Posted: September 27, 2013, 9:10 a.m. EDT
Come to cat owners’ rescue by offering products to neutralize one of their biggest complaints: litterbox odors.
By Kristin Mehus-Roe
The distinctive odor of a well-used litterbox is a universal complaint from people who share their homes and lives with cats, according to Katie Kosko, vice president of sales at Stink Free Inc. in Shawnee, Okla.
"Cat owners’ number-one complaint is odor,” said Kosko, whose company manufactures a range of odor control products. "We wanted to develop products to address the concern and bring innovation and products that really work to market.”
In response to this, a number of companies, including Stink Free, have focused their efforts on eliminating the stink. Regardless of the cat, there’s no getting around a cat litterbox, and no cat litterbox can avoid smell altogether.
The Sweet Smell of Variety
There are many odor-fighting products on the market, ranging from sprays to powders to pads. There are even electronic filters. Most products work by either neutralizing or masking odors—or a combination of both. There is also a wide range of litters that work to reduce odor, as well as foods and treats that purport to reduce the odor of stool and urine.
Because litterbox smell is a primary complaint among cat owners, manufacturers offer a variety of products to combat odor. Cheyennez/Shutterstock
Manufacturers also offer odor-eliminating cleaning products that are designed for messes outside of the cat box.
Litterbox deodorizers usually come in the form of crystals, sprinkle-on powders or spray powders, because liquid sprays are easily absorbed into the substrate, which is designed to absorb moisture, manufacturers reported.
Some litter manufacturers offer deodorizers as add-on products. For example, while Pestell Pet Products in New Hamburg, Ontario, Canada, primarily sells litter, including litter with odor-fighting elements, president Bob Hemingway sees a need and potential for an additional odor-controlling companion product.
"The primary cause of the odor is urine exposed to air,” said Hemingway. "It breaks down into ammonia. If it’s absorbed quickly, there’s less chance for it to create ammonia. But it’s impossible to break it down completely.”
Pestell sells deodorizers through a line called Purrfect Scents and offers three fragrances: ocean breeze, lavender and mountain pine.
Alzoo, whose products are distributed through Best Friend Products, offers 12 fragrances, four year-round and eight seasonally. The powder-based scents come in a shaker designed for a month’s use.
Nina Zebooker, executive vice president for Chalfont, Pa.-based Best Friend Products, said the company envisions consumers switching scents each month: "Being able to have a unique fragrance monthly is an entirely new concept and brings a little less ho-hum to the duty of litterbox maintenance.”
Stink Free also offers products specifically formulated for cat litter odor, including litterbox spray powder deodorizer and stick-on deodorizers for the litterbox. To help minimize odor during litter cleaning, the company offers odor-sealing waste collection bags.
Although big-box stores might offer a variety of deodorizers, smaller stores often limit their selections to odor-controlling cat litter and products designed for neutralizing the odor of pet accidents. If they do carry litterbox deodorizers, they often offer only one or two products, said industry sources.
Litter vs. Litter Deodorizer
Some industry insiders report a customer demand for value-added cat litter odor control; others believe the cat litter itself best serves the function of odor control.
"A lot of premium litters do a pretty good job on their own,” said Noelle Finger, general manager of The Urban Pet, which has three locations in the Los Angeles area. "If [a customer is] smelling a lot of stool and urine, maybe there’s something going on.”
"The clay litters actually have deodorizers in them,” said Shelly Delaney, assistant manager at Ideal Pet Stop in Seattle. "When customers ask for deodorizers, we generally just point them toward the clay-based litters.”
Natural cat litters can do a great job controlling odors without added scent, said Jean Broders, brand manager for World’s Best Cat Litter, manufactured by Kent Nutrition in Muscatine, Iowa.
"We offer two scented formulas to meet that consumer need—Lavender Scented and Forest Scented,” she said, adding that some consumers, especially those who buy clay litter, believe they need the scent to manage odor control.
Laura Clark, owner of Wylie Wagg, which has four stores in Virginia, keeps her focus on the litter itself.
"We’ve had good feedback regarding odor control on many brands…we sell a litterbox spray for customers who want a little more help keeping offensive odors in check,” she said. "Other than that, we do not have a broad offering in this category and it is not something for which we see high demand in our stores.”—KMR
Ideal Pet Stop in Seattle carries just one add-on deodorizer, PureAyre, a spray-bottle product intended for use in the room housing the litterbox, said Shelly Delaney, assistant manager.
The Urban Pet, with three locations in the Los Angeles area, offers Fresh’n Purr Crystals, which are mixed into the entire box of litter. Noelle Finger, The Urban Pet general manager, added that customers also often place the crystals in bowls in the room where the litter is kept.
"It’s purely a deodorizer,” said Finger. "The crystals absorb smell and then mask them with a green apple scent.”
Because odor neutralizers are built in to the litters The Urban Pet carries, the sale of the value-added product is not huge, she said.
Although a number of retailers see the potential of deodorizers as limited because so many cat litters already incorporate odor neutralizers into the product, some manufacturers and retailers see a value-added potential and need for the deodorizers.
Bob Hemingway noted an increasing demand for odor control in the marketplace, especially for deodorizers that aren’t just a generic scent or neutralizer.
"We want to bring the range of scents found in home deodorizers to pet deodorizers,” Hemingway said.
Pestell’s deodorizers complement the rest of the company’s products, he added.
"A good litter will absorb up to three times its weight in water,” said Hemingway. "But it’s impossible to have zero liquid. I think that’s why you are seeing different deodorizers coming to market.”
According to retailers and manufacturers, cat litter odor neutralizers are an add-on product for cat litter.
Finger of The Urban Pet recalls how one manufacturer provided a small sample of deodorizing crystals stapled to brochures, which were kept at the front counter.
"I think that spurred a lot of sales,” she said.
Both Finger and Delaney pointed out that the limited range of products can make their sale more difficult, as stores generally carry just one or two products, which are stuck in among a number of other types of products.
"If [manufacturers] were to make a good push and have more scents and make a bigger impact, we could have more sales,” said Finger.
Hemingway concurs that the placement of cat litter deodorizers has limited their sale potential. Most retailers sell cat litter and deodorizers in separate sections of the store, whereas placing the deodorizers near the cat litter or by the cash register as an impulse buy would be more effective, he said.
Although most cat litter deodorizer manufacturers participate in the typical sales push through advertising, website promotions and even YouTube videos, Pestell has had great luck with the same type of point-of-sale promotion Finger describes.
"For the launch of Purrfect Scents, we included a free 6.7-ounce package in every 40-pound bag of Easy Clean cat litter,” Hemingway said. "We feel this was an effective strategy to achieve sampling of the product in the maximum number of households. This has proven to be a very effective strategy…and we’re starting to see the boomerang effect.”
At just a couple of dollars per bottle, you’re not asking the consumer to spend that much more, Hemingway added.
"It’s a value added and increased sale for retailers.”
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