Sizzling Stock: Cat Litter

For people who share their homes with cats, litter is a necessity. Within this staple category, consumers have some pretty clear demands, said industry participants.

"Consumers want litters that solve specific litterbox problems and, secondly, make their lives easier," said Jean Broders, senior brand manager for Muscatine, Iowa-based Kent Pet Group, maker of World’s Best Cat Litter.

The most common problems cat owners want to solve relating to the litterbox are odor, clumping, tracking and aesthetics, insiders said.

"We know consumers are looking for less tracking and products that clump well, which lead to a cleaner litterbox and less litter tracked outside of the box," Broders said.

Sally Adams Trufant, general manager at B&B Pet Stop in Mobile, Ala., said customers look for lightweight litters that reduce odors.

According to Lisa Mak, vice president of marketing for Oil-Dri Corp. in Chicago, lightweight litters now represent about 15 percent of litter retail dollar sales, because they offer both convenience and odor control.

"Lightweight products are convenient for everyone, but especially the aging baby boomer population and urban dwellers," she said. "In addition, they 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."

At Denny’s Pet World in Kirkland, Wash., manager Kelley Parsons said, "The ideal is litter that is odor absorbent, less tracking and more natural, if possible."

Thanks to innovation in the category, consumers now can choose from a wide range of options, from environmentally friendly and all-natural varieties to products that solve age-old problems.

"Natural litter continues to grow as more and more consumers are making ‘green’ choices for home and family, including their pets," said Leslie Ellis, consumer communication manager for Healthy Pet in Ferndale, Wash. "This trend is growing even faster in independent pet stores, where associates have the best chance to educate the consumer on the benefits of natural."

Outside of new ingredients or technology, Broders said many new product introductions are based on messaging that resonates with consumers, such as the word "clean." She also said that attracting cats to the litterbox—or back to the box—remains an important concern for many cat owners.

"Fifty percent of cat-owning households have or will have a cat that refuses to use the litterbox," she said. "This is also the No. 1 reason cats are surrendered to shelters."

In response, Kent and other manufacturers offer litters formulated to draw cats to their litterboxes.

"For those consumers that are dealing with cats that have litter aversion—cats not using the litterbox—we want [them] to know there are options to help attract their cats back to the box," Broders added.