mountain Meadows Pet Products in Lewistown, Mont., is in the testing phase of a new lighter-weight wheatgrass pellet, which is being developed by injecting air into the material. Andy Black, the company’s marketing manager, said this process will increase absorbency and surface area as well as reduce the product’s weight. The company is developing it in response to the increasing demand for lighter-weight litters.
In response to consumer requests, Lucy Pet Products in Thousand Oaks, Calif., is adding a larger size in both of its Cats Incredible litter formulas, said Joey Herrick, founder and president.
“The 35-pound bag will be for multicat homes, shelters and rescue groups,” he said.
It’s not always easy to get creative with cat litter displays, said Ryan Oaks, general manager of Mini-Critters in Sioux Falls, S.D. He said a lot of his customers admit to buying their cat litter at the grocery store. Oaks even created a funny video on Facebook on the subject of “no more stinky litter,” which promoted Weruva natural cat litter. He said a few customers did come in specifically because of the video and tried the product. But at the end of the day, Oaks said it is product placement that helps sell the most litter at his store.
“My advice is to not overthink litter displays and sales,” Oaks said. “The best thing you can do is put it by products that move such as cat toys or food. Customers aren’t going to go out of their way to search for litter when they can pick it up at the grocery store, so the best bet is to keep it by something they’re already coming in to buy.”
There’s also the fact that cat litter takes up a lot of space. But relegating it to a shelf in the back of the store will guarantee it gets overlooked. Sherry Redwine, co-owner of Odyssey Pets in Dallas, said that she uses vertical space for cat litter displays.
“We have found that doing a couple stack-outs of your favorite litter will help sell it,” she said. “The more you have, the more you tend to sell. We also tell customers that we use it personally. When you tell them that, it’s almost a guaranteed sale.”
Because people are so busy these days and often rush through the store, Jean Broders, senior brand manager for World’s Best Cat Litter, a brand of Kent Pet Group in Muscatine, Iowa, said that catching shoppers’ attention is the biggest factor with displays.
“Consumers are increasingly busy and inherently visual, so litter marketing must be put front and center to get their attention,” Broders said. “Retailers must reach shoppers via multiple touch points to stay top of mind. Savvy retailers are using their social channels to push out visual posts promoting litter product purchases and are then closing the deal at the point of sale with impactful endcaps and signage that make it easy for consumers to find the product.”
Be a Problem Solver
When it comes to purchasing cat litter, a lot of cat owners already have a product they know and trust, said Lisa Gay, co-owner of H3 Pet Supply in Stratford, Conn. But if they are making a switch, they will likely have some questions.
“A lot of times, if people are coming in to shop for a new litter, it’s because they’re having a problem with the one they’re already using,” Gay said. “Being educated on some of the potential problems a cat may be having and the possible solutions is really important in steering customers in the right direction.”
Of course, these days, consumers are doing a lot of their research at home, said Jean Broders, senior brand manager for World’s Best Cat Litter, a brand of Kent Pet Group in Muscatine, Iowa.
“But retailers do have a unique opportunity to provide deeper learning once a shopper lands in the store,” Broders said. “Successful retailers ensure store associates are educated on litter products because the consumer will turn to them for trusted advice.”
For Lucy Pet Products in Thousand Oaks, Calif., proving performance is invaluable.
“We often show videos of a test that was performed by our chief veterinary officer, Doc Karen Halligan,” said Joey Herrick, founder and president.
When Dr. Halligan measured ammonia levels in used litterboxes, she found extremely high, dangerous levels of ammonia in some litters made by leading brands, Herrick said.
“In the video, Doc Halligan uses a scientific instrument to show that Lucy Pet Cats Incredible has zero ammonia after weeks of use,” he added. “Consumers really respond to this video because they see it is objective and science based.”