Litter is a staple in every cat owner’s home, yet pet specialty retailers report increasing sales in this category. The reason? Trending product lines.
In first quarter 2020, numbers were up a decent amount over the year before, said Sarah Hudson-Sims, buyer and data wrangler at Pets On Broadway, a pet store in Portland, Ore.
"The quantity sold for us is flat, but dollars are up, so owners are going a little more luxe and not just buying bargain-basement litters," she said. "We offer a little of everything, tell them the benefits of everything, and they decide. It looks like they’re happier with better litter, even with the added cost."
At Petzlove, a pet store in Lone Tree, Colo., cat litter is a growing category, said owner Aidan Gannon. He attributed the growth to expanded lines as well as offering new services.
"We do home delivery, and they like that service for the heavy bags," he said.
While tried-and-true clay-based litters continue to sell, industry insiders reported seeing customers moving to more natural and sustainable offerings.
"Drivers of the market are still driven by consumers wanting products that are easy, natural and eco-friendly," said Jean Broders, senior brand manager at Kent Pet Group in Muscatine, Iowa. "This is apparent when you see all substrates of litter trying to capitalize on the ‘natural’ messaging."
Hudson-Sims said cat owners are transitioning from clay-based litters to alternate types such as litters made with grasses, corn and wheat.
"‘Sustainable’ seems to be the name of the game right now," she said. "It’s not just an industry buzzword."
Gannon agreed that customers are looking for more natural products.
"We see a lot of grass-seed ones and recycled wood," he said. "More sustainable products are coming out, and there seems to be a shift toward those."
Fragrance- and dust-free remain important litter characteristics for some cat owners as well, Gannon noted.
Pets are considered full-fledged family members, so owners seek safe and healthful products for them, including in the cat litter category. And price is not a deterrent for cat owners who value natural and sustainable litters.
"Nearly eight out of 10 consumers will pay more for healthier pet products," Broders said. "This trend is long withstanding and very favorable for products in the natural category, based on Packaged Facts’ Pet Litter, Clean-up and Odor Control report [from] December 2019."
"Educated consumers have pushed the category to evolve into offering litters beyond traditional clay," she added. "This is due to lifestyle changes, where convenience and ease of use win over everything else."
That said, some cat customers are slow to try a new litter, but retailers can encourage owners to try something different with the help of demos.
Pattie Boden, owner of Animal Connection, a pet store in Charlottesville, Va., said when the store first introduced a cat department in 2004, she simply had some litterboxes on display filled with a trio of different litters, alongside pitchers of water.
"We invited customers to wet it and see how it clumped," she said. "This was a pretty good sales tool. Even if you only have a couple of brands, you could buy a Brand X that wasn’t so great and put it out for comparison."