Are Natural Cat Litters Catching Up to Traditional Clay Options in Sales?
The cat litter category is offering discerning pet owners a range of new options to satisfy consumers’ growing list of demands.
Natural cat litter options are gaining traction with pet specialty retail shoppers, who are increasingly seeking litter that meets their demand for both performance and sustainability.
“Consumers are now more educated and also more concerned about what specifically is in the products they, their family and their pets use,” said Jonah Levine, product manager at Catalyst Pet, a manufacturer in Louisville, Colo. “Cat parents are focused on health, the environment, performance [and] weight, but continue to remain focused on all of the standard litter musts of acceptance, odor, clumping, dust and tracking.”
According to Levine, industry data reveals that sales are up for products that are lightweight and natural, and that also provide clumping.
“Natural litters that perform well are up double digits,” he said.
Other industry insiders noted that litters that take into consideration the cat, its owner and the environment are growing in popularity.
“Products that meet these standards without compromising performance will get more attention from retailers and cat parents,” said Luana Francischini, marketing director for Pembroke Park, Fla.-based Petfive Brands, maker of Sustainably Yours natural cat litter. “Consequently, we will continue to see more people migrating to the innovative and high-performing litters that have entered the category in recent years.”
Still, consumer education is key to promoting the category, insiders warn.
Jean Broders, senior brand manager for World’s Best Cat Litter, a brand of Muscatine, Iowa-based Kent Pet Group, said the category is becoming more confusing for consumers, as brands begin to cloud messaging between what the category has considered natural litter versus clay litter.
“Based on our recent research, consumers want packaging that is clean and easy to read,” she said.
Michael Levy, president and co-owner of Pet Food Express, a chain of retail stores with headquarters in Oakland, Calif., noted that bentonite clay litters remain a large part of the litter sold in California.
“This is due to grocery and mass, but alternative litters such as grain based continue to grow, and customers continue to ask for alternatives to their clay litters,” he said, adding that newer options continue to bring “innovation to the box.”
Levy also noted that the smaller companies entering the natural litter space are focusing on independent brick-and-mortar pet retailers.
“We have experienced very strong growth in … Sustainably Yours and expect it to continue to ramp up,” he said.
Sustainably Yours is made of corn and cassava, a combination that the manufacturer says is both sustainable and biodegradable. Jackson Galaxy, the renowned cat behaviorist and host of Animal Planet’s “My Cat From Hell,” has officially endorsed the brand, the company announced at Global Pet Expo, which was held in Orlando, Fla., in February.
“He joined the company after having the best experience of his life when it comes to cat litter,” Francischini said. “With such a reliable and respectful expert on our team, we’re excited about the millions of cat lovers that will soon be introduced to Sustainably Yours as a result of Jackson’s wide reach.”
Other brands in the category are extending their reach with the debut of new varieties and renewed commitments to sustainability.
World’s Best Cat Litter is introducing a litter to its Original Series formulas: Multiple Cat Lotus Blossom Scented.
“This complements our current Multiple Cat Lavender Scented formula,” Broders said. “It is our hallmark whole-kernel corn, with the addition of natural botanicals. This scent is being launched based on an Attitudes and Usage Study that we completed in late 2018. There is a significant number of cat owners that still prefer a lightly scented litter, and this formula meets those needs.”
Catalyst Pet has launched three varieties: Healthy Cat, Multi-Cat and Unscented.
“Catalyst is now pushing that commitment to sustainability even further,” Levine said, explaining that the company has signed an agreement with rePurpose Global—a social enterprise dedicated to reducing plastic waste—to go “plastic neutral.”
“This means for every pound of plastic that goes out with our products, a pound of plastic will be removed and recycled/upcycled from the environment,” he said. “Catalyst Pet is leaning into this issue and is working hard to launch a bioplastic package in the near future.”
Savvy pet retailers understand that the best way to boost litter sales is to provide an assortment of litters that meet the specific needs of both cats and their owners—and to then be prepared to effectively merchandise the products and communicate their benefits to shoppers.
“Currently, we know that 75 percent of consumers want a natural litter but only 10 percent actually use one,” Levine said. “This leaves a significant market opportunity; but to be successful, the litter has to perform.”
Levine noted that retailers can employ off-shelf displays and move litter up in the store set to share new and innovative products with their clients. Utilizing video to show the performance of a new natural litter product can also help educate and provide consumer confidence.
Pattie Boden, owner of Animal Connection, a pet store in Charlottesville, Va., said when the store first introduced a cat department in 2004, she simply had some litterboxes on display filled with a trio of different litters, alongside pitchers of water.
“We invited customers to wet it and see how it clumped,” she said. “This was a pretty good sales tool. Even if you only have a couple of brands, you could buy a Brand X that wasn’t so great and put it out for comparison.”
Levy, who also recommended demos, said he encourages employees to ask customers who are not buying litter if they have cats and, if so, what litter they are using.
“We discuss alternatives and show how they work,” he said. “If you have a demo station in your store, this can result in incremental sales.”
Francischini agreed that visual displays that show products in action, along with a staff that is well versed on the various options, will drive sales at retail.
“Making this initial connection is extremely important, without forgetting about specifying why the product is the best solution,” she said. “It can be done with words, images and/or interactive displays.”