Catnip to Please Finicky Felines

Great selection and smart marketing can help retailers take advantage of cats’ recent popularity boost to drive sales in catnip products.




Between Instagram-famous felines and proud celebrity cat parents (i.e. Taylor Swift), there’s little doubt that cats are cooler than ever. And the numbers seem to agree; according to the 2017-2018 APPA National Pet Owners Survey, the number of pet cats in the U.S. grew from 85.8 million to 94.2 million between 2014 and 2016.


This increasing popularity presents an opportunity for retailers to revitalize and reimagine staple cat categories like catnip toys.


“The catnip cat toy category continues to grow,” says Susan Calles, national marketing manager for Ethical Pet. “Cats have a natural instinct to hunt, so based on their predatory ways, it is only fitting to provide cats with a wide variety of toys with catnip included to satisfy that desire. Whether the toy is catnip filled, catnip scented or pure catnip, the addition of catnip is very appealing to cats, with the scent creating a euphoria resulting in healthy play and exercise.”


However, there is one glaring issue when it comes to catnip—not all cats respond equally to the fragrant plant. That’s why retailers need to take a more hands-on approach to provide consumers with the right selection and resources to drive sales.


“Only about half of all cats respond to catnip, and it isn’t clear if that is dependent on the cat or the catnip,” explains Jim Boelke, president of Cat Dancer Products.


One smart solution is for retailers to provide a wide variety of catnip options for customers to try out on their feline friend.


“When confronted with a customer that has a non-responding cat, a different brand might do the trick,” adds Boelke. “Independent stores would do well to find a smaller, regional, well-packaged and -presented brand of catnip, as well as a couple of the national brand items.”


The Catnip Cat Dancer, for instance, not only employs a plastic mouse infused with 100 percent catnip oil to capture a kitty’s interest, it also features enticing motion with the signature Cat Dancer lure.


“Retailers should carefully plan their assortment to offer the most variety without duplication. This will appeal to a wide range of consumer preferences,” agrees Calles. “Ethical offers a wide selection of catnip toys, catnip scented toys and pure catnip toys to appeal to the finicky nature of cats. Our product line is developed to appeal to the playful desires and needs of cats.”


Ethical manufactures everything from catnip teaser wands and tennis balls to toy rodents of every shape and size, including a pair of 100 percent catnip candy mice.


With so much variety, it’s up to retailers to help shoppers find the best catnip toy for their cat, says Calles. She recommends telling owners to take the time to try different products before ruling catnip out all together.


“Understanding your cat’s play habits is key to picking out the right toy, which may or may not include catnip. Introducing catnip for the first time and taking note of how it affects the cat will help the pet parent determine if catnip is right for their cat,” says Calles. “Playing with the same toy can also result in boredom, so having a variety of toys to rotate will help keep cats challenged.”


Picking Potent Products

Another reason cats might forsake catnip toys: the product isn’t potent enough. Cats are particular creatures, and while pet parents might not know the difference between high- and low-quality catnip, cats will.


“When buying catnip, pet parents should know that only the leaves and flowers have an effect on cats and not the stems, so avoid any products that use stems as fillers to bulk up their product weight,” says Michael Parness, chief marketing officer for Outward Hound and Petstages. “Check labels and ingredients on catnip to make sure it is pure and natural.”


Petstages only uses 100 percent North American catnip with zero fillers in its products to encourage cats to play, hunt and pounce. The company offers more than 100 toys, including a variety of “Catnip Blasted” electronics, plushies, chews and more. The new Puzzle Scratch line, for instance, features four Catnip Blasted bases that all snap together, so owners can build a variety-filled kitty playground to fit their pet’s unique needs.


Safety is another reason retailers should pay close attention to catnip sourcing. Pet parents want the reassurance that the products their furry friends are exposed to are free from harmful chemicals or irritating substances, especially since many cats end up ingesting the catnip.


“We feel the best catnip is certified organic, grown in North America with the highest standards in place,” says Ginger Bussey, vice president of Imperial Cat. “People want to ensure their pets’ wellbeing and, like human consumables, organic is the safest, healthiest way to go.”


All of Imperial Cat’s catnip toys and scratchers are made in the USA and filled with 100 percent organic catnip certified by Quality Assurance International, a U.S.-based international organic certification company.


Pounce-Worthy Promotions

Choosing the right selection is only half the battle when it comes to catnip sales. Marketing also plays a crucial role in capturing consumers’ attention in an oversaturated industry.


Catnip company Meowijuana is a prime example of how smart packaging and novelty can be powerful tools in driving category sales. The company’s award-winning catnip line mimics the budding marijuana industry for a fun and creative look that attracts shoppers’ eyes—and elicits a few laughs.


“As consumers become increasingly savvy, the common consistency is that they love novelty as much as they do quality, so leveraging both of these elements into a catnip product at a time where pets and pet spending are in a phase of growth, that’s a very smart move across the retail spectrum,” says Chris Glissman, president of Meowijuana.


Industry experts also recommend cross-promoting catnip with scratchers to push sales in both categories. This combination is not only great fun for cats, but also acts as a training tool and deterrent from clawing and scratching furniture.


“Cats have to scratch, so it’s important to remember that it’s a natural instinct, not a behavioral issue, when speaking to your customers. Scratchers are as necessary of an accessory for cats as a food bowl and litter box,” says Aimee Diskin, vice president of product development at Worldwise, Inc.


Petlinks by Worldwise, Inc. just launched its first line of corrugated scratchers with patented Catnip Infusion Technology. The innovative process infuses catnip between layers of the scratcher, so as the cat scratches, more scent is released.


“The result is a scratcher that is irresistible to cats with the added benefit of less mess for cat parents,” Diskin says. “It’s been an absolute hit with our test cats, and we are excited for the launch to pet specialty retailers so they can offer their customers more innovation in the scratcher and catnip categories.”


In addition to in-store displays, signage and endcaps, experts highlight the importance of retailers having an online presence to educate consumers about the benefits of catnip and new products.


“In retail the common perspective is around staying within the four walls of the store, however, the great thing about the internet is that smaller retailers can now leverage the power of media to extend their presence farther into their community,” says Glissman.


Parness agrees, adding, “Building email lists, social marketing platforms, retargeting and creating great content around products you carry is key. Testimonials from other customers, along with new product announcements, all benefit the consumer and, ultimately, the retailer.”  PB


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