A Litter Revelation

More pet owners are looking to buy products that are environmentally responsible, socially conscious and more healthful for their pets. As such, natural pet products are taking off in every department of the pet store—from food and toys to cleaning solutions.

Litter brands are taking note, with many touting their products as all natural, naturally scented, biodegradable, 99.9 percent dust free or made from recycled materials.

"Living an environmentally conscious lifestyle has been trending for quite some time; it’s not surprising to see it trickle into all corners of the pet industry," said Megan S. Hulse, buyer at Chuck & Don’s Pet Food & Supplies in Mahtomedi, Minn.

Many pet stores have seen an increase in requests for natural litter, which has also led to more requests for natural litter odor eliminators.

"Customers are equally as conscious about how litter products are made as they are about how well it works, given their cats will be in physical contact with these materials," said Mark Vitt, co-owner of Mutts & Co., which has five stores in Ohio.

Jennifer Lord, owner of Martin’s Paw Mart in Elkhart, Ind., said customers have just started asking for natural litter so the store is revamping its litter strategy.

Pattie Boden, owner of Animal Connection in Charlottesville, Va., has noticed a trend in unscented brands in natural litter due to the fact that many cats are sensitive to essential oils. 

"Customers like the idea of scented, but we recommend using the unscented and changing a smaller amount of litter more often," she said. 

Jean Broders, senior brand manager of Kent Pet Group, manufacturer of World’s Best Cat Litter in Muscatine, Iowa, said solution-based litters are on the rise in the category to address consumer pain points by focusing on easy cleanup, health issue detections and advanced odor control.

But it’s not just cat litter that is seeing growth in the natural category. Small animal litter is also seeing a rise in popularity.

Julie Fain, digital marketing and communication coordinator for Vitakraft Sun Seed Inc. in Bowling Green, Ohio, said that for small animals, paper bedding continues to trend in both the litter and bedding categories. 

"For us, natural bedding does not contain harsh chemicals, bleaches or dyes that are used to make bedding more effective, and it comes from a natural and safe source, like wood for paper bedding and corn cobs for cob bedding," she said.

Angie Schmitt, senior brand manager for Chilton, Wis.-based Kaytee, a brand of Central Garden & Pet Co., said natural bedding that is 99.9 percent dust free and has excellent odor-control properties is a great choice for small animal bedding.

Janice Yamamoto, director of marketing for Next Gen Pet Products in Laguna Niguel, Calif., noted that natural products available on the market are becoming comparable in price, and in some cases, have become the more-effective product. 

"Next Gen products have always used the power of nature; we use naturally occurring bacterial suppressants like wood, green tea and hinoki to control the odor in your litterbox by controlling bacteria growth before it starts rather than masking it with artificial fragrances," she said. "We are proud to offer products that are not only natural and sourced from recycled materials, but the remainder can be composted when you’re ready to change your litterbox out."

The Latest in Litter & Bedding

Next Gen Pet Products in Laguna Niguel, Calif., recently gave its Green Tea Fresh Cat Litter a fresh, new look, and the product will soon be available in a convenient standup bag in a larger size and a larger case.

"One of the biggest challenges we face is educating cat owners on what the newest product features are," said Janice Yamamoto, director of marketing. "Our retail partners are our eyes and ears in the field, and we work together to make what is usually a routine purchase something that customers really think about and can feel good about, too."

Jean Broders, senior brand manager of Kent Pet Group, manufacturer of World’s Best Cat Litter in Muscatine, Iowa, said the company recently launched its Advanced Zero Mess product line, which is exclusive to the pet specialty channel. The litter features a combination of corn and super-absorbent plant fibers to quickly trap liquids in tight clumps so pet owners don’t have to chisel and scrape the box. It is also designed to have superior odor control.

The latest introduction from Vitakraft Sun Seed in Bowling Green, Ohio, is Sunseed Fresh World Bedding Multi-Pet formula, which Julie Fain, digital marketing and communication coordinator, calls a big hit with small animal owners.

"It’s made from 100 percent recycled paper, is biodegradable and compostable, and can control odors up to 14 days, even without the use of baking soda," she said. "We’re pleased to have a really effective bedding and litter to offer pet owners that make their pet’s habitat a little more pleasant, changing it a little easier, and is safe for pets and environmentally friendly."   

A Litter Revelation

Promotion Is Key

Megan S. Hulse, buyer at Chuck & Don’s Pet Food & Supplies in Mahtomedi, Minn., said selling natural litter can be tricky.

"When you’re trying to sell a litter that retails at more than your customer is used to paying—and [they] aren’t seeking out that product specifically—you need to have a great presentation of why someone should buy it," she said. "It’s pretty easy to get lost in a row of litter options these days, and a lot of the time, marketing signage can worsen this issue. Our focus is always educating our staff to make sure they can have genuine and successful one-on-one conversations with these customers to help them figure out which litter is best for them and their pet."

She added that manufacturers and distributors are always willing and ready to partner on promotions, marketing materials, signage, product samples and education. 

Another way retailers can increase sales is to develop personal relationships with their customers and really listen to the feedback they receive. 

"One of the coolest things Next Gen has experienced is that our customer base has helped us discover new talking points for our products," said Janice Yamamoto, director of marketing for Next Gen Pet Products in Laguna Niguel, Calif. "Through their feedback we have been able to look at our products in new and unique perspectives."

World’s Best Cat Litter, a brand of Muscatine, Iowa-based Kent Pet Group, recently launched its national The Litter Bit Amazing Game Sweepstakes, a first-of-its-kind for the litter category.  

"The game allows consumers the chance to win the grand prize of a Fiat Spider Abarth or over $6,500 in other prizes. The more the consumer purchases, the more game chances they receive," said Jean Broders, senior brand manager at Kent Pet Group. "We are also offering an endcap promotion, wherein we are giving five independent pet retailers the chance to win $1,000."

Positive Reinforcement

Mutts & Co., which has five stores in Ohio, has remerchandised litter in a couple of stores to have it prominently displayed on a stock out or shelf near the store entrance, said Mark Vitt, co-owner.

"These products reinforce our natural approach to pet supplies and solicit repeat business," he said. 

Martin’s Paw Mart in Elkhart, Ind., groups all of its litter together by brands and does tie-ins with displays.

"We will build an endcap with litter and pans and scoops," said Jennifer Lord, owner of Martin’s Paw Mart. "You need to have something brightly colored to draw attention to your display. It should be well signed and have a great introductory price."