Growth Potential

Catnip is already a major driver of sales in the cat category-yet with a bit of additional promotion and focus, it still has significant growth potential.


Catnip, in its various forms, is growing in popularity as pet owners become increasingly savvy to the many benefits it offers. In fact, the catnip category has taken a seat next to food, litter and other cat supply essentials in the cat aisle, and it has certainly become an indispensable segment of any pet specialty retailer’s assortment.

“Our studies show [that catnip is] the third most frequently purchased cat category of products behind food and litter,” says Aimee Diskin, director of product development at Worldwise.

Cat owners are becoming increasingly aware of the many benefits of catnip for felines. While it is often perceived as a “treat,” catnip provides both mental and physical stimulation—both of which are “critical for a cat’s general health and well-being,” says Cristen Underwood, director of marketing at Quaker Pet Group. It can keep cats engaged, lessen stress, and combat boredom and obesity. Catnip can even strengthen the relationship between owner and pet.

“It gives a way for pet lovers to bond with their cats and interact with them in a fun way,” says Mark Teixeira, president of Bell Rock Growers. He agrees that it can stimulate appetite and exercise—which are especially important for indoor cats.

Many cat owners envision catnip as loose, dried, leafy greens, but it actually comes in many other forms. While loose catnip is still popular, there are also catnip oils, toys and catnip-infused sprays, available for independent retailers to stock on their shelves. There are also numerous sizes of loose, dried catnip, and live catnip plants come in ready-to-grow packets, seed packets and already grown plants. “Live plants are very hardy at retail and can last up to four weeks or more if they are maintained with water and sunlight,” says Teixeira. He says sales of live catnip, specifically, are up over a year ago and points out that live plants are particularly appealing to cat owners looking for natural products.

For most stores, it makes sense to carry a mix of catnip products: a few sizes of loose catnip; oil or spray for use on other cat products; catnip toys; and at least one brand of live catnip. “An expansive catnip set might also include a catnip-infused bubble solution, on-the-stem catnip and live catnip plants,” says Diskin.

However, she adds that retailers need to be discerning when they stock their catnip assortment. “Not all brands of catnip are created equal,” explains Diskin. “Once a consumer sees their cat turn up his nose at an ineffective catnip that is full of fillers and stems, they may erroneously believe that their cat doesn’t respond to catnip, and those potential sales are lost forever. That is why it is vitally important to stock proven brands that are pure catnip without stems and fillers.”

Catnip also becomes less effective over time, so in addition to choosing a supplier that provides high-quality product it is important to choose one that consistently delivers fresh product.

But choosing the products is only a third of the recipe for success, according to Diskin. “The most successful retailers we’ve worked with take a three-pronged approach to their catnip category,” she says.

The first piece of that approach is all about product selection. “[Successful retailers] offer a variety of sizes and types of catnip at various price points,” she says.

It is equally important, however, that those products are merchandised correctly. “[These retailers] display catnip outside of the catnip ‘set’—with toys, scratchers and bedding—to capture cross-selling opportunities.”

Essentially, retailers should place catnip near products that go hand-in-hand with catnip, especially scratchers and kitty furniture items that help train cats not to scratch on human furniture, she says. Using a catnip spray on a new scratcher, for example, will help attract the cat to the  item and give the cat motivation to use it.

Teixeira agrees. “Most cat owners who are buying products such as toys or scratchers look for catnip to help cats interact with [those products],” he says. “It is therefore critical to merchandise catnip near these products as an impulse item.”

However, he also suggests that retailers try other locations where impulse products tend to do well. “Retailers have found success in merchandising [catnip products] with treats, or at the front of the store in the checkout lane or cash wrap,” Teixeira says.

A Furry Education
The third part of Diskin’s three-prong approach is education. Education plays a large role in how well a store will do with catnip. Having employees who are educated on these products and their uses can help retailers make the most of the catnip category.

Retailers can—and should—reach out to their distributors and suppliers for help with educational materials and any questions they may have. Many suppliers have both educational and point-of-sales materials that are available to retailers, and taking advantage of these can have a significant impact on how both catnip and the cat category overall do within the store.

But successful retailers don’t stop at educating their staff; they also make sure the staff educates the customer. There are at least a few common misperceptions among cat owners about catnip—some cat owners even believe that catnip is dangerous or addicting. Both of these things are untrue.

“[Retailers who are successful with the catnip category] educate their consumers about the effects, benefits and uses of catnip,” says Diskin. “These consumers, in turn, realize that catnip is more than just a diversion for their cats; it can be used to attract cats to toys, bedding, scratchers and furniture; it helps spark a cat’s interest after it has seemingly lost interest in an item, and can assist in training a cat to stop undesirable behaviors,” she explains.

Once a cat owner understands the potential of this leafy green and finds a brand that their cat likes, then they are likely to make regular, repeat purchases—a shopping behavior retailers will want to nurture and capitalize on. “[The pet owner] becomes a loyal customer and will seek out this highly consumable and shelf-stable product,” Diskin adds.  

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