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Cat Marketplace: Keep It Clean

Posted: July 19, 2013, 1:00 p.m. EDT

Cat owners look to litterbox products that help keep homes spotless and fresh.

By Patricia Morris Buckley

Many cats can take or leave collars, beds and even toys, but the one thing most can’t do without is a litterbox.

Unfortunately, with litter comes odor and mess, retailers and manufacturers stated, adding that the litterbox is the single greatest headache for cat owners.

Cat Litter
Litterboxes give retailers the opportunity to sell extras such as scoops and mats. iStock/Thinkstock


"It’s really the biggest reason that people dislike having a cat,” said Annie Jolie, director of operations for Smart Choice Pet Products, maker of the Litter Spinner in Tacoma, Wash.

This presents a great opportunity for manufacturers and retailers alike, said Joe Provenzano, president of Odor-No-More, which manufactures the Nature’s Best Solution brand.

"After litter and food, litter accessories are the next largest segment,” said Provenzano, whose company is based in La Mirada, Calif. "Last year, more than $20 million worth of litter deodorant was sold.”

Success seems to vary. Natalie Douranos, marketing communications manager for the cat and dog categories for Rolf C. Hagen in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, sees the market as steady and growing.

On the other hand, George Richter, owner of DogDogCat in South Lake Tahoe, Calif., said litter isn’t a huge category for his store but that it has good margins.

There may be a regional aspect to this, Provenzano noted.

"In rural areas, cats spend time outside,” he said. "In urban areas, especially cats in apartments, cats are confined, and the litterbox is a bigger problem.”

Eco-friendly Meets Cat-friendly
While cat litter and accessories are all about waste, many customers are becoming increasingly aware of products that are thrown in landfills, said Natalie Douranos, marking communications manager of the cat and dog categories for Rolf C. Hagen in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.
"More consumers are becoming conscientious about unnecessary waste and feel good about purchasing eco-friendly products,” said Douranos. "However, consumers are still looking for easy maintenance in litter care. Disposable cat pans, for example, make life easy for consumers because they never need to clean the litterbox. A disposable cat pan made of sugar cane that will biodegrade in a landfill is a better product. Liners and waste disposal bags that biodegrade meet the need for easy cleanup and are friendly to the environment.”
Mitchell Bearg, owner of Bow Wow Meow pet boutiques in San Francisco, Menlo Park and San Carlos, Calif., sees more consumers concerned about eco-friendly litter than litterbox accessories.
"We did carry [biodegradable] litterbox liners, but they didn’t sell that well,” he said. "As much as people are fairly conscious of ecology, price is still an issue.”
That’s a conundrum that faced Greenberry Eco-Industries of New York City. The company uses a variety of eco-friendly materials, such as bamboo, rice husk, hemp, cotton and a cornstarch resin it invented in its Greenbone line of litterbox liners, litter scoops and mats.
"But we want to create superior products that happen to be eco-friendly,” said Lewis Hamowy, co-founder. "Eco-friendly is not No. 1 on everyone’s list, although there is a loyal niche following that we do want to cater to.”
Instead, Greenberry focuses on producing durable, good-looking products that are competitively priced and yet made of eco-friendly materials.
"Unfortunately, people think eco products cost more,” said Hamowy. "So we have to do what we can to drive sales and that means pricing ourselves very close to what everyone else charges.”
At Smart Choice Pet Products in Tacoma, Wash., eco-friendly is part of the corporate culture. The company uses recycled pellets from waste plastic (left over when other products are made) and plastic water bottle caps to create its products, such as its self-cleaning litterbox.
"We do this because it’s the right thing to do,” said Annie Jolie, the company’s director of operations. "We save money, but even if the cost of materials was the same, we’d still do it this way. It makes us feel good. Customers see it as an easy way to help the Earth with their everyday buying habits.”
As more customers ask for eco-friendly litterbox accessories, manufacturers are listening, Douranos said.
"Manufacturers see the success of eco-friendly products in consumer goods and are definitely reacting to meet this growing market. It’s another good way to add value to the products we put out on the market.” —PMB

Accessorize and Organize
Litterboxes come in a wide variety of styles that tend to remain the same, said Shannon McWilliams, vice president of development and marketing for Worldwise in San Rafael, Calif.

"The three basic types are rimmed, hooded and open,” said McWilliams, whose company’s Petlinks brand makes litterboxes and accessories.  

However, Smart Choice Pet Products’ self-cleaning Litter Spinner has received recent updates: It is now manufactured using recycled polypropylene bottle caps from California landfills, and the company is introducing new colors.

Litterboxes that look like furniture—closed cat boxes that double as night stands and side tables, for example—are popular with higher end urban customers, said Mitchell Bearg, owner of Bow Wow Meow, which has locations in San Francisco, Menlo Park and San Carlos, Calif.

As far as accessories, both Bearg and Richter reported that litter scoops do well in their retail locations, with scoops in plastic, bamboo and even silicon hitting the market.

Liners are also popular with cat owners who want to keep the mess to a minimum, said McWilliams.

"But people want something better than a plastic grocery bag,” McWilliams added.

To keep these accessories contained and easily accessible, Worldwise recently released its Petlinks PurrfectOrder, a compartmentalized box designed to hold all litter accessories. It can be paired with the VaporVault, built to store a week’s worth of litter waste.

Bearg also recommended litter mats for wiping a cat’s paws and reducing the problem of litter tracking.

Modko’s Katch Litter Mat, launched last year, is designed to catch stray pebbles and simplify the process of returning loose bits to the litterbox.

Odor control also is important to cat owners, said Odor-No-More’s Provenzano. Stores can offer charcoal stick-on items or litter additives, he noted, as well as additives that attract cats so they’ll use the litterbox. Enzymes that break down odors are the latest step, he said.

Last year, his company released its Litter Box Deodorizing Concentrate, an additive designed to reduce litter costs, control moisture and eliminate odors.

"[Cat] owners are always looking for anything that solves odor issues,” said McWilliams. "That’s their No. 1 complaint.”

One specialty litterbox accessory item is Woof Woof Castle’s Peek a Boo pet safety latch, a device that keeps dogs from eating feces in the litterbox.

"The guy who invented it did so because a friend’s dog ate the used litter and almost passed away,” said Michael Pastor, vice president of sales for the Mechanicsburg, Pa., company. "It’s a niche market, but the product is really starting to move.”

Product colors vary among companies. Worldwise sticks to a neutral color palette, as does Rolf C. Hagen.

"We try to stay as neutral as possible because these are items that are part of the décor in homes,” said Douranos. "We’ll take the scooper and introduce more interesting color options. We’ll take the hood of a cat pan and use it to add an accent color or design.”

Greenberry Eco-Industries in New York City adds designer colors and designs to boxes, liners, scoops and mats.

"We come from the fashion business, and we do a lot to make our products more warm and fuzzy, which makes it have a higher value,” said Lewis Hamowy, co-founder. "We try to stay away from drab colors and earth tones.”

His company just released The Daily Scooper, which incorporates the word "meow” in its scoop and is made from bamboo powder and rice husk composite.

While manufacturers strive to make their products stand out from the competition, all admit that it comes down to a cat’s habits and the owner’s needs.

"Customers want less odor, ease of cleaning and a lessening of their workload,” said Hamowy.

Increase Sales
There’s an awareness problem with litterbox accessories, said DogDogCat’s Richter.

"There are lots of items that people don’t know exist,” he said. "And they rarely come in looking for a new scoop.”

That’s why manufacturers suggest placing all litter accessories in the same area as the litter. Don’t hide them away, Hamowy advised.

Pastor suggested giving a scoop away free with two bags of litter.

Many manufacturers and retailers recommend using videos to show the product or in-store demonstrations.
Richter displays a cat pan with fake feces and real litter to demo scoops.

"They sell like crazy after that,” he said. <HOME>


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