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Cat Marketplace: Thinking Outside the Box

Posted: February 26, 2014, 1:50 p.m. EDT


Litter manufacturers strive to satisfy consumers’ needs when it comes to the cat box, with  such features as dust free, odor eliminating, eco-friendly, natural, lightweight and more.

By Lizett Bond

In 1947, Ed Lowe substituted clay for sand, brown bagged his innovation and started selling it as Kitty Litter. He peddled his product to retailers from the back of a 1943 Chevy coupe, and consumers were thrilled with the absorbency of the material. But there was another benefit: Unlike messy sand, cats stepping out of clay didn’t track gritty grains all over the house.

While the basic need for household litter has not changed over the years, the essential questions today are often whether to choose a clumping or nonclumping litter, a flushable product or perhaps an organic cat litter, noted Gimine Kin, senior vice president and co-founder of Greenberry Eco- Industries LLC in New York.

"Also, consumers want an economic and user-friendly answer to litter and clean up,” she said. "If you provide a way for them to use less litter, save money and also be hygienic and odor free, you’ve scored.”

For these reasons, cat litter options have expanded to encompass a variety of substances and intentions.

The new choices not only provide a gratifying powder room experience for Fluffy, but also take other factors, such as the environment or allergies, into account.

A Brave New Box
Consumers are eating more healthful foods and, beyond consumables, are looking for wholesome household products for themselves and their pets, said Mark B. Hughes, national sales manager for Swheat Scoop Natural Clumping Litter, a brand of Detroit Lakes, Mich.-based Pet Care Systems.

These perceptions create a growing demand for environmentally friendly products that are natural and safe, noted Stan Yamamoto, CEO of Next Gen Pet Products in Laguna Niguel, Calif.

"Today’s customer is more aware of their impact on the world,” he added.

In addition to a healthful home environment, consumers wishing to minimize their environmental footprint are requesting eco-friendly products that will reduce trash going to landfills, as well as avoiding chemicals and artificial fragrances.

"We carry a simple, recycled paper litter for those who are very conscious about their footprint,” said Dorothy Hunter, owner of Paw’s Natural Pet Emporium, a retailer with two locations in Richland and Kennewick, Wash.

Cat Litter
Cat owners might need help understanding the array of litter options on the market. Carrie Brenner/i-5 Publishing at Pet Country

Manufacturers have heard these calls and are answering them.

"The desire to maintain a safe environment in the home through eco-friendly products is at the top of the list for our customers,” said Yamamoto.

The newest addition to the Next Gen Pet line is its Forest Fresh litter, which is manufactured from a type of wood called hinoki, found only in Japan, and is similar in scent to cypress wood. The material is known for its ability to resist the growth of bacteria, mold and virus, Yamamoto said. The product will also clump and compost, he added.

"In the litterbox the key to odor control is controlling the bacteria that almost immediately start to grow after the cat has used the box,” he said.

Consumers are paying attention to these alternative materials.

For these reasons, said Kin, Greenberry created Amigo Bianco litter, set to debut this spring. The lightweight, biodegradable, natural product is also compostable, she said.

"We are focusing on natural mineral litters, and Amigo Bianco is made with the natural mineral sepiolite, a sterile product, which is extremely porous and shown to be one of the most absorbent minerals in nature,” said Kin. "It stays hard for easy cleaning.”

To Clump or Not to Clump
The trend toward clumping litters that are safe and natural with no chemicals or masking agents is one that continues to grow, according to Herman Haenert, partner at Desert Veterinary Concepts in Tempe, Ariz.

The company’s lightweight formula, Healthy Cat Litter, features zeolite, a naturally occurring volcanic material known for drawing in and eliminating animal odors, he said. Released in January, the biodegradable formula is fragrance free, he added.

"The litter features a highly absorbable product, with less tracking and a microencapsulation technology for odors,” he said. "In addition, the clumping feature does not cause intestinal problems when a cat licks its paws.”

In addition to hard clumping, weight is another key consideration, as well as litters that are easy to scoop, which simplifies cleanup, said Lisa Mak, senior brand manager for Cat’s Pride, a brand of Oil Dri Corp. of America in Chicago.

"Cat owners want lightweight litters that are easier to lift, carry and pour, but they are not willing to compromise performance,” said Mak.

Along these lines, Tidy Cats created its new Lightweight 24/7 Performance litter in an 8.5-pound jug. The product is 50 percent lighter than other leading scooping litters, features a combination of clay and natural lightweight minerals, is 99.9 percent dust free and produces light, tight clumps for easy cleanup, said Keith Peterfeso, brand manager for St. Louis-based Nestlé Purina PetCare Co.’s Tidy Cats brand.

INDUSTRY VOICES

How has cat litter changed over the years?

"Cat litter has evolved from conventional clay litter to scoopable, clumping litters, and recently more alternative litters. With these new litter offerings, cat owners should be careful that the texture and scent are still those that cats will use—for example, cats may dislike some scents, and some alternative litters may have different textures to which cats are unaccustomed. However, litters have become more sophisticated, better meeting the many needs of cat owners. From lightweight to flushable, the newest litters are offering greater convenience and value to cat owners than ever before.”—Lisa Mak, senior brand manager for Cat’s Pride, a brand of Oil Dri Corp. of America in Chicago


"Cats and their owners often have a conservative approach to litter, using the same product for years. This can become a challenge when introducing a new product. Therefore, it is important that owners start mixing a new litter product with the old for a gradual changeover.”—Gimine Kin, senior vice president and co-founder of Greenberry Eco-Industries LLC in New York


"Clearly the movement toward the use of natural ingredients in cat litter is growing. New cat litters using everything from wood, green tea, corn, wheat, soybeans and even walnut shells are on the market. Some of the traditional clay litter companies are also starting to add natural ingredients to their bentonite base. Litter manufacturers are realizing the importance of turning to natural solutions.”—Stan Yamamoto, CEO of Next Gen Pet Products in Laguna Niguel, Calif.


"The biodegradable, earth-friendly components to cat litter have changed. Clay cat litter users are starting to realize that when they throw the used clay litter into the garbage it simply goes to the local landfill and stays there forever. Today’s cat litters offers choices, which, even when thrown in the garbage, decompose and biodegrade back to their natural state. Our litter is compostable, flushable in sewer and septic systems, and is 100 percent biodegradable, so it won’t take up limited landfill space.”—Mark B. Hughes, national sales manager for Swheat Scoop Natural Clumping Litter, a brand of Detroit Lakes, Mich.-based Pet Care Systems.

"Cat owners are always looking for better litterbox solutions, and heavy cat litter is a problem for many people,” he said.

With these desires in mind, Cat’s Pride has extended its line of Fresh & Light lightweight litters. Released in fall 2013, Fresh & Light All Day Odor Control is a scented, multicat, scoopable litter. Up to 40 percent lighter than other leading scoopable clay litters, the long-lasting odor control allows for less-frequent changes, noted Mak.

"First and foremost, consumers look for powerful, long-lasting odor control to keep their homes smelling fresher longer,” Mak added.

Light and Flushable
Last year, Swheat Scoop introduced a 6.82-pound box of litter for grocery and mass trade, Hughes said.

"We have made some additional improvements to our production process, which provides a harder, faster clump, and it is still all natural,” he said. "We do not add chemicals, fragrances or binders to our litter.”

The natural clumping litter is manufactured using wheat and is compostable, flushable in sewer and septic systems, and 100 percent biodegradable, Hughes said.

"Today’s cat litters offer choices, and even when thrown in the garbage, they decompose and biodegrade back to their natural state,” he added.

Mak agreed, noting that Fresh & Light Flushable paper litter, released this year, is manufactured from 100 percent recycled paper. It clumps hard for easy scooping yet can be flushed in toilets, and paper granules feel like clay litter, she said.

"This flushable litter is 99 percent dust free, so cats and their owners can breathe easy and spend less time cleaning,” said Mak.

Because of respiratory problems, low tracking and low dust are factors to consider for both pet owners and their cats, noted Desert Veterinary Concepts’ Haenert.

"Once again, we are back to allergies,” said Hunter of Paw’s Natural Pet Emporium.

To answer diverse customer demands, retailers are stocking a selection of products.

"To meet all needs, we have a nice variety of litters,” Hunter said.

In addition to clay, Paw’s Natural Pet Emporium offers a corn-based product for cats sensitive to wheat or pine and wheat-based litter for cats sensitive to corn, she added. She also carries a crystal-based product formulated to meet the needs of cats with respiratory issues.

"We carry corn, clay, wheat, crystal, pine and paper,” she said.

At Furry Face in Redlands, Calif., two brands of litter are offered. One, World’s Best Cat Litter, is a popular, recognizable, well-priced brand, said Lorin Grow, owner.

"Interestingly, the other brand, Green Tea Leaves [from Next Gen Pet Products], is our best seller,” she added. "It’s 100 percent natural, compostable, flushable, low dust, clumping and has amazing odor control.”

The Shape of Things to Come
However, the challenge in selecting the right cat litter is balance, and beyond being environmentally friendly, different textures appeal to different cats.

Hiding waste is a natural feline instinct, and cats have a natural drive to dig and cover their droppings, whether inside or out, said Greenberry’s Kin.

For this reason, Kin said that granulate litter should be shaped so it is comfortable for the cats to enter the litter tray.

With the expansive choices of litter now available, Hunter noted that, for retailers, education is imperative when marketing cat litters.

Grow agreed, adding that customer decisions are often based on price.

"Customers rarely come in with much knowledge about litter,” she said. "As usual for us, conversation is everything.”

Next Gen Pet Products’ Yamamoto added that offering a line of natural litters and prominently displaying them in the store lets customers know what selections are available.

To facilitate consumer decisions, Hughes said he prefers to see natural litters placed next to traditional clay litters.

"It gives consumers an easy way to compare,” he said.

Kin recommended placing litter next to cat food and accessories, and suggested using sampling and bundling to introduce new products.

"Offer a ‘startup’ promotion,” she said. "This could be a bundled offer, with a bonus litter scoop or litter cleaning product and litter, together for a special price.

"However, the most effective promotion is to have small litter trays filled with litter so the consumer can see and touch it, and if it is a clumping cat litter, let them test the clumping ability,” Kin said.

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