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What's Driving Innovation in Cat Toys

Cat owners seek innovative, purposeful toys in a growing market that demands variety.


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Retailers and manufacturers report a strong, steady market for cat toys as consumers seek playthings that are thoughtfully designed.

“Cat toys are up year over year, with the biggest growth numbers from the second half of the year, July through November,” said Erin Bokuniewicz, category manager for dog and cat hardgoods at Pet Supplies Plus, which has locations across the U.S.

From The Field, a manufacturer in Rainier, Wash., reported growth as well.

“We’ve seen the first two quarters of 2018 consistent compared to last year,” said president Pascal Bedard. “We then saw a significant increase in the last two quarters of 2018 compared to 2017.”

Chris Wilson, executive vice president of marketing and product development for Petmate in Arlington, Texas, said increased cat ownership—especially by consumers in the youngest and oldest age groups—is driving this growth.

“In addition to an increase in cat ownership, we find that consumers are looking for insightful toys that provide a solution to an existing need in the home,” he said. “Rather than buying a toy solely based on the price point, cat parents are thoroughly researching toys, beds and other cat products before purchasing.”

This increase in cat owner research means customers are paying more attention to style and design.

Bokuniewicz said consumers are willing to spend more on cat toys today than they were five years ago, and basic bulk toys no longer rule the market.

“Our [customers] are responding to more unique styles—new silhouettes, other than the typical mice and bird, are doing well,” Bokuniewicz said. “[They] care what the toy looks like, they want something their cat will enjoy, and that is cute and fun.”

Product Development

Made from Scratch

At Petmate, types and patterns of play, behavioral needs and concerns, materials and colors take center stage when it comes to designing new toys, said Chris Wilson, executive vice president of marketing and product development for the Arlington, Texas-based company.

The manufacturer has teamed up with Jackson Galaxy of Animal Planet’s “My Cat from Hell” TV show to create products that combine published research, Petmate’s own studies and Galaxy’s expertise.

“Jackson is a trusted expert, and his fans support the product that carries his name,” Wilson said.

The Jackson Galaxy toy line includes a variety of scratchers and puzzle toys, as well as the Vault Marinater and Rapid Marinater, which store toys and infuse them with the scent of catnip.

Other toys in the line are Air Prey Copter Wands and Ground Prey Wands that simulate hunting and connect with interchangeable “prey” of different shapes, colors and materials.

Los Angeles-based Vee Enterprises also has wand toys down to a science. Its original PURRfect Cat Toy celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2018. Since the product’s release in 1988, Vee Enterprises has focused on three principles in its toy development: U.S.-made parts, U.S. manufacturing and innovation, said sales manager Eric Merva.

Before production, all of the company’s products are cat tested, and then the toys are manufactured by hand.

“Keeping all manufacturing here at Vee Enterprises’ factory headquarters in Los Angeles allows Vee to maintain the standard of strong, long-lasting products meant for pets to claw, paw, chew and lick,” Merva said.

Andi Oppermann, owner of The Companion Shop in Stevens Point, Wis., said Vee Enterprises’ PURRfect LeatherBouncer is the store’s best-selling cat toy. Oppermann said more natural materials, such as leather or hemp, seem to be growing in popularity.

“We’re always trying to keep safety in mind,” Oppermann said. “I have a few things that have feathers on, but, overall, I try to steer clear because [cats] tend to eat them.”

Merchandising

Toy with Your Options

When it comes to making cat toys pop on a storeroom floor, a balance between practicality and creativity is key.

“We recommend retailers have a variety of toys on display and keep the pegs full,” said Pascal Bedard, president of From The Field in Rainier, Wash. “It is always more enticing for customers to have many choices. … Think of walking in a grocery store where half the shelves are empty and the food items are sparsely placed. It doesn’t inspire confidence or appetite.”

At Pet Supplies Plus, which has locations across the U.S., convenient product placement paired with knowledgeable staff members help push cat toys into carts.

“We stand out by making our assortment easy to shop,” said Erin Bokuniewicz, category manager for dog and cat hardgoods. “Also, our store teams are very knowledgeable on products and what solutions and benefits they provide for cats, so it’s easy for [customers] to treat their cat when they are in our store for food and other cat supplies.”

Bokuniewicz said Pet Supplies Plus has had particular success placing toys under promotion on side panels or endcaps near cat treats and food.

Arranging toys that come in unique shapes and sizes might also call for some imagination.

Eric Merva, sales manager for Vee Enterprises in Los Angeles, said some retailers have used vases to display the company’s wand toys.

“When bundled, it looks like a nice bouquet of flowers,” Merva said. “It really stands out in a pet store.”

For retailers with smaller stores, Vee Enterprises offers a tube display that “can pack six dozen toys into an 8-inch-by-8-inch display,” he added.

If one particular setup does not seem to be catching customers’ eyes, retailers should not be afraid to mix things up.

“Just keep moving stuff around,” said Andi Oppermann, owner of The Companion Shop in Stevens Point, Wis. “We have just a cat wall that basically holds all our toys. As soon as I rearrange, that’s when that weird toy that hasn’t sold anything will fly, so just keep rearranging.”

When in doubt, play around with the displays.

“Have fun with it,” Merva said. “They’re toys, after all.”

On the Market

Out of the Box

As cat owners search for innovative toys that push beyond the basic bulk options, manufacturers are responding with toys with less conventional designs and functions.

One of Petmate’s most recent releases is the Jackson Galaxy Butterfly Ball, which is part of the company’s brand of toys designed by Jackson Galaxy, a cat behaviorist and the host of Animal Planet’s “My Cat from Hell” TV show.   

“Essentially, it is an electronic butterfly with ultra-real movements that ‘lives’ in a plastic ball,” said Chris Wilson, executive vice president of marketing and product development for the Arlington, Texas-based manufacturer.

When the toy’s sensors detect the cat’s movement, the butterfly flutters inside the ball. The ball wobbles on a weighted base that keeps the butterfly upright.

“The cat is attracted to the movement and either watches the ball—in what Jackson Galaxy calls ‘cat TV’—or bats the ball around in more interactive play,” Wilson said.

From The Field in Rainier, Wash., launched its Silver Vine Sticks last summer. The chew toys promote cats’ dental health, said president Pascal Bedard.

The sticks utilize From The Field’s Ultimate Blend, a mixture of catnip and silver vine. The company’s website describes silver vine as a nontoxic member of the kiwi family that can be found in the mountains of Asia. The plant contains actinidine, a cat attractant that produces effects similar to those of the chemical in catnip, nepetalactone. When the two are combined, the result can be more potent than catnip alone, according to the company.

“We now use this blend to fill most of our new cat toys due to its enormous success, even with some cats who don’t react to catnip,” Bedard said.

The Silver Vine Sticks are stems of the plant that are marinated in the company’s proprietary Ultimate Blend. When cats chew the bark on the sticks, some plaque is removed from their teeth, Bedard said.

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