Making Litter Boxes Eco-Friendlier

Better natural formulas and more cat owners mean bigger opportunities for retailers looking to capitalize on litter.




Since its invention 70 years ago, traditional cat litter has ruled the market, but for an increasing number of pet parents, clay just doesn’t cut it anymore. As in many other pet categories, natural alternatives are on the rise in cat litter. In fact, according to Packaged Facts, natural cat litter sales increased 11.6 percent in 2016 and are expected to keep growing over the next five years.


“The category is growing, and if retailers do not invest in the natural category they will start to see their customers leave for retailers who have those products,” says Nicole Spain, brand manager for BPV Environmental, makers of Fresh News Cat Litter.


Industry experts also point to the increase in cat ownership in the U.S. as an incentive to offer a better variety of litters, including natural formulas.


“There are over 29 million cat-owning households in the U.S., and of those, 51 percent own multiple cats,” says Jean Broders, senior brand manager for Kent Pet Group. “These cat owners are willing to pay more for a cat litter that makes a difference in their pet’s life and is also environmentally friendly. Natural litters are the answer for these consumers.”


What is Natural?

Currently, there’s no official definition of what makes a cat litter “natural,” so there are many different formulas on the market made from non-traditional and eco-friendly ingredients.


“A lot of products fall into the ‘natural’ category, and it really depends on your definition of what makes a product natural,” explains Spain. “For Fresh News, we consider natural to be a product that uses natural odor control additives, as well as being a product that adds to the Earth’s longevity.”


Fresh News Cat Litters are made from 100 percent recycled paper, which not only makes them biodegradable when composted, but also keeps paper materials out of landfills. “It is estimated that 35 percent of landfill space is paper, and our products are slowly helping to lower that number,” says Spain.


Just because the litters are natural doesn’t mean they are less effective, though. Fresh News Litters, for example, harness the natural power of baking soda to absorb and neutralize unpleasant smells without added chemicals. For cats that aren’t keen on the original Fresh News Cat Litter pellet texture, there’s the Multi-Cat product, which features a softer crumble. Both formulas are also non-allergenic, 99 percent dust free and low tracking.


Other natural cat litters, like Laguna Niguel, Calif.-based Next Gen’s products, employ recycled wood to create a safe, effective and eco-friendly formula. All three of the company’s litters—Green Tea Fresh, Cypress Fresh and Timber Fresh—contain zero chemicals or artificial fragrances; instead, natural ingredients control odors.


“Next Gen’s products are designed with a purpose, so ingredients like green tea or Hinoki cypress not only serve as a pleasant, natural scent for the litter, but also help control the odor in the litter box by suppressing bacteria growth,” says Janice Yamamoto, director of marketing. “You no longer have to sacrifice product performance to be environmentally conscious.”


Plus, because Next Gen’s all-natural litters are made with wood rather than clay, they weigh a lot less than clay and are low in dust. That means better clumping, less tracking and much lighter packages.


“One health benefit people don’t often thinks of is the weight of the product. Cat litters are usually heavy; most traditional litters are literally a bag of rocks,” says Yamamoto. “Because of the way we produce our litter, Next Gen litters are 90 percent lighter than clay, making them much easier to pick up—especially for some cat owners who may have physical limitations.”


Another approach to creating a more eco-friendly litter is keeping it out of landfills all together. Traditional clay litters never actually break down, so more than eight million pounds end up in landfills each year—and stay there. Many natural litters, on the other hand, are biodegradable.


“Natural litters made from renewable materials like ökocat wood and paper litters are better for the cat, the home and the environment with no harmful silica dust. They are biodegradable and can even be composted or flushed where appropriate,” says Leslie Ellis, consumer communications manager for Healthy Pet, creators of ökocat.



Don’t Forget About Safety

Natural cat litters aren’t just about sustainability and earth-friendly ingredients. They’re also about creating products that are safer for the felines that use them.


“Over 75 percent of pet owners say they would be willing to spend more for products that ensure the health of their pets,” says Broders. “Natural litters are safe for pets, their owners and the environment. Safety is huge with consumers these days, and truly natural litters are the only litters that satisfy this consumer need.”


Natural litters are a smart choice for cats with respiratory issues, like asthma, because they’re free of silica dust and perfumes, which can irritate  cats’ sensitive throats and lungs. World’s Best Cat Litters by Kent Pet Group are all free of dust and fragrance additives. They’re all also made from sustainable corn and are septic safe, so pet parents can simply flush waste away.


Most recently, Kent Pet Group launched the Advanced Zero Mess line, which uses a special blend of absorbent plant fibers to turn waste into tight, easy-to-scoop clumps.


“The line is being received by consumers positively, as it addresses a major problem they face with owning a cat—a messy litter box,” says Broders. “The messaging really seems to hit at the core issue they are facing.”


Of course, offering a great selection of natural cat litters is only one piece of the puzzle. To truly make the most of the category, retailers need to make strategic decisions about marketing and sales techniques.


One of the easiest ways to promote sales of natural litters is to rethink the location of the products within the store.


“We would recommend moving the litter to a more prominent part of the store. Normally, you’ll find the litters tucked into the back corner,” says Spain. “Instead, put the litters in a more prominent area so that they are easily seen when going to get the food, toys and treats.”


The most powerful sales tool, though, is customer education. Retailers should be prepared to take advantage of any opportunity to point out the features of natural cat litters to customers looking for an alternative option.


“With the challenge of keeping consumers shopping in brick-and-mortar stores, natural litters give retailers the chance to educate their consumers on a one-on-one basis,” says Broders. “They can become a source of expertise for consumers and someone they go to for product recommendations.”


Retailers who take the time to listen to customers’ needs and provide expert advice are much more likely to find success. For instance, if a cat owner complains about dust or a messy litter box, salespeople should be able to identify an appropriate natural product solution.


“We’ve already seen some successful retailers take steps to fully educate themselves and their staff on the benefits and advantages of products entering the marketplace,” says Yamamoto. “Those retailers who have passed that education along to the faithful customers are beginning to see a movement back to purchasing pet products locally, especially heavier products that are more difficult to ship, like litter.”  PB


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