All Natural Cat Litter
Natural litter alternatives can be healthier for felines and pet owners, as well as more beneficial for the planet.
While consumables might be the first products people think of when they hear the term natural, the adjective is being applied to more and more categories throughout the pet industry, including cat litter. And as in many other pet product categories, the definition of natural can be somewhat subjective. While retailers have to decide what the standard is for their store, manufacturers provide some insight on what guidelines they adhere to in defining the term when it comes to litter.
“We define natural cat litter as any litter made from renewable, compostable ingredients,” says Janice Yamamoto, director of marketing for Laguna Niguel, Calif.-based Next Gen Pet. “Natural cat litters can be made from wood like Next Gen’s litters, or corn, wheat, grass or even coconut husk, and are a great option for your home because many are low in dust, sustainably sourced and work just as well, if not better than, traditional litter.”
Jean Broders, senior brand manager for Muscatine, Iowa-based Kent Pet Group, also reinforces sustainability as a key feature of natural litters.
“Natural should be defined beyond materials that come from the earth,” Broders says. “They also should be a renewable resource.”
For some natural litter manufacturers, playing an active role in reducing waste is an essential element, such as by using recycled materials as the primary ingredients.
“For Fresh News, we define our cat litter as natural because we are helping to keep paper out of landfills, and when 40 percent of landfill space is estimated to be paper products, that impact can make a big difference in our environments,” says Nicole Spain, brand manager for BPV Environmental, based in Byron Center, Mich. “The biggest advantage that natural cat litters can provide is peace of mind. It is reassuring to know that you are using a litter that is going to be good for the environment, great for your pet and hopefully a cleaner litter for your home.”
Overall, natural litters are often lighter, made from sustainable or biodegradable materials and free of chemical additives, offering pet parents an option that is better for pets, people and the planet.
The Informed Consumer
From food to treats to toys, pet parents are asking more questions about the products they’re buying, how and where they’re made, and what goes into them. Cat litter is no exception, which is helping drive growth in sales in the category’s natural segment.
“Pet parents are starting to really care about the litter that they are using, and they are demanding better products,” Spain says. “We believe that the more educated a consumer is,
the more they demand a product that is safe, effective and environmentally friendly.”
In general, consumers are making more educated choices, shifting towards products that are in some way healthier, whether for the people or pets consuming them, or for the environment as a whole. Helen Cantrell, director of marketing and sales for Corning, Calif.-based Naturally Fresh Cat Litter, says the millennial market in particular is driving this trend, along with consumers who are particularly concerned about the environmental impact of their purchases.
For retailers, there is an opportunity to further bolster sales growth of natural products, including cat litter, in their stores by playing an active role in informing their customers both about the availability of natural options and the benefits they provide.
“The more educated the market, the greater the demand for better performing, environmentally friendly products,” says Cantrell. “Consumers are driving the innovation because they are raising their own standards.”
While natural cat litters are on the rise, there is still a lot of growth both in the litter category in general and in the natural segment for pet specialty retailers. Spain points out that many pet owners aren't even turning to the pet specialty channel for their litter needs.
“We are still seeing that cat parents tend to buy their litters in the grocery store; it’s the association with cat litter being a cleaning product,” Spain says. “The biggest thing that retail owners can do is be experts in the litter category and then make sure to pay attention to what their customers are buying. If they’re buying cat food, it’s inevitable they need litter; make sure they know that not only do you carry it, but you’re educated on all the different varieties.”
Gina Zaro, marketing director for Dr. Elsey’s Cat Products, based in Englewood, Colo., also emphasizes that informed pet parents are also simply looking for a better product. In a world where consumers are constantly seeking out products or services for themselves that make their lives easier, get the job done faster or solve a nagging problem, cat litter is no exception.
“Cat parents want better products for their cats that have a proven track record of working—the humanization trend is still important,” Zaro says. “They are more educated and demand superior products for their cats.”
Litter might not be the easiest product to build fun merchandising displays around, but manufacturers are making an effort to provide attractive, informative packaging and support retailers’ in-store efforts. Retailers need to focus on highlighting those features on the shelf, especially with products like natural cat litter where customers may not know the benefits or know which product is right for them.
“Cat owners demand the same level of appeal and education as they do when they are shopping for themselves,” says Zaro. “It is important to convey the problem you are solving, while capturing the interest of customers. At Dr. Elsey’s, we use color associations and lifestyle-oriented cat imagery to make our products approachable and convey their unique value propositions.”
It may take some extra work on the retailers’ part at first, but making an effort up front, to make it easier for customers to learn more about their litter options, will pay off in sales in the long run.
“Shelf talkers really do wonders—educate the consumer easily with some signage on what the different litters are,” Spain says. “If you already have the consumer coming in to buy the litter, then put up some great descriptions of each of the categories.”
Litters traditionally pose a challenge in merchandising because of their sheer weight, often relegating the heavy packages to bottom shelves. But one of the benefits for many natural litters is the lightweight material they’re made from, which both lighten the load for customers and make it possible to display them on higher shelves where they’re more likely to catch shoppers’ eyes. Litter can also be cross-merchandised with other related products that customers may not think to purchase on a regular basis.
“Pairing Green Tea Fresh with a wide-tined scoop or a litter box is a great cross-promotional opportunity that helps remind consumers not to hang on to scoops or boxes too long—they should be replaced regularly,” Yamamoto says.
And sampling shouldn't just be limited to treats and food. Some manufacturers, including Fresh News, will provide a sample of litter large enough to fill a box, allowing customers to see for themselves the difference a natural alternative can make. Retailers could also display the litters in store, which both provides a unique merchandising look for a litter display and provides a hands-on experience with the product.
“Some of our retailers have a display with sample litter boxes out with a variety of cat litters available to touch, see and sample,” Yamamoto says. “Many times cat litters are in opaque bags that block the consumer’s ability to see into the bag. People have to take a gamble that their cat will be okay with a litter that they have never brought home before.”
Natural cat litters also provide a great opportunity for retailers to be a problem solver for pet owners, which can help boost customer loyalty and make the retailer the go-to for future inquiries. Broders points out that customers may be looking for a specific improvement on their current litter, but may not know there are natural options that can meet those needs. It’s essential that retailers both be aware of the particular features of the litters they stock, and highlight them in conversation with customers and through in-store signage.
“Consumers have different wants and needs when it comes to cat litter,” Broders says. “No dust, better odor control, safe for my cats, flushable—retailers should direct consumers to a product that solves a specific problem or issue they are having with their current litter.”
Of course, seeking out the best possible manufacturer partners is an essential part of seeing success in the natural cat litter category. Especially because this is a category that still has a lot of room for growth in the pet specialty channel, retailers should work with companies that will support the work needed to pursue those potential sales.
“Retailers should work with brands that give them the opportunity to take care of their customers,” Broders says. “That could be through loyalty programs, social media promotions, special events, rewards for purchase, etc. Not all brands offer these unique programs, so partner with brands that do or are willing to develop programs for the specific retailer’s needs.”
There are many good options on the market for natural cat litters, so putting together the right selection is a matter of asking the right questions from the beginning.
“Retailers must also ask themselves: What is that manufacturer doing to bring customers through the door? How unique is the product? Is it redundant? Are you providing what the consumer is looking for—will it attract them to the store?” Cantrell says. “Answers to these questions will help them find the best partners and products for their consumers.” PB