Looking at Litter
As the litter market continues to grow, specialize and innovate, keeping track of changing trends is a priority for any pet retailer.
The cat litter category has become more complicated than ever by offering an increasing number of choices for pet owners. Retailers need to be aware of changing trends that emphasize eco-friendly materials, greater variety, lightweight lifting and litter solutions designed to prevent accidents. By becoming well-informed about shakeups in the litter category, retailers can help customers select innovative products that meet both their own needs and those of their felines.
When customers look for litter at a pet store, they may come with common questions about odor control, clumping, cleanliness and dust volume. It’s up to retailers to not only address these typical concerns, but to direct their customers to a wide range of products that may unexpectedly resolve cat waste-management and behavioral issues.
“Litters are beginning to focus more on specific consumer needs, offering a problem-solution,” says Jean Broders, senior brand manager for Kent Pet Group. “You need to call out those pain points that consumers are dealing with and offer easy solutions that fit the need.”
Based in Muscatine, Iowa, Kent Pet Group oversees the World’s Best Cat Litter brand. The company prides itself on offering different varieties of corn kernel-based litter that anticipate every conceivable issue when it comes to cat waste management.
“We have a formula that addresses every consumer need,” explains Broders. “If they are looking for overall performance, our Clumping and Multiple Cat Clumping formulas are for them. If they like scent, our lavender-scented formula is available. For those who are really focused on a messy litter box and tired of dealing with it, our Advanced Zero Mess formulas are for them.”
Even with such a diverse product range, the brand wants to push the envelope further when it comes to cat litter. The company’s newest product actually aims to correct feline behavior.
According to Broders, “Choosing the right litter can be a solution for cats that are not going in the box. We are introducing our Advanced Picky Cat formulas, which naturally attracts the cat to the litter box. Consumers need to know they don’t have to settle with their current litter if they aren’t getting the performance they expect.”
World’s Best Cat Litter isn’t the only brand with products designed to prevent cats from having accidents. Dr. Elsey’s Cat Attract litter line has a natural herb attractant that emits a pleasing scent, as well as an ideal texture and particle size. This combination of qualities lures cats to litter boxes and prevents them from going outside of the box. Retailers can also let customers know that each Cat Attract package comes with a Litter Box Solutions pamphlet that helps resolve waste-management problems.
Cat Attract litter was not only designed to correct behavior, but also to save cats’ lives. According to Gina Zaro, marketing director for Englewood, Colo.-based Dr. Elsey’s, “Cat Attract is for cats that don’t use the litter box, which is the No. 1 reason cats are euthanized or put in shelters.”
This litter line also includes a Kitten Attract version that helps train kittens to use the litter box. In addition to the Cat Attract litters, Dr. Elsey’s offers products with other specific purposes. For example, the brand’s Health Monitor Everyday litter provides insight into medical conditions like kidney function, diabetes and hyperthyroidism. The clumping litter comes with a chart and scale to check whether cats’ urine balls are at a healthy weight. The brand also has litters tailored for multi-cat homes, senior cats and felines with respiratory conditions.
“The reason that we offer a wide variety of choices is because we’re a solutions-based litter,” explains Zaro. “We try to provide solutions for cats and their owners depending on the issue.”
As retailers help their customers select litters, they can also bring up another recent trend rapidly overtaking this category: eco-friendly materials. This new tendency is often paired with an emphasis on litter that’s lightweight and easy to lift.
“The trend over the past few years, as people have learned more about the health effects of clay and clumping clay litters, is toward more natural, healthier and lighter weight products that won’t last forever in landfills,” says Ed Owens, vice president of engineering for American Wood Fibers. “While lighter weight and healthier products are desired, they must still perform as well or better than the clay they are replacing.”
Headquartered in Columbia, Md., American Wood Fibers recently introduced Nature Scents, a wood-based cat litter formulated for cats’ sensitive noses. The company is one of the largest wood shaving manufacturers in the U.S. and has more than 50 years of experience working with wood-based bedding and litters.
“We saw a need in the cat litter market for an all-natural, non-clumping, healthy alternative to the heavy clay and chemically perfumed litters on the market,” says Owens. “Most wood-based litters are made from pine, but pine is not the best wood for odor control and the strong pine smell is not preferred by cats. We start with a different wood that is better for neutralizing ammonia, and we compress it to reduce tracking and increase absorption.”
The company also takes a green approach in its manufacturing process. According to Owens, “Our base wood is sourced from the sawdust that is generated from wood manufacturers, so we aren’t harvesting trees to start the process. We end up with a great environmental product that has better odor control and is very easy to use.”
American Wood Fibers is not the only company to craft its litter products to be environmentally friendly. Fresh News Cat Litter from BPV Environmental is one of the only litters on the market that uses 100 percent post-consumer recycled paper.
“Being made from paper makes our litters naturally lightweight,” says Nicole Spain, brand manager for BPV Environmental. “Fresh News is almost half the density of a typical clay litter, and that means consumers get double the amount of Fresh News when comparing 25-lb. bags of both litters.”
The Byron Center, Mich.-based company obtains its paper through a unique, philanthropic process that retailers may want to mention to customers looking for a new litter. BPV Environmental’s PaperGator program places recycling bins at non-profit organizations and uses the collected paper to produce the Fresh News products. According to Spain, the company has contributed $1.7 million to non-profits through this program.
While Canada Litter does not use paper in its litter products, the company still prides itself on offering eco-friendly options for consumers. Based in Quebec, Canada, the company makes natural clay litters that are designed to be lightweight.
“People demand better, healthier products for their pets and for themselves,” says Jean Martin Verrault, marketing and communications manager for Canada Litter. “Manufacturers need to adapt by expanding their product lines. We’ve seen great innovations with alternative materials—natural sources are all the rage.”
Canada Litter uses sodium betonite clay that undergoes a rigorous dust-removal process and is only lightly fragranced in order to retain the material’s natural absorbency and clumping power. The litter comes in recyclable, eco-friendly packaging.
Catfidence relies on bamboo in its formula rather than clay. This product is made by PoopBags.com, a Suwanee, Ga. company that recently entered the cat litter category after spending 15 years in the pet waste bag marketplace. Paul Cannella, the company’s president and founder, believes that organic, eco-friendly cat litters are the category’s future. He also envisions a movement away from clay-based litters.
“When we do demo tests at trade shows, the clay litters have liquid floating on top of them while Catfidence just keeps soaking it up,” says Cannella. “We all know how bamboo just grows and grows by sucking up all the water it can reach. Well, the same cellular structure of the plants soaks up all the urine and odors.”
According to Canella, the litter category should have a focus on health and safety in addition to considering environmental impact.
“Cats are in direct contact with litter on their paws and mouths,” he says. “Then they track it around the house; it gets kicked up in HVAC systems where homeowners breathe it in. Since Catfidence is all-natural with no chemicals added for absorbency or odor control, it’s safe for both people and pets.”
With so many different litter options available, retailers can easily help customers select products that are safe, eco-friendly, and even specifically tailored to their cats’ individual needs. By being knowledgeable about category’s evolving trends, pet retailers can stay ahead of the curve and supply vital product information to cat owners making important decisions for their pets. PB