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A Breath of Fresh Air

Using chemical additives that stop odor formation is one of the biggest trends that cat litter manufacturers are experimenting with—and retailers are finding that pet owners are intrigued.


Cat owners love their companions in a way that seems unmatched in the industry. One thing that no cat owner loves, however, is the smell that emanates from cats’ litterboxes. By sharing the latest trends in cat litter with customers, retailers can open the door wide to brisker sales in this staple category.

More pet owners are thinking of their cats as kids, making them more discerning when it comes to litter, said Gina Zaro, marketing director for Dr. Elsey’s Cat Products in Englewood, Colo.

“Clients are becoming much more educated and are looking for products that meet the special needs of their cats,” Zaro added. “If their cat is having elimination issues, they may be using [our] Cat Attract, or if their cat is having respiratory problems, they may be looking for a litter that can address this issue like our Respiratory Relief litter. Natural certainly continues to be a trend. Our clients are looking for a litter that does not have any scents or deodorants.”

Consumers want litter that is effective in trapping smells, so they look for the most effective odor eliminator, said Andrew Kim, co-owner of Healthy Spot, which has stores in Southern California.

“Cat owners associate the clumping as a physical sign for this,” he said. “The next most important [thing] for our customers is less tracking. The finer the litter, the more likely it will trap underneath the paws and track through the house. Customers want the litter in the litterbox, where it belongs—not in the house.”

With health concerns and cleanliness in mind, consumers also seek out litters that give off minimal dust, retailers and manufacturers reported.

Brett Sliger, manager of The Healthy Pet in Eugene, Ore., said many of his customers don’t like clay litters and are looking for something that clumps well and absorbs smells.

“Sometimes we will try out new items that might have a new ingredient, but we’ve found that a lot of times people will just stay with what already works,” he said. “Once someone finds something they are happy with, they usually stick with it.”

Lightweight litters are popular, said Lindsay Mutschler, CFO of Concord Pet Foods and Supplies, which has stores in Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

“We are starting to see a lot of brands coming out with a lightweight version, and the sales have been extremely good,” she said. “That is by far the biggest trend out there right now and what customers are looking for.”

“As most litter companies will share, ‘lightweight’ is the new buzzword in cat litter,” said Jean Broders, senior brand manager for Kent Pet Group, maker of World’s Best Cat Litter, in Muscatine, Iowa. “Another important focus from consumers is litter that’s convenient and easy. This is true of baby boomers and millennials. Convenience is tied to performance—if a litter doesn’t perform, it takes longer to do the daily cleaning of the litterbox.”

Jane Wasley, brand manager for Healthy Pet in Ferndale, Wash., said the growing popularity of natural litter demonstrates both consumer demand for natural, high-performance choices and retailers’ better understanding of cat litter trends and the expectations of today’s cat owners.


Litter Education Can Boost Sales

“It is important for the independent pet store retailer to know their consumers—their demographic—so they can address the needs of their consumers,” said Gina Zaro, marketing director for Dr. Elsey’s Cat Products in Englewood, Colo.

The Healthy Pet in Eugene, Ore., often holds demonstrations at the store, putting a bowl with water near its cat litter so people can see how the litter absorbs, said Brett Sliger, manager.

“We’ll also open up the bag and let customers feel the cat litter because we have customers whose cats are very sensitive to touching the litter with their paws,” Sliger said. “We’ll do what we can to help the customer find what’s best for their cat.”

World’s Best Cat Litter provides point-of-sale materials for retailers and offers a Think About Your Cat campaign that points to the benefits of the product, said Jean Broders, senior brand manager for Kent Pet Group, maker of World’s Best Cat Litter, in Muscatine, Iowa.

“This campaign messaging will help the retailer quickly explain the benefits of World’s Best Cat Litter,” Broders said.

Dan Jaffee, president and CEO of Chicago-based Oil-Dri Corp. of America, maker of Cat’s Pride, said the company regularly meets with its retail partners to educate them on product performance attributes and benefits.

“We often provide demonstrations so they can see the difference of our products for themselves and provide that education to their customers as well,” he said.


What’s New in Cat Litter

Joey Herrick, founder and president of Lucy Pet Products in Thousand Oaks, Calif., said he has seen other manufacturers transition to walnut, corn and wheat litters, but he decided to stick to clay.

“In March, Lucy Pet Products launched Cats Incredible, which contains a formula that stops ammonia from forming in the litterbox,” Herrick said. “Most litters out there mask odor. We are not trying to do that; we’re stopping the ammonia so we don’t need to do that. When you pour it, you’ll get a slight smell of lavender, but when you walk in the room, you won’t.”

Ultra Pet of Anderson, S.C., introduced Neon Litter at Global Pet Expo in Orlando, Fla., in March.

“This litter is targeted to the largest group of consumers—the millennials and gen X,” said Tom Atyeo, marketing manager for the company. “It’s made from silica gel litter, which provides long-term odor control efficacy and adds the convenience of only twice-per-week scooping and the fun and fashion of bright neon colors—pink, orange and green—with more colors on the way.”

Oil-Dri Corp. of America introduced Cat’s Pride Fresh & Light Ultimate Care lightweight litter in March. It offers 10-day odor control, strong clumps and low dust and tracking, said Dan Jaffee, president and CEO of Chicago-based Oil Dri Corp.

“It’s formulated with highly absorbent minerals and offers the ultimate performance at a great value,” he said. “The product is offered in a 10-pound jug, in both scented and unscented hypoallergenic varieties.”


Marketing and Display

Successfully marketing cat litter requires a good balance of building awareness for brands and driving trial of the products along the path to purchase.

Some manufacturers provide The Healthy Pet in Eugene, Ore., with coupons that let customers try out litter for free or at a discount. Brett Sliger, the store’s manager, said the litter is displayed in a section against the wall, and the store offers a wide range of litter products, so there’s something for everyone.

At Concord Pet Foods and Supplies, which has stores in Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, in addition to being in a litter section, some of the traffic-driving litter is stacked up closer to the register, said Lindsay Mutschler, CFO.

“Consumers do not always think to buy litter at a pet store, so having it where it is visible helps them not to forget,” Mutschler said. “The best tip to increase sales of cat litter is if a customer comes up to the register and is purchasing cat products, ask them if they also need litter. Just by asking them, I would say 75 percent of the time they will.”

Packaging also can be an attention getter.

When Joey Herrick, founder and president of Lucy Pet Products in Thousand Oaks, Calif., was asked to do something different for the company’s new Cats Incredible litter, he came up with a fun packaging design that stands out on shelves.

“It’s always hard to carry bags of litter out of the pet store, so we made it into a two-handled bag,” he said. “We also incorporated our cat Ricky, our mascot who we rescued out of an animal shelter, onto the bag. He has this cool tail that curls, and that acts as a handle on the bag. People love it.”

The packaging on Ultra Pet’s new Neon Litter is eye-catching enough to stop customers and make them look, said Tom Atyeo, marketing manager for the Anderson, S.C., company. The company’s mascat, Max, is on the bag sporting Wayfarer sunglasses that show the color of the litter in the bag.

“Color doesn’t take a lot of explanation—it’s different enough and fun enough to get the shopper’s attention,” Atyeo said. “Directions on the bag are in Ikea-type icons to help make the bag friendly for the 12-plus languages to cover most consumers in North America, Central America and the EU.”

To encourage multiple bag purchases, Ultra Pet works with retailers to offer free litter scoops to customers that purchase multiple bags.

Jean Broders, senior brand manager for Kent Pet Group, maker of World’s Best Cat Litter, in Muscatine, Iowa, said the company’s displays are stickered with instantly redeemable coupons on the bags and come pre-assembled, hassle free for the retailers.

Healthy Spot, which has stores in Southern California, displays cat litter with the litter trays and, typically, by the other nonfood items.

“It is a basic consumable for the client to come in and purchase regularly, and we want them to see the other products we carry for cats as well,” said Andrew Kim, co-owner. “Having a selection that works and that meets the different needs is important. Visual displays showing the difference in the litter also help the customer see and feel the difference.”


What’s New: Litterboxes and Accessories

There’s a lot more to the cat litter category than litter itself. Retailers can build a comprehensive cat litter accessories section with the latest introductions in litterboxes, scoops, mats, cleaning agents and more.

Radio Systems Corp. has introduced the PetSafe ScoopFree Ultra Self-Cleaning Litterbox in taupe and ScoopFree Anti-Tracking Litter Mat in taupe. The litterbox has a built-in health counter that tracks how many times a cat has used the box to help pet owners quickly identify any possible health problems, according to the company. The mat, made of spongy material that is soft and comfortable on a cat’s paws, helps reduce litter tracking.

Rolf C. Hagen (USA) Corp.’s Catit Magic Blue air purifier absorbs and retains up to 80 percent of hazardous ammonia gasses and reduces cat pan odors. It soaks up foul odors like a sponge and is unscented, easy to use and nontoxic. Replacement cartridges are available.

Preferred Merchandising’s Litter-Lifter Pellet-Scoop is specifically designed for use with pellet litters. Its slots require minimal shaking to realign and release all pellets. It allows for faster, more efficient scooping, and the scoop works well with thick granular litters, too.

The OurPet’s Co.’s OurPets SmartScoop Intelligent Litterbox offers cats a fresh litter area without traditional manual cleaning. It uses infrared technology to detect when a cat enters the box and engages the scoop mechanism 15 minutes after a cat exits. Its Bluetooth monitoring capabilities track a pet’s behavior and habits through the company’s SmartPetLink App.

Fetch...for Pets’ new Fresh Step line includes a variety of SKUs in the litterbox accessories category. Products include Drawstring Litterbox Liners, a Disposable Litterbox, a Litter Trapper Keeper mat, a four-in-one Deluxe Cleanup Kit with a litter scooper, dust pan, broom and caddy, Litterbox Deodorizing Pods, Odor Eliminating Powder, Litterbox Attractant, Scented Litterbox Cleaning Spray and Litterbox Odor Eliminating Spray.

Petmate’s Retracting Litter Pan has a visor that retracts for quick scooping and features a removable hood for easy cleaning. The litterbox reduces litter scatter and deters dogs while providing privacy for cats.

Neater Pet Brands’ Neater Scooper XL Scoop-to-Bag Cat Litter Scoop is new, improved and recently patented. The design combines scooping and bagging into one system with an attached waste bin and trapdoor design. With a simple tilt of the wrist, the trapdoor opens to deposit waste directly into the waste bin. Users then tilt it down and the trapdoor closes, leaving them free to scoop again.


This article originally appeared in the August 2016 issue of Pet Product News.

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