No-Nonsense Natural Litters

Avoiding messy dust and overwhelming fragrances, manufacturers are opting for more natural formulas when creating cat litter.




With greater attention turning toward the health of family pets and the environment, consumers have voiced their preferences for litter that will not harm animals and is safe—yet easy—to dispose of. Traditional clay-based litters now face strong competition from those that are produced using materials that are safer, such as corn, bamboo, reclaimed cypress, wheat, wood and recycled paper.


In addition to providing litter solutions that are tolerated by the sensitive feline body, some of these products are created from sustainably sourced materials. Bringing to market innovative litter solutions made from safe components that don’t create a mess in the home or ecosystem has become the focus of many manufacturers who are looking to break away from traditional formulas.


From the early stages of life until their senior years, most domesticated cats will have frequent exposure to litter during their lives. When pet parents think about methods of maintaining cat health, consistent use of quality litter is high on the list of practices that can contribute to a long, healthy life.


“A cat’s life cycle is very relevant when making a decision about which litter to bring home,” says  Janice Yamamoto, director of marketing for Next Gen Pet Products based in Laguna Niguel, Calif. “Early on, nursing kittens are prone to eating their litter and, later in life, cats can develop respiratory issues causing a need for low dust litters. Throughout their lives, cats are historically very picky and adverse to change.”


Many manufacturers are crediting the increase of consumers who perform their own research as the best advocate for the health of pets. Due to the rise of the informed millennial consumer, Paul D. Cannella, president and founder of Catfidence based in Suwanee, Ga., believes the threats from traditional litters are now more widely recognized, which opens the market for innovative, natural formulas that satisfy these new customer demands.


“[Clay litter problems] range from the silica dust that has been linked to upper respiratory issues, chemical fragrances that might be toxic to cats, sodium bentonite that aids in absorbency but can cause numerous issues if a cat digests it and strip-mining process that goes into the harvesting of clay litters,” says Cannella.


With advancements in veterinary medicine and pet-parent dedication to optimizing the health of their cats, these animals are enjoying longer lives. Exposure to potential threats from traditional litter formulas could cause health problems that are preventable if consumers choose safer alternatives. Noting the sensitive physiology of the feline body, Ed Owens, vice president of research and development for American Wood Fibers based in Columbia, Md., explains that pet parents are gaining greater understanding of healing their cats through working with veterinarians.


“As cats have gotten better veterinary care and live longer, pet owners have started to understand that clay litters, while inexpensive, can contribute to respiratory and kidney health problems with long-term exposure,” says Owens.


Adverse reactions from traditional litter formulas can also occur in humans who are exposed to potentially harmful dust and residue. While human inhabitants of a house are able to clearly express feelings of falling ill, simply investigating the causes of a cat’s illness through veterinary care can become costly. Over time, consumers will recognize the value of investing in safer litter formulas, rather than the potentially high monetary and emotional costs dedicated to identifying cat ailments that could be caused by threats from cheaper products.



Picking Up Cat Waste

Growth in the natural litter category will continue to be influenced by a Millennial pet parent population that is becoming older and seeking premium products to ensure the health and happiness of their feline companions. As this generation of consumers enters into more senior-level employment positions, which afford higher salaries, they will be more accepting of the higher costs associated with quality pet products. Citing a rising interest in natural products due to the humanization of pets, Jean Broders, senior brand manager at Kent Pet Group located in Muscatine, Iowa, reveals that the five-year growth forecast for the litter category is a 3 percent increase in this $3 billion category.


“As Millennials have become the No. 1 pet-owning age group, they have affinities towards natural products, which align with their lifestyles and beliefs. All of these factors help support the growth of natural litters within the category,” says Broders.


Though this is excellent news for the litter segment, bricks-and-mortar retailers will need to be smart about their approach to selling in order to secure the business of these customers who often choose ecommerce to fulfill their shopping needs. Throughout 2018, consumers are going to seek greater ease by shopping online to save time. While retailers might offer competitive pricing in their stores, the convenience of delivery is tough to beat, but it can be done, says Nicole Spain, brand manager at BPV Environmental, based in Byron Center, Mich.


“Make sure that employees know the litter market inside and out. That level of service and expertise is not something that can be found online, and if retailers can wow consumers with that, it will keep them coming back to the store. Approach litter like you do food and your consumers will keep coming back to get their food and litter from you,” says Spain.


Manufacturers want retailers to know that they aren’t alone in this task to keep staff informed regarding innovations in natural litter products. Recognizing the importance of providing the most current information regarding their products and sharing findings regarding the market climate, manufacturers are increasingly making education easier for their retail partners.


“Retailers need to understand their customers’ wants and continue to educate their customers about the brands they carry,” explains Gina Zaro, marketing director for Dr. Elsey’s Cat Products based in Englewood, Colo. “We provide retailers with assets to help them educate their customers successfully along with links to our website and direct customer calls.”


Through working together, retailers can report their findings in customer demands to manufacturers who could compare this information with their own market research. As consumers continue to demand safe, non-toxic litter products, retailers can secure customer loyalty through remaining educated regarding how the materials used to make new, natural litters can keep all family members safe, healthy and hygienic. 


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