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Here, Kitty Kitty

With kitten season approaching, retailers keep kitten products in focus.
By Wendy Bedwell-Wilson
     

They’re adorable. They’re playful. They’re entertaining. Who doesn’t love a kitten?

Not many people, according to the the American Pet Products Manufacturers Assn.’s 2007-2008 Pet Owner Survey. More than 38 million households in the United States have opened their homes to a cat—or two, more likely, as the APPMA reports 88.3 million cats owned overall.

All those cats were once adorable kittens, and it’s a segment that retailers shouldn’t overlook, especially as the spring kitten season approaches, said Darlene Frudakis, president and chief operating officer of PetAg in Hampshire, Ill.

“Kitten season is upon us,” she said. “Most kittens are born in the spring, peaking in May and June, and then it starts trending down.”
Savvy pet retailers will want to stock products to keep those kittens clean, cozy and fed in their new homes. Trends point to keeping customers happy with natural products that function well and look good.
     
Mini Must-Haves
Kitten product must-haves include food, bowls, litter and accessories, cleaning products, beds, toys and good scratching surfaces, said Jay Horwitz, owner of The Cat Connection in Dallas. Though many of his kitten products are essentially geared for cats in general, he said that some manufacturers offer items, like collars and food, designed just for the little ones.

“We carry a very lightweight foam-type collar with Velcro,” Horwitz said. “They’re one-size-fits-all, so you can literally make them as small as your thumb or as large as your fist. Whatever’s left over, you just cut off the end.

“Kittens are going to grow,” he said. “You want an inexpensive collar that you can make any size.”

Food formulated for growth is also essential for kittens, Frudakis said, adding that newborns up to 8 weeks old require milk replacement diets to ensure they’re getting all the necessary vitamins, minerals and amino acids.

“[The diet] is nutritionally complete,” she said. “It has all the needed vitamins, minerals and amino acids, like taurine, that give it the boost it needs to help the kitten’s eyes and hearts develop properly. It’s a right start. It’s the first thing you give them when they’re born.”

New Kitten Must-Haves

As kitten season approaches, anticipate your customers’ needs by preparing a new kitten shopping list. Retailers and manufacturers recommend these essentials:

Food: For kittens under 8 weeks, a milk replacement formula; for kittens 8 to 12 weeks, a weaning diet; for kittens older than 12 weeks, a food formulated for growth.

Litter: Suggest a safe-to-ingest litter, such as one made from corn or wheat. If your customer has declawed the kitty, recommend a recycled newspaper pellet instead.

Litter box: Choose a lower-sided, small box. It should grow as the kitten grows.

Stain and odor remover: Suggest an enzyme- or enzyme and beneficial bacteria-based cleaner that completely cleans the mess.

Bowls: Recommend small bowls for the kitten’s tiny mouth. Many great designs on the market today blend with a home’s décor.

Toys: Interactive toys, like wands and laser pointers, will keep the kitten busy and bonding with its owner. Battery-operated toys will entertain it for hours on end.

Scratching surface: Kittens need to scratch, so recommend a cardboard or sisal surface for shedding claws and marking their territory.

Bed: To keep the pet feeling cozy, suggest a smaller bed, increasing its size as the kitten grows. 

Grooming tools: Suggest kitten-size cat clippers, a soft brush and a tiny toothbrush.

Behavior tools: Compressed air and double-sided tape are useful tools for feisty kittens. 

Resources: Always recommend reading material, like Sandy Meyer’s “Kittens: A Guide to Caring for your Kitten” (BowTie Press, 2006), Dusty Rainbolt’s “Cat Wrangling Made Easy: Maintaining Peace and Sanity in Your Multicat Home” (The Lyons Press, 2007) or “The Cat Behavior Answer Book: Practical Insights and Proven Solutions for Your Feline Questions” (Storey Publishing LLC, 2007).

After that, retailers should recommend a diet that weans the kittens off formula and onto kibble, Horwitz said.

“If it’s a new kitten, under 4 months old, I would recommend a very small kibble that’s soft for their little teeth,” he said. “After that, they can progress to a regular kitten diet.”

Besides stocking tiny diets and pint-size collars, retailers can also cater to the strong organic trend. Wanda Kelsey-Mendez, owner of Gatos Cat Boutique in Kansas City, Mo., said her customers clamor for anything natural.

“You name it and they’re asking for it, like all-natural treats with no chemicals or preservatives, and supplements,” she said. “People are looking for the all-natural stuff.”

This expanding interest in natural product sales will continue to grow, said Tim Curran, manager of learning centers for Nestlé Purina PetCare Co. in St. Louis.

“Natural pet care is a rapidly growing segment within the pet category,” he said. “Natural pet sales are increasing at a double-digit rate in the natural channel. In 2004, organic pet food was up 64.5 percent and is projected to grow an average of 17.4 percent per year until 2008,” according to a “Business Week” Special Report from May 2005.

From treats and food, like dehydrated and raw diets, to toys and litter, like realistic-looking birds and recycled newsprint, manufacturers are offering products that play into this demand.

Horwitz encourages his kitten-owning customers to consider a raw diet, adding that some manufacturers add nutrients, like taurine, to the diets, which eliminates the need for supplements. 

“As far as trends go, more people are going toward a holistic approach and a more natural diet,” he said. “If they want to do the ultimate as far as food, I’d say raw.”

For customers looking for something cooked, manufacturers continue to develop tasty organic recipes for kittens, Curran said.
“Achieving wellness is an important trend that is starting to influence the pet category,” Curran said. “For many consumers, a key consideration for living a ‘wellness lifestyle’ means eating or feeding a natural and organic diet. These products seem to strike a perfect balance of healthy, fresh ingredients and great tasting flavors.”

When it comes to litter and litterboxes for kittens, natural is best, Horwitz said.

“If the kittens play in the box—which they tend to do—and they eat the litter, it’s not going to be harmful to them,” he said. “Kittens love to play in the litter box, they get out, they lick their paws and they ingest the litter. At least they’re eating corn or wheat.”

For kitten owners who declaw their cats, recycled newspaper pellets work well, he added.

“It’s softer on their paws, especially if people are going to get their cats declawed,” Horwitz said.

Toys, another kitten necessity, are also taking a more natural—if not instinctual—look. From the wand toys to the battery-operated playthings, these toys keep kittens occupied for hours.

“Kittens have so much energy,” said Michele Levan, president of Philadelphia-based Moody Pet Inc. “Interactive and battery-operated toys will tire them out a little bit.”

Manufacturers use realistic feathers and fluttery motion to tease kittens, said Amy Osete, vice president of marketing for Bamboo, a division of Munchkin Inc. in North Hills, Calif.

“Unique materials, such as colorful feathers and sound, are being used more often,” she said. “Toys designed to capture their interest and activate that natural ‘pounce’ instinct are key.”

Kitten beds, too, are mimicking nature. They’re heated, like mom, and they’re compact, like cuddling with litter mates. They’re making kittens feel comfortable in their new homes.

“There’s an instinctual need for mammals—and especially for cats—to compress,” said Frank Novak, president of Modernica, maker of the Scratch Lounger, in Los Angeles. “You’ve heard of cats curling up in a tight space, like a box or a kitty cozy. People think it’s because it’s nice and soft. But one of the big things with those is that they’re in a small contained space and they can compress.”

The warmth also helps them regulate their little body temperatures, said Angela Torrey, director of marketing communication for The Bramton Co. in Dallas.

“We know what it feels like to be cold, and we always want to be somewhere warm,” she said. “You always notice cats lying where the sun is beating down. Cats like to bathe in the sun just like humans do. It feels good.”
     
A Cat Lifestyle
Retailers can expect to see more home-décor friendly kitten and cat products from manufacturers. Whether the pet must-haves are scratchers, cat trees, bowls or toys, they’re designed to flow seamlessly into a modern stainless-steel kitchen or Crate and Barrel-inspired living room.

“[These home-décor products are] a lifestyle brand that will address every room in your house and how you live with your cat,” said Jeremy Moser, president of CatLivin in Santa Clarita, Calif. “We don’t control them, so how do we deal with that? How do we put a treat jar on the counter that looks as cool as our toaster?”

Manufacturers are trading whimsy for clean lines, Novak said.

“People want something that looks nice in their house,” Novak said. “A lot of pet products have too much color on them, and there’s too much writing and too much commercialism on them. They just don’t look pretty in your house.”

The products also function well in tight spaces, Curran said.

“A lot of cat owners put their litter boxes in tight spaces like utility rooms and bathrooms to keep them hidden from the main traffic areas of the home,” Curran said. “Due to the size of these spaces, it doesn’t take long for cat box odor to accumulate. [Manufacturers have] designed litter that contains special power pieces that release a burst of fragrance on moisture contact so it neutralizes cat box odor.”

These home-décor and functional cat products open the market to a new segment of customers—those searching for classy and convenient cat items rather than cartoony and colorful ones, Moser said.

“With cat products, you think of shag carpet and funny little faces on fish and mice,” he said. “I want to simplify that and match people’s homes. They spend a lot of money on their homes, and they shouldn’t have to walk in the front door and see that neon green something-or-other lying on the floor.” <HOME> 


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