The Scoop on Litter
With more cat litter options available than ever before, it’s up to retailers to help customers find the right product for their feline friends.
Scooping kitty litter will never be a pet owner’s favorite chore, but the right product can make the messy task a little more bearable.
Although litter has been a mainstay of the cat aisle since it first hit the shelves in the 1950s, the category continues to grow today. In 2015 alone, cat owners spent more than $1.7 billion on cat litter, according to a report from Nielsen. This growth is due in large part to the recent increase in cat ownership. According to the 2015-2016 APPA National Pet Owners Survey, there are currently 85.8 million pet cats in 42.9 million U.S. households.
One of the biggest recent trends in the category is the switch from traditional clay litters to more natural and environmentally conscious litter products, a change driven by the newest generation of pet owners.
“Millennials are now the largest group of cat owners and research has shown that natural and organic products are very important to them in which they are willing to pay a premium,” says Jane Wasley, brand manager for Ferndale, Wash.-based Healthy Pet. “As more and more consumers are educated about the importance of sustainable, biodegradable products that are good for the planet, the natural cat litter category will continue to grow even more.”
Healthy Pet’s ökocat litters come in five formulas—natural wood clumping, soft step clumping, long-hair breed, natural pine and dust-free—and are made from 100 percent sustainable and renewable wood and paper. Both the litter itself and the packaging are biodegradable, making it one of the greenest litters on the market today.
Fresh News, based in Byron Center, Mich., is another environmentally friendly litter option. The super-absorbent formula is made with 100-percent recycled paper, which helps to reduce landfill space and can even be composted and used as mulch.
But just because consumers want eco-friendly litters doesn’t mean they’re willing to forgo performance. The core features that cat owners have always looked for like odor prevention, absorption and clumping, are still important to today’s customers. Ökocat litters, for example, boast seven-day odor control and a 500-percent absorption rate, and they are super lightweight.
“Consumers want to spend less time cleaning the litter box and more time with their cats,” says Jean Broders, senior manager for Muscatine, Iowa-based World’s Best Cat Litter. “They want a litter that is quick and easy to clean. That means it needs to clump well, have little or no dust and be easy to dispose of. Although there are many litters entering the market to meet specific needs, the consumer wants something that is really hassle-free. They want a litter that does it all. They aren’t willing to sacrifice one benefit for another.”
Cat owners certainly all know the daily struggle of scooping and disposing of litter. Luckily, the makers of World’s Best Cat Litter came up with a solution: flushable litter. In fact, all six of the company’s litter formulas are septic safe, so dirty litter doesn’t just sit in the garbage can. Each formula is also made from renewable, naturally absorbent whole kernel corn, features outstanding odor control and is 99-percent dust-free.
Another big litter trend, according to industry experts, is solutions-based litters. “I think that more people are concerned at the moment with making sure that litter is meeting the cat’s needs,” says Gina Zaro, marketing director for Englewood, Colo.-based Precious Cat, Inc. “Our litters have always been solutions-based, but more and more people are finding that it’s important to try to meet the needs of their cats. I think that comes along with the humanization trend.”
Precious Cat’s Health Monitor Everyday Litter, for example, is specially designed so that owners can monitor kitty’s elimination levels by weighing urine balls.
“This formula lets owners get an idea if their cat is urinating too much, which is a very early sign of kidney problems, hyperthyroidism and diabetes,” explains Zaro. “Cats are really good at hiding illnesses, so oftentimes they’re ill and you don’t know it until they’re in their last stages.” Additionally, the box includes a free digital scale, as it is important to check cats’ weight regularly if they are experiencing urinary issues and report weight loss to the vet.
Precious Cat also offers a Respiratory Relief with Herbal Essences litter for kitties prone to respiratory issues. The two formulas, clumping clay and silica gel, are both low in dust and hypoallergenic with zero plant proteins, perfumes or deodorants. The natural essences help relieve stress, which can help control feline respiratory disease.
With so many options, it’s up to retailers to help customers find the right litter for their cats. Zaro recommends utilizing informative signage, like shelf talkers, to highlight litter features like lightweight, all-natural or special needs (senior cats, respiratory relief, urinary tract problems).
“Obviously signage is very important in all retail stores so that consumers can quickly and easily find what they need,” says Marty Phelan of BPV Environmental, makers of Fresh News. “Our suggestion is to group litters together by substrates, such as the non-clumping clays, the clumping clays, and the alternatives. This will make it easier for consumers to navigate the different options.”
Colorful, fun window displays and endcaps can also be effective ways to attract customer attention. Consider highlighting a few similar solution-based litters like dust-free or lightweight formulas in a special display.
Litter is also an ideal product to cross merchandise with other products like scoops and litter boxes. “You can also do cross-promotions with kitten food. If you see someone buying kitten food ask what kind of litter they are thinking of using,” says Phelan. “Most veterinarians will suggest a paper litter for post-surgical cats, so if the consumer is going to get a kitten declawed, it can be best to start the kitten with Fresh News. That way there is no radical change in the litter.”
And don’t forget about social media—Zaro advises that retailers share instructional videos and interact with customers online to keep pet owners informed about the wide variety of litter options.
The best marketing tool at retailers’ disposal, though, is their own staff. “Retailers should make sure their staff is educated on the various litter options,” says Broder. “Our team does a great job of offering training sessions and demos of our litter, so associates have a chance to see how the litter works firsthand and ask questions to better understand.”
Salespeople should take advantage of resources provided by manufacturers so that they’re well prepared to offer recommendations to pet owners and answer their questions. While the category may not be new, there are always new innovations and products coming out that retail staff should be up to date on.
Experts also encourage staff members to ask customers questions to help them find the best product for their cat. “Asking questions is the best thing you can do. If retail customers are looking to switch their litter, find out why and then you’re able to make suggestions to remedy their problem,” says Phelan.
Zaro agrees, adding: “If a person walks in the door of a pet store and they’re looking for something to get rid of odor in their carpet, the next question should probably be ‘does your cat have an inappropriate elimination issue?’ Or, if they’re coming in and saying my cat is sneezing or having upper respiratory issues, it may be time to ask ‘do you need a litter that is low dust or more specific to your cat’s needs?’”