Cat litter is a $2.8 billion dollar industry in the U.S., according to market research firm Packaged Facts. It follows that cat litter is an essential component of cat ownership and an important item for pet specialty retailers to keep in stock.
Today’s consumer has a wide range of options in cat litter, as the market continues to expand. Most important to cat owners is the elimination of odor, to appease both themselves and their pets.
In addition to odor control, important product attributes include low dust, low tracking and hard clumping, said Gina Zaro, marketing director for Dr. Elsey’s Cat Products in Englewood, Colo.
"Cats do not like scent in their litter," Zaro said, adding that scent and texture can also impact cats’ litterbox usage.
Cat litter manufacturers are listening to consumers and conforming to pet owner demand, said Rebecca Muñoz, head of public relations at Phydeaux, which has stores in North Carolina.
"While the desire for a litter that reduces odor and tracking has been constant, we have seen increasing interest in litters that are also natural, eco-friendly, low dust and lightweight, and that clump well," she said.
Leah Craft, CRM specialist/marketing coordinator with Chicago-based Oil-Dri Corp. of America, manufacturer of Cat’s Pride, agreed that lightweight litters have been a popular innovation.
"In addition, lightweight litters provide an environmental benefit as they lower the carbon paw print by allowing more units to be loaded on a truck than heavier litters, thus reducing the number of trucks on the road," she said.
At The Natural Pet Enrichment Center in North Royalton, Ohio, owner Christine McCoy confirmed that customers are looking for a simple, effective litter that is good for the environment.
"We see the trends focusing on the consumers’ ability to clean the box quickly and effectively, with no odor and at a reasonable cost," she said.
She also said that there is a strong push to make litter packages lighter weight with less perfumes and low to no dust.
Toni Shelaske, owner of Healthy Pet Products, which has stores in the Pittsburgh area, has noticed that consumers are demanding trackless, odorless and attract litter, adding that the market is trending toward more natural, lighter litter and fewer clay litters.
However, Ed Owens, vice president of engineering and new product development at American Wood Fibers in Columbia, Md., said that clay cat litter is still the market leader.
Rick Rockhill, executive vice president of Lucy Pet Products in Westlake Village, Calif., agreed that clay litters are performance leaders.
"Despite trends in alternative litter segments, sodium bentonite clumping clay performs the best to manage cat waste and also has the best acceptance rate with cats," Rockhill said.
Materials & Ingredients
Evolving Cat Litter Formulas
Cat litter has evolved over the decades, with many formulations introduced in recent years.
"From the initial use of sand as cat litter more than 50 years ago, you can now find all types of cat litter made from clay, crystal, grains, corn and paper that is either scented or unscented, and scoopable or unscoopable," said Leah Craft, CRM specialist/marketing coordinator with Chicago-based Oil-Dri Corp. of America, maker of Cat’s Pride. "The future of cat litter innovation is endless, with consumer needs driving our continued evolution of what can be offered in the litterbox."
Lucy Pet Products in Westlake Village, Calif., partnered with The Dow Co. to utilize its patent-pending ingredient that prevents ammonia from forming in the litterbox; the result was the company’s Cats Incredible Litter.
"This ammonia-prevention technology is a game changer because it can help keep cats healthier by keeping them from being exposed to ammonia in the litterbox," said Rick Rockhill, executive vice president of Lucy Pet Products.
Clumping cat litters have also been key, said Rebecca Muñoz, head of public relations at Phydeaux, which has stores in North Carolina.
"In many cases, this helps cut down on odors and messes as well," Muñoz said. "Applying these technologies to a variety of litter types, it seems, is the more significant innovation rather than any particular material or ingredient."
Cat- and People-Friendly Formulations
Phydeaux, which has stores in North Carolina, has begun carrying Boxiecat, World’s Best Cat Litter Zero Mess and sWheat Scoop Premium this year because they are all using improved clumping technologies, said Rebecca Muñoz, head of public relations.
Toni Shelaske, owner of Healthy Pet Products, which has stores in the Pittsburgh area, started carrying Dr. Elsey’s Cat Attract, which is infused with an herbal attractant and can be added to any cat litter.
"Many consumers are reluctant to change litters but still need something to attract their cats back to the litterbox," Shelaske said. "This product solves that problem perfectly."
American Wood Fibers in Columbia, Md., is introducing Nature Scents, a litter developed for the cat’s sensitive nose that will be low odor and uses ammonia-neutralizing woods with a blend of a very slight fragrance.
"The scents are very mild, but a cat’s nose is very sensitive, and we wanted to avoid the strong chemical perfumes that most natural or clay litters use," said Ed Owens, vice president of engineering and new product development. "We compact the wood to reduce tracking, and then we crumble it to be softer and to absorb quicker. It is nonclumping, so the box is easy to clean."
To meet consumer demand for lightweight products, Oil-Dri Corp. of America is launching Cat’s Pride Lightweight with Baking Soda in both scented and fragrance-free formulas, said Leah Craft, CRM specialist/marketing coordinator for the Chicago-based company.
With a new packaging format of its Cats Incredible Litter, Lucy Pet Products in Westlake Village, Calif., is also accommodating consumers who don’t want to lift extremely heavy packages.
"We recently added a traditional jug package to our lineup," said Rick Rockhill, executive vice president. "These 20-pound jugs offer great value to the consumer and are also easy for retailers to merchandise in line."
With the goal of keeping cats in their homes for as long as possible and of reuniting lost cats with their owners, Dr. Elsey’s Cat Products is launching the Orange Cat Collar Campaign.
"We want wayward indoor cats to get home safely, which is why we’re putting an orange breakaway collar in every 40-pound bag of Dr. Elsey’s Ultra cat litter, while supplies last," said Gina Zaro, marketing director of the Englewood, Colo.-based company. "If you see a cat sporting an orange collar, that is a lost feline trying to get home."
Because of its bulky nature and weight, cat litter can be difficult to merchandise.
Rebecca Muñoz, head of public relations at Phydeaux, which has stores in North Carolina, said that manufacturers are trying to help by creating more interesting packaging and display aids.
"We try to highlight the eye-catching structural and printed features, along with shelf talkers and any coupons or deals, of varied packaging within the litter section by displaying them cleanly and clearly so each brand can shine," Muñoz said.
At Healthy Pet Products, which has stores in the Pittsburgh area, owner Toni Shelaske places large bags on bottom shelves but smaller bags at eye level along with scoopers and litterboxes.
"This is a needed product that customers will find no matter where it is," Shelaske said.
Still, bright colors and images on product packaging can attract consumers’ attention and boost sales.
"At Dr. Elsey’s, we use color associations and lifestyle-oriented cat imagery to make our product approachable and convey their unique value propositions," said Gina Zaro, marketing director for the Englewood, Colo.-based company.
Rick Rockhill, executive vice president of Lucy Pet Products in Westlake Village, Calif., said that cat litter is often the forgotten purchase, as many people tend to pick this item up at the grocery store. He recommends merchandising cat litter in line with cat food to help capture litter purchases in pet supply stores.
At The Natural Pet Enrichment Center in North Royalton, Ohio, litter is displayed on the front wall of the store close to the door.
"We ask our customers what litter they are using and offer small free bags if they are unsure," said owner Christine McCoy. "We carry out litter for all of our customers to their car."
Employees will also open a large bag and transfer litter into a smaller container to help reduce the weight customers will have to lift, she added.