Cat owners want the best for their pets, and they’re willing to pay for it. That trend has already been well established with food and is now translating over to premium cat litters, too.
Alison Schwartz, general manager of All Pets Considered, a retailer with two stores in Greensboro, N.C., said that the cat litter category is exploding at her store. More cat owners are making the switch to higher-quality products, she noted.
“Most of our customers are seeking products that are lighter weight and environmentally sustainable,” Schwartz said. “The clay that is used in clay litters is strip mined from earth and causes environmental disturbance. Because of that, we are loving the litters made of grasses, corn, wheat, and other highly degradable and sustainable sources.”
The increased focus on sustainably made products is being aided by changes in consumer behavior as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, said Jean Broders, senior brand manager for Muscatine, Iowa-based Kent Pet Group, maker of World’s Best Cat Litter.
“With many people spending more time at home, they have more time to read, to learn about new products and to make more conscious decisions,” Broders said. “They are turning to the internet to buy and learn. They are learning that choosing healthy products for their pets goes well beyond a product being ‘natural.’ They want the added benefit of products being renewable and sustainable. They care about Mother Earth and want to choose products that support their beliefs.”
Pedro Bastos, CEO of Miami-based Petfive Brands, parent company of Sustainably Yours cat litter, said that consumers today are looking for cat litters that “respect the cat, their family and the environment.”
“This trend has accelerated over the last few years and is currently more evident than ever,” he said. “Products that meet these standards without compromising performance will get more attention from retailers and cat parents. Therefore, we continue to see more people migrating to the innovative and high-performing litters that have recently hit the market.”
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Bastos said many cat owners are still working from home—and that’s caused them to be more aware of litterboxes than before.
“Clumping litters that are easy to scoop without breakage, without dust and with excellent odor control are becoming the most popular choices,” he added.
Allison Francy, owner of The Cat Shoppe, a pet supply store in Nashville, Tenn., agreed that the pandemic might be causing a shift in cat owners’ priorities. She has seen an uptick in litter sales.
“In spending more time at home, cat parents do not want to be inconvenienced or deal with odor—and they’re willing to pay more if they can find a litter that will meet their needs,” Francy said. “I think there are a lot of cat parents who want a cleaner option that still clumps really well.”
Oftentimes, it may be a problem that leads cat owners to expand their horizons and try a new litter. It could be anything from poor odor control to addressing an issue with the cat not using the litterbox.
Broders said that World’s Best Cat Litter Picky Cat formula is available to help consumers solve the issue of going outside of the box.
“This is the No. 1 reason cats are surrendered to shelters, so we are proud to know that we offer a formula solution that helps keep cats in their forever homes,” Broders said.
World’s Best introduced a new lotus blossom-scented formula in June, said Broders, who noted that odor control is on all consumers’ minds when choosing a litter.
Cat food and litter maker Dr. Elsey’s Cat Products also looks to solve common litterbox issues, said Gina Zaro marketing director of the Englewood, Colo.-based company.
“Our Cat and Kitten Attract Litters directly address inappropriate elimination issues,” she said. “Our Respiratory Relief Litter is formulated for cats with respiratory issues. Our newest product is Paw Sensitive, which was designed for cats with sensitive paws and senior cats. Paw Sensitive has a finer, softer texture for cats’ paws. For the greater litter category, we think the solutions trend will continue, with an emphasis on education and making products more household friendly. At Dr. Elsey’s, we feel that litter is an essential function of keeping cats in loving homes.”
“With many people spending more time at home, they have more time to read, to learn about new products and to make more conscious decisions."—Jean Broders of Kent Pet Group, maker of World’s Best Cat Litter
Displaying Cat Litter Effectively
Once retailers have decided upon the ideal assortment of products, figuring out where to physically display them is the next big decision. Some retailers report having the most success with an all-in-one cat section.
“Our litter is displayed by our cat food,” said Alison Schwartz, general manager of All Pets Considered, a retailer with two stores in Greensboro, N.C. “We have litter shelving in the center of our cat food room. This has seemed to work well and has helped increase litter purchasing, which is up 50 percent from last year.”
Bethany Lontz, store manager of The Blue Dog Pet Shop, a pet supply store in Lemoyne, Pa., said that keeping all cat products grouped together presents an opportunity to open customers’ eyes to something new.
“We felt it was really important to make it work that litter was with all of the other cat products we sold,” she said. “When shoppers have to go somewhere else in the store to find litter, you might be missing a sales opportunity. We’ve certainly had customers who came in looking for food but were surprised to see that we carry a unique litter brand they’d never seen before.”
Jean Broders, senior brand manager for Muscatine, Iowa-based Kent Pet Group, maker of World’s Best Cat Litter, said that she has seen some retailers use floor stacks for larger bags, alternating formulas within the stack.
“As long as the formulas can easily be identified, this works,” Broders said. “It allows the store to offer multiple formulas, without having to double the shelf space. It’s not ideal, but it does allow them to offer multiple formulas.”
Retailers can also use shippers to showcase a certain brand or new formula, she noted.
“If the display has an evergreen design, it can be refilled and help to extend the retailer’s shelf space,” Broders said.
Curating an Ideal Selection
There’s no question that litter takes up precious realty, and pet specialty retailers with small spaces may struggle with curating an ideal assortment. Retailers want to stock products that meet their customers’ varying needs, but they don’t necessarily have space for everything.
“I’m always amazed at how smaller stores can creatively find ways to fit more products into their stores,” said Jean Broders, senior brand manager for Muscatine, Iowa-based Kent Pet Group, maker of World’s Best Cat Litter. “Know your customers and understand their product preferences so you can make sure to stock up on those products that have high demand.”
She suggested retailers find a way to showcase a new product and gauge consumers’ interest. They should also work with brands on floor displays, Broders noted.
“[This] helps them extend their product selection beyond their retail shelves,” she said.
Gina Zaro, marketing director for Dr. Elsey’s Cat Products, a cat food and litter manufacturer in Englewood, Colo., said variety and price point are key.
“Product assortment and a fair price are extremely important in today’s competitive marketplace,” she noted. “Cats and their pet parents want choices.”
Pedro Bastos, CEO of Miami-based Petfive Brands, parent company of Sustainably Yours cat litter, said that retailers should focus on offering a selection of cat litters that deliver outstanding performance and sustainable sourcing.
“In addition, the retailer’s team needs to be well versed in the differences between the litters,” he said. “Another important aspect is opening space to displays that help consumers to see how the product works—even if in a different spot inside the store. Sustainably Yours, for example, has a unique customized demo kit that makes it possible for the cat parents to test how well it clumps. Retailers that have requested our demo kit are reporting higher growth rates.”
Bethany Lontz, store manager of The Blue Dog Pet Shop, a pet supply store in Lemoyne, Pa., said that she’s selective when it comes to curating an assortment of litter that helps differentiate her store from others. She chooses not to take up store space with clay litter products, which she said can be bought pretty much anywhere.
“We have a grocery store just two blocks down the street, so we try to carry products that not everyone else has,” Lontz said. “I want people to be able to find something really unique here.”
Allison Francy, owner of The Cat Shoppe, a pet supply store in Nashville, Tenn., said that she carries all of the different Dr. Elsey’s varieties—and that all of them sell. She said it just proves the point that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to litter. Francy said she has also sold a lot of Sustainably Yours and World’s Best options.
“Customers want options—and they come here for that choice,” she said. “We are cat specific here, and we have a whole wall dedicated to litter. We make the space for it because it’s so important.”