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Many cat owners stick to their litter brand until an issue, such as an illness, aging or stress, forces them to make a change, but other preferences factor in to consumers’ decision-making, as well. The demand for natural ingredients has also increased, along with adoption rates that bring new cats into the home. These factors and more are influencing buying choices and sales in the litter category.

Jean Broders, senior brand manager for Muscatine, Iowa-based Kent Pet Group, maker of World’s Best Cat Litter, said a big sales booster is the increase in cat adoptions.

“This is positive news to a category that is having minimal growth with the exception of e-commerce business,” she said.

Broders also cited ongoing concern about pet anxiety during the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s important for retailers to offer an attractant litter, which can help address stressful issues a cat might be having and keep them going in the litterbox,” she said, recommending World’s Best Cat Litter Picky Cat as a solution to this problem.

Sustainability is another trend, and one that is being led by younger consumers.

Helen Cantrell, director of sales and marketing for Naturally Fresh, a brand of Corning, Calif.-based manufacturer Eco-Shell, noted that millennials “are the largest pet-owning population in the U.S.” She said that this generation is also the future of sustainability. Cantrell referred to The Conference Board Global Consumer Confidence Survey, conducted in collaboration with Nielsen in 2017, which found that 83 percent of millennials think it’s extremely or very important that companies implement programs to improve the environment.

“Seventy-five percent said they will definitely or probably change their purchase/consumption habits to reduce their impact on the environment,” she added.

David Yaskulka, CEO of Lincoln, Neb.-based manufacturer Nature’s Logic, sees this increase in LOHAS (lifestyle of health and sustainability) consumers as well, and his company focuses on sustainability.

“Nature’s Logic is proud to be [one of the] top 20 [most sustainable brands] in the [pet] industry according to the Pet Sustainability Coalition,” he said.

Owners are looking for several features in their litter, he noted.

“Cat parents want 100 percent natural options that are silica and dust free,” Yaskulka said. “They also want less mess. So, for example, non-clumping pine litter works great for longhaired cats. It has low tracking and low dust, which both mean low mess.”

Kellie Branca, district manager of Cherrybrook Pet Supplies, a small chain of pet stores in New Jersey, sees this on the retail side as well.

“Overall, consumers seem to be trending to more natural options for everything related to their pets, and litter is no exception,” she said.

Yet Branca noted that clay litter still has a place.

“Clay tends to be cheaper, and many customers are just used to using clay litter with their cats for decades, so there is no reason to make the switch if the cat is not complaining,” Branca said.

Janice Yamamoto, director of marketing for Laguna Niguel, Calif.-based manufacturer Next Gen Pet Products, said natural cat litters are trending but cautioned that there is no universal meaning behind this term. “The [natural] adjective doesn’t always mean the same thing from brand to brand,” she said.

“Natural materials, a natural way to fight odor, natural fragrance—with Next Gen cat litters, natural means all those things.”

She pointed to Next Gen Pet’s Fresh cat litter line that fights odor naturally with ingredients such as green tea and hinoki cypress oil, which are sourced from sustainable ingredients.

World’s Best Cat Litter is also focused on providing natural solutions to controlling litterbox odor.

“There are many consumers looking for a scented litter,” Broders said. “We recently launched our Multiple Cat Lotus Blossom formula, which offers a light, floral scent with added natural botanicals. With so many consumers working from home, odor control is more important than ever before. Our Lotus Blossom formula offers the same great odor control, plus, for those scent seekers, a light, floral scent.”

In December, Naturally Fresh Cat Litter relaunched its Herbal Attraction formula, which is made with all-natural walnut shells and is one simple solution for cats of all life stages, according to the company. The litter is designed to help cats with litterbox avoidance issues and is ideal for senior cats that aren’t using the litterbox, fussy cats with litterbox acceptance issues and kittens being trained to use the litterbox for the first time.

“It offers a natural solution for attracting cats of all life stages back to the litterbox, making the litter-buying process less complex for cat parents,” Cantrell said.

The litter contains a blend of natural herbs that lures cats to the litterbox but remain undetectable to cat owners, Cantrell added.

Consumer Awareness

Much of the onus for promoting cat litter brands falls on manufacturers.

“Now more than ever, brands need to make sure they have consumer-friendly, engaging, easy-to-navigate websites and social platforms,” Broders said.

She recognizes that many cat owners go online to get information about products, which is a great opportunity to let consumers tell a brand’s story through product reviews.

Consumers themselves, however, are a key promoter of cat litter.

“Word-of-mouth, or recommendations from friends, is still the No. 1 factor in enticing a customer to seek a new product, ” Branca noted.

Cantrell sees consumers as being curious enough to educate themselves about the benefits of sustainable, biodegradable and nontoxic products, but said retailers should bolster their own litter knowledge, too.

“It’s imperative for retailers to also educate themselves and carry products that align with their consumers’ evolution of buying habits,” Cantrell said.

Merchandising

Attracting Cat Owners

While cat litter is not an impulse purchase item for shoppers, pet specialty retailers can call attention to the category through merchandising and promotions.

“We have a section called our ‘Cat Corner,’” said Melissa Whitton, owner of Most Valuable Pets in Lexington, Ky. “Our litter is in-line and merchandised next to our cat food. Both food and litter are our main revenue in our cat section.”

David Yaskulka, CEO of Lincoln, Neb.-based manufacturer Nature’s Logic, recommends floor stacking large bags of litter.

“[Our] litter can be merchandised in a ‘Better for the Environment’ or ‘All-Natural Cat’ display that includes Nature’s Logic cat kibble, cat cans, supplements and treats,” he said.

He also suggests that retailers call out a litter’s natural attributes. For example, Nature’s Logic All-Natural Cat Litter is a 100 percent natural cat litter that has no synthetic ingredients, has excellent odor control, is low dust and does not track, he said.

Manufacturer-provided displays can help attract shoppers, too.

Laurie Wilson, owner of Teca Tu—A Pawsworthy Pet Emporium in Santa Fe, N.M., has seen success with such displays.

“When we decided to carry Sustainably Yours litter, [the company] provided us with a cool display where customers could squeeze water onto the litter to see how it clumped and what it looked like,” she said.

Retailers have also reported success with special offers from manufacturers.

“Occasionally, we see a new product with an aggressive coupon at product launch, which will spark the customer to test something new,” said Kellie Branca, district manager of Cherrybrook Pet Supplies, a small chain of pet stores in New Jersey. “For example, Ökocat comes to mind when they had a ‘first box free’ promo mailed out on postcards. We saw a decent redemption rate with those from both existing customers and new customers who were used to getting their litter at the grocery store.”