There’s no question that consumers have some specific concerns in mind when they shop for cat litter. According to Josh Wiesenfeld, founder and CEO of Santa Monica, Calif.-based Boxiecat, the No. 1 complaint from consumers is dust.
"It causes health concerns and can contribute to allergy and respiratory issues as well as accumulate on furniture and around the litterbox area," Wiesenfeld said. "Odor is the next most important consumer concern—it can be embarrassing to have a litterbox smell in the home and can also cause a cat to avoid using the litterbox."
Sherry Redwine, co-owner of Odyssey Pets in Dallas, said that she gets a lot of questions about how long litter will last.
"People don’t want to have to lug 40 pounds of litter into their house all of the time or have to dump the litterbox often," she said. "They want a litter that lasts longer."
Industry participants noted that other concerns include the ability of the litter to clump, disposability, absorbency and product weight. Pet specialty retailers who are cognizant of these concerns can help direct shoppers to the best product choices for them.
"Customers want to know that you’re listening to them," said Shane Rippey, general manager of Fin & Feather Pet Center in Richmond, Va. "They want to know that you’re hearing their concerns and helping them to come up with solutions."
Often, cat owners don’t think much about the litter they are using until there is a problem, said Geneviève Provost, director of marketing for Intersand in Boucherville, Quebec, Canada. In fact, litterbox problems are one of the most common reasons people abandon or even euthanize cats, and, oftentimes, the problem could be solved simply by switching the litter, Provost said. As such, educating owners about their options should be a priority for pet specialty retailers.
Jean Broders, senior brand manager for Muscatine, Iowa-based Kent Pet Group, maker of World’s Best Cat Litter, agreed that the right litter can be a solution if a cat is having litterbox issues.
"For example, we recently launched our Picky Cat line, which includes a natural attractant to keep cats going in the box," she said. "There are other factors that could also be causing issues, but litter should be considered as a quick, easy solution."
Shane Rippey, general manager for Fin & Feather Pet Center in Richmond, Va., said that with the task of selling litter comes the responsibility of problem solving for customers. He said that customers often have questions—especially if their cat is suddenly not using the litterbox like it always has in the past.
"The best way to address those questions is a one-on-one conversation," Rippey said. "We pride ourselves on making personal recommendations that are right for each individual cat, but the only
way to do that is to actually talk to the customers and find out what’s going on."
Unpleasant odors and the challenge of keeping the litterbox clean are among the most common issues that cat owners face.
"Litterbox odors are always a good topic as they can affect both humans and cats," said Josh Wiesenfeld, founder and CEO of Boxiecat in Santa Monica, Calif. "Educating on causes of litterbox odors and quality solutions builds trust."
Savvy retailers will make sure consumers understand a litter’s properties, Provost noted.
"Retailers cannot just sell litter as though it is sand in a box," he added. "It is more than that. Each cat litter has its own properties, and the retailers must educate cat parents on this. First, they must know their products. Ask the manufacturer about the litter and try it for yourself. After that, you will be able to explain to your customer why one litter may be a better choice—and may be more expensive—than another one."
Of course, educational opportunities do not only exist in-store. Gina Zaro, marketing director for Dr. Elsey’s Cat Products in Englewood, Colo., suggested that using content-driven messaging on the proper media platforms can help convey important information.
"Educational information is beneficial for customers to learn more about products and even share that information," Zaro said. "Social media channels are expanded opportunities for your brand’s voice, content and interactions with customers."
Displays that Sell
The biggest challenge in selling cat litter is pulling sales away from the grocery store, said Josh Wiesenfeld, founder and CEO of Boxiecat in Santa Monica, Calif. Approximately 75 percent of litter sales happen in grocery, making it vital that pet specialty retailers find a way to differentiate themselves, Wiesenfeld noted. But more than anything, consumers have to know a store sells it.
"One of the big things we hear from our retailers is that customers are buying food in specialty but litter in grocery, so we suggest merchandising litter in or near the food—where
it is front and center in the customer’s mind as they shop for food," Wiesenfeld said. "Endcaps and off-shelf displays can mix litter and food."
Jean Broders, senior brand manager for Muscatine, Iowa-based Kent Pet Group, maker of World’s Best Cat Litter, said that, in addition to product selection, factors such as education, personal attention and services keep consumers shopping in independent pet stores.
"Take advantage of product lines that are exclusive to the channel and promote those products in-store, especially with new customers," she said. "Home deliveries are also an added bonus."
Some of the most effective litter displays are those that enable consumers to experience the product first-hand—whether it is through smell or touch, said Joe Toscano, vice president and director of business development and industry relations at St. Louis-based Nestlé Purina PetCare Co. Tidy Cats offers several displays where consumers can see, smell and even lift the litter before they buy it.
Displays can go a long way in showing off a store’s product assortment. Sherry Redwine, co-owner of Odyssey Pets in Dallas, said that the store’s smaller bags of litter are stocked on a shelf, but floor stack-outs are kept close by so that shoppers can peruse all of the litter at once and see what the store has to offer.
Bethany Lontz, store manager for The Blue Dog Pet Shop in Lemoyne, Pa., said that having in-store cat adoptions has worked wonders when it comes to selling litter.
"We can point out how many cats we have living in the store and the fact that you can’t smell the litter," Lontz said. "That’s usually a great selling point."
Eco-Friendly, Odor-Absorbing and Bacteria-Eliminating Introductions
Kent Pet Group in Muscatine, Iowa, recently launched World’s Best Cat Litter Advanced Picky Cat. The multiple-cat litter combines the concentrated power of corn with a natural, plant-based ingredient that safely attracts cats to the litterbox, said Jean Broders, senior brand manager. The litter is ideal for newly adopted cats, kittens, seniors or cats that don’t always go in the box.
St. Louis-based Nestlé Purina PetCare Co. has introduced Tidy Cats Free & Clean Unscented Litter, which uses odor-absorbing, activated charcoal technology and is free of scents and dyes. The activated charcoal is made from coconut shells that have been treated with high-pressure heat and steam, which creates millions of tiny surface pores that activate odor-absorbing abilities, said company officials.
Boxiecat in Santa Monica, Calif., now offers BoxiePro Deep Clean, which eliminates 100 percent of bacteria in the litterbox so that cats are not spreading germs around the home, according to the company.
Dr. Elsey’s Cat Products in Englewood, Colo., has debuted its Dr. Elsey’s Clean Tracks, a low-tracking, hard-clumping, odor-eliminating litter. It has a unique formulation of medium-grain clay that helps keep litter in the box while controlling odor without added perfumes or deodorants, said company officials.
Intersand of Boucherville, Quebec, Canada, recently relaunched Ecolife, an eco-friendly clumping litter, with an improved formula. Ecolife is made from a unique blend of wheat and corn, is 100 percent natural and is a biodegradable alternative to clay litters, according to the company.