Certain features continue to be top considerations for cat owners when it comes to litter, said Jean Broders, senior brand manager for Muscatine, Iowa-based Kent Pet Group, maker of World’s Best Cat Litter.
“Overall, consumers are looking for a product that performs and meets their top priorities of effective odor control, quick clumping, easy to clean and long lasting,” Broders said.
Today’s cat owner is willing to trade up for convenience and quality, manufacturers and retailers report.
Demand in the cat litter category has remained strong in 2020, with further premiumization and continued growth expected in the space, said Jen Marler, category manager for waste management for PetSafe, a brand of Knoxville, Tenn.-based Radio Systems Corp.
“Litter will always be a non-discretionary expense for cat owners, and consumers see the benefits in more premium litters and boxes,” she added. “Empty nesters and young professionals are fast-growing demographics that continue to seek out options to make their lives easier, and [those that] offer added benefits.”
Understanding common customer needs will assist retailers in guiding cat owners to the best solutions, noted Gina Zaro, marketing director for Dr. Elsey’s Cat Products, a cat litter and food manufacturer in Englewood, Colo.
Pattie Zeller, president and owner of Animal Connection, a pet supply store in Charlottesville, Va., noted that cleanliness and convenience rule.
“Consumers don’t want mess, they don’t want smell and they don’t want something the cat is going to track around the house,” she said. “If a litter [isn’t non-tracking], then the box or a mat has to take care of it.”
Melissa Whitton, owner of Most Valuable Pets, a retailer in Lexington, Ky., noted that clumping is a key factor for consumers considering their options.
“Ever Clean is our most popular litter—people love the tight clumps,” she said. “There is no odor and very little dust.”
Cat owners are willing to pay for long-lasting litter, she added.
“It’s a little more expensive, but once people try it, they love it,” she said. “It is also very economical considering how long it lasts.”
Animal Connection stocks a natural litter made from whole-kernel corn.
“I carry World’s Best Cat Litter. I don’t have a lot of space in my store, and it seems to be one that doesn’t smell or need changing quite as often,” Zeller said. “It’s a convenient choice, one my customers ask for.”
The use of natural materials is a growing segment, with significant benefits over traditional clay alternatives, according to Janice Yamamoto, director of marketing for Next Gen Pet Products. The Laguna Niguel, Calif.-based manufacturer utilizes recycled woods and green tea as natural deodorizers that also suppress bacteria growth in the litterbox.
“I believe environmentally friendly and safe litter solutions will be the future in our category,” Yamamoto said.
While clumping clay litters are best-sellers at Dollys Pet Shoppe in Sandy, Ore., owner Anna DePaolo noted an increased call for natural litters.
“More people are looking for something natural, and it really just comes down to whether they can afford it since these products are more expensive than the typical clay cat litters,” she said.
For this reason, two-thirds of the product mix at Dollys Pet Shoppe is made up of natural litter products, with the remaining third made up of the clay clumping variety.
“However, that one-third outweighs the natural litters in sales at this time,” DePaolo added.
Demand for litterboxes is primarily preference driven, with options such as conventional or top-entry hoods available for cats that like their privacy, Marler said.
For DePaolo, the hooded styles are top sellers.
At Animal Connection, covered boxes featuring an air filter are popular, according to Zeller.
However, at Most Valuable Pets, a standard box and litter with superior clumping ability are sought-after items.
“I have not had customers asking for special features or accessories for litterboxes,” Whitton said. “Most want a nice standard box that their cat will fit in and a scoop that won’t break the clumps.”
Offering High-Performance, Pet-Pleasing Options
Manufacturers are launching cat litters designed to meet cat owners’ desires.
In June, World’s Best Cat Litter, a brand of Muscatine, Iowa-based Kent Pet Group, introduced its newest formula, Multiple Cat Lotus Blossom Scented.
“This litter is ideal for consumers that prefer a light floral scent,” said Jean Broders, senior brand manager. “It offers the same great performance as our other top-performing litter formulas, with the addition of natural botanicals. We’ve learned from our consumer research that many litters have an overwhelming scent, which is offensive to the cat owners. They prefer a light scent but still expect the product to work effectively to control odors, without relying on a strong perfume to mask the odor.”
The color of the litter package is complementary to the brand’s existing bold green, red and purple colors, standing out at retail and drawing consumers’ attention, she added.
As the trend toward specific solution-based litters continues to progress, brands strive to create products that address problems and remain household friendly, said Gina Zaro, marketing director at Dr. Elsey’s Cat Products, a cat litter and food manufacturer in Englewood, Colo.
Cats exhibiting a litterbox aversion due to litter texture—for instance, those with sensitive paws or senior cats—will appreciate Dr. Elsey’s Cat Products’ new Paw Sensitive litter, which launched in April.
“Paw Sensitive has a finer, softer texture for cats’ paws and is 99 percent dust free, hard clumping, with superior odor control,” Zaro said.
Litter maker Next Gen Pet Products is now focusing more on promoting its Timber Fresh cat litter and, as such, is making adjustments to its website and branding.
“Our customers seemed less interested in Timber Fresh as an economical option and preferred Green Tea Fresh or Cypress Fresh, seeing them as ‘quality’ options even though they are all made comparably,” said Janice Yamamoto, director of marketing for the Laguna Niguel, Calif.-based manufacturer.
Timber Fresh uses hinoki cypress oil to suppress the growth of bacteria in the litterbox, controlling odor naturally, she said.
“Our litters are made from recycled materials and all-natural ingredients, ensuring an economically friendly product from start to finish,” Yamamoto said.
PetSafe has upgraded its ScoopFree Self-Cleaning Litter Box. Launched in March, the new model is available in both standard and covered options. The new sleek, neutral gray design integrates seamlessly into modern home décor, according to the company. Low-tracking crystal litter provides odor control, absorbs urine and dehydrates solid waste. Plastic lined trays prevent leakage and offer easy disposal. Both the standard and covered models now have a health counter, designed to allow cat owners to monitor their cat’s litterbox usage in order to identify potential health concerns, such as urinary tract infections.
“This is our most popular product in the category,” said Jen Marler, category manager for waste management for PetSafe, a brand of Knoxville, Tenn.-based Radio Systems Corp.
Catering to Pet and Owner Needs
When developing new litters and related accessories, manufacturers take cat owner preferences into consideration.
“Listening to consumers and understanding the struggles they are currently having with their current litter is our top priority when innovating,” said Jean Broders, senior brand manager for Muscatine, Iowa-based Kent Pet Group, maker of World’s Best Cat Litter. “Providing products that are truly sustainable, healthy and safe is always our top goal.”
And as consumer needs are constantly changing and evolving, the company continues to invest in consumer research, Broders added.
For PetSafe, the consumer is also the priority.
“At PetSafe, the product-design process is centered around the customer,” said Jen Marler, category manager for waste management for PetSafe, a brand of Knoxville, Tenn.-based Radio Systems Corp.
“We rely heavily on customer insights and let those insights drive key parts of the decision-making process,” she said. “We are always asking ourselves what the customer wants and how they will perceive a product.”
At Dr. Elsey’s Cat Products, a veterinarian-owned and solution-based feline-exclusive brand, innovations are developed by founder Bruce Elsey, DVM, to meet the specific needs of cats and their owners, noted Gina Zaro, marketing director of Dr. Elsey’s Cat Products, a cat litter and food manufacturer in Englewood, Colo.
“We always speak for the cat at Dr. Elsey’s Cat Products by putting ourselves in the cat’s paws,” Zaro added.
Benefits such as odor and bacteria control also come into play for manufacturers developing new products.
“Our litters are developed with the aim of leveraging the innate benefits of our natural ingredients,” said Janice Yamamoto, director of marketing for Next Gen Pet Products, a litter manufacturer in Laguna Niguel, Calif.
Putting Variety on Display
While all cat owners are familiar with litterboxes, many don’t realize that there are other options for management beyond the conventional pan, said Jen Marler, category manager for waste management for PetSafe, a brand of Knoxville, Tenn.-based Radio Systems Corp.
“Retailers can help their customers understand that more premium options, like automatic litterboxes, are available,” Marler said. “Highly visible placements can drive that awareness and eventually inspire trade-ups.”
Displaying litterboxes—and making those displays interesting—can be a challenge, said Melissa Whitton, owner of Most Valuable Pets, a retailer in Lexington, Ky.
“We nest regular boxes and try to set up specialty or covered boxes to show features,” she said.
In this way, a covered litterbox might be featured on an endcap with a stuffed kitten appearing at the door, Whitton said.
Food and water bowls, along with toys, might also join the vignette to help customers envision how these products will look in the home, she added.
“We have also made some interesting geometric shapes out of towers of Ever Clean boxes,” Whitton said. “These boxes make great and sturdy displays.”
At Dollys Pet Shoppe in Sandy, Ore., natural litters are shelved at shoulder to eye level with clay litters below, said owner Anna DePaolo.
“I always start by pointing out the great natural fibers that a lot of people are into right now,” she said. “However, if a customer is looking for clay litters, they are there as well.”
Whitton stressed the importance of asking about the specific needs of a cat owner when assisting in the litter selection process.
“How many cats do they own? How many floors in the house? How many litterboxes are they expecting to have? Are there dogs or toddlers at home that may try to play in the box?” she said.
While Animal Connection, a pet supply store in Charlottesville, Va., stocks one brand of litter, World’s Best Cat Litter, signage informs customers that special orders are always available.
“We have people that prefer wheat, pine or other types of litter, and we let them know we will get them the product they want,” said president and owner Pattie Zeller.
While many features of cat litter are developed based on personal preference, lightweight litter is something everyone can appreciate, said Janice Yamamoto, director of marketing for Next Gen Pet Products, a litter manufacturer in Laguna Niguel, Calif.
“I love watching a person’s face the first time they pick up a bag of [our] Green Tea Fresh cat litter and they realize how light it is,” she said.