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The Scoop on Litter

More variety is helping cat owners find solutions to issues in the litterbox.


The days of cat owners only having a handful of litters to choose from are over. Demand for products that address cat owners’ most grievous litter complaints has inspired innovation in the category, which now includes a wide range of options from environmentally friendly and all-natural varieties to products that solve age-old problems.

According to Joey Herrick, president of Lucy Pet Products in Thousand Oaks, Calif., one of the most significant issues associated with cat litter is the potential for ammonia fumes that can emanate from used litter. Litters that fail to address issues such as fumes and odors have left many pet owners dissatisfied, he said.

“Many consumers are generally frustrated or unhappy with their current litter and are looking to switch to something new,” Herrick said.

Fortunately, manufacturers have responded to consumers’ concerns with a plethora of alternatives. Natural litter, for example, continues to grow in popularity, as many pet owners become increasingly eco-conscious.

“Natural litter continues to grow as more and more consumers are making ‘green’ choices for home and family, including their pets,” said Leslie Ellis, consumer communication manager for Healthy Pet in Ferndale, Wash. “This trend is growing even faster in independent pet stores, where associates have the best chance to educate the consumer on the benefits of natural.”

According to Rachelle Rabasi, director of marketing for OurPet’s Co. in Fairport Harbor, Ohio, the existing “natural” product trend is spreading to cat litter.

“It is a growing area in not just the litter category, but pet products in general,” she said. “Consumers are becoming more aware of what materials make up the products they are giving their pets, just like they are becoming more aware of what products they use for themselves.”

Jeff Manley, co-owner of TailsSpin Pet Stuff, which has locations in Georgia, is seeing more litters that are manufactured using natural ingredients such as walnut and coconut. 

“Nowadays, the pet industry offers many choices for all pet owners’ needs,” he said. “We are noticing that more and more pets are suffering from allergies, due to environment and diets. With the internet readily offering more information, pet owners are much more informed and aware, and are demanding better-made products for their pets.”

Christine Mallar, owner of Green Dog Pet Supply in Portland, Ore., pointed out that as a green retailer specializing in environmentally friendly pet supplies, she does not carry clay litters.

“Plant- and paper-based litters are somewhat more sustainable to make, often use mill waste or other recycled ingredients, and some can be composted at home,” she said. “They’re also safer if accidentally ingested.”

Long-Lasting Litters

One of the recent product releases in the cat litter category reflects the all-natural trend while also being earth-friendly.

“Our new product in the litter category is the OurPet’s Switchgrass Natural Cat Litter with BioChar,” said Rachelle Rabasi, director of marketing for the Fairport Harbor, Ohio-based company. “This litter is a natural, clumping cat litter made from switchgrass and biochar.”

Rabasi pointed out that switchgrass is a hardy, natural grass native to North America that does not require fertilization or the use of chemicals during growth, making it an eco-friendly ingredient. She also noted that biochar is made using the pyrolysis process to convert natural wood chips to an activated, nonmarking carbon that is proven to be highly odor and moisture absorbent.

“Together, switchgrass and biochar combine to make a strong clumping cat litter that is safe, highly moisture and odor absorbent, biodegradable, lightweight and made in the USA from sustainable ingredients,” she said.

Lucy Pet Products recently added four SKUs in two new packaging styles to its Lucy Pet Cats Incredible litter. The litter is now available in 20-pound jugs and 35-pound plastic cube bags, said Joey Herrick, president of the Thousand Oaks, Calif.-based company.

“These larger sizes offer value to consumers with multiple-cat households,” Herrick said. “The jugs and cube-shaped packaging also offer a more standardized package shape, which is helpful to space-constrained retailers.”

World’s Best Cat Litter Advanced Zero Mess and Zero Mess Pine Scented formulas are recent introductions, and they’re available in 6- and 12-pound bags, said Jean Broders, senior brand manager for Kent Pet Group in Muscatine, Iowa.

“They are long-lasting litters that are purpose-built to solve specific problems facing litterbox cleanup,” she said. “These multiple-cat-strength litters guarantee fast and easy cleanup with two-times better clumping and two-times more odor control, so you get less mess with less wasted litter.”

Broders said that this is the only litter that combines the concentrated power of corn with absorbent plant fibers that quickly trap liquids in tight clumps.

“Owners don’t have to chisel and scrape the box,” she said. “Scoop once and you’re done.”

Learning About Litter

Because of the different types of litters now available to cat owners, customer education is crucial in this category.

“It is important for retailers to understand products and how they relate to their customer base or demographic,” said Gina Zaro, marketing director for Dr. Elsey’s Cat Products in Englewood, Colo. “Education is extremely important to our client base since our product line is solution based. If a client comes in the store and their cat is not using the litterbox or having a respiratory issue, it is important that the retailer be able to point the customers in the right direction, like to our Cat Attract or Respiratory Relief litter.”  

Joey Herrick, president of Lucy Pet Products in Thousand Oaks, Calif., said a brief conversation is all it takes for retailers to help solve litterbox problems.

“Educate consumers and talk to them about the real problem of litterboxes, which is the dangerous ammonia fumes,” he said. “They can actually cause upper respiratory infections, runny eyes and nose, burning around the mouth, asthma, etc.

“When consumers realize how dangerous ammonia is to cats and people, they will want a solution to stop it,” Herrick said. “Retailers can educate cat consumers about the dangers of ammonia and that they happen to have a solution right on their store shelf with Cats Incredible. They will have a customer for life.”

Jean Broders, senior brand manager for Kent Pet Group in Muscatine, Iowa, maker of World’s Best Cat Litter, pointed out that the pet specialty channel is really the only retail segment that has the opportunity to understand consumers on a personal level.

“The consumer is looking for expert advice from store associates, which means associates need to be experts on a lot of products,” she said. “Nowhere else does the associate have the opportunity to have a one-on-one conversation about a brand.”

Because of this, retailers need to take advantage of training that manufacturers offer, Broders said. This includes face-to-face training and support collateral that can be left behind for associates to review and reference when needed.

“We offer some easy-to-use training pieces on our new Advanced product line,” she said. “The content explains our ‘Why to Buy’ statements to assist when explaining the formulas to consumers.” 

Make It Easy

Cat litter can be challenging to display and requires some thought to market, according to retailers.

“Since litter is bulky and potentially heavier than many other cat products, we display the bags in a cat-specific area in an ergonomically friendly position, where little effort is required to move them to the checkout area,” said Norm Shrout, co-owner of Long Leash On Life in Albuquerque, N.M. “Litter is jointly marketed with other cat products, especially litter scoops and boxes. We often create sale bundles containing litterboxes, small bags of litter and other starter cat products for new feline arrivals. The discounted price usually gets their attention, and they’ll hopefully end up buying a few more things than planned that will ultimately benefit their new kitty BFF.”

Nadine Joli-Coeur, chief merchandising officer for Natural Pawz, which has stores in Texas, recommended keeping litter easy to shop while being creative with presenting it.

“We may stock smaller bags on the bottom shelf, but also include product in other areas, such as with potty pads and eco-friendly cleaner,” she said. “We also make litter part of our cat feature displays.”

When it comes to marketing cat litter, Shrout said the best marketing tool is a brief chat with cat owners about the litter they currently use.

“Contrast the features and benefits of your litter,” he said. “Conscientious cat parents are quick to see the light and will hopefully end up trying your litter.”

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