In Living Color
by Melissa Breau
September 30, 2011
Cat grass products offer cat owners a chance to treat their cat while also helping with a real problem: hairballs.



As the temperature outside drops, cat grass sales start to heat up, according to Bruce J. Flantzer, senior vice president of sales at MiracleCorp. He says November through March are the most popular months for cat grass sales, when fewer cat owners allow their kitties to prowl outdoors and choose to bring some green inside, instead.

“If I was a retailer, I would definitely put a promotion in November, December and January to help sales,” says Flantzer.

Although his company has been in the cat grass business for a long time, he says the category took off about three years ago, when specialty stores began offering live grass products to cat owners.

 “The pet industry is definitely trending toward offering a wider array of natural, organic and healthy options for their customers, largely due to consumer awareness and demand,” says Catherine Hoffmann, owner of Bell Rock Growers, which also offers a range of cat grass products.

Cat grass fits perfectly into this trend, as an all-natural and healthy treat. But cat grass also has another purpose: “It gets rid of hairballs, plus it has a lot of proteins and minerals that indoor cats don’t have a lot of opportunities to get,” says Flantzer.

Cats can often be more difficult to treat due to their finicky natures. And hairballs are a common issue. Fortunately, most cats are naturally attracted to the grass, which makes it a much more appealing option than trying to give fluffy a pill or other type of remedy.

“The cat grass is a total natural thing,” says Flantzer. “If you grow it, they’re going to go for it.”


Watch it Grow   
While Flantzer was talking about the cats, the same could be said of their owners. Initially, cat grass is often an impulse buy. It has a low price point and offers cat owners a “feel good” element, since cats see it as a treat and it serves a practical purpose. And many customers are intrigued by the idea of offering their cats living grass.

However, it is also a consumable, so once cat owners have tried it and can see that their cats enjoy it and that it truly helps with hairball management, they come back to buy it again and again. “It’s a very easy category–the products move very well,” says Flantzer. “It’s just a very simple, down-to-earth type of selling that is not a big spend for the consumer.”

Retailers can choose to carry live grass, grow-your-own grass products, or both. While both serve the same purpose, they each have different advantages and disadvantages.

“Mostly [retailers] need to be aware of proper in-store care of the live pet grass and catnip, which is not at all difficult, but there are a couple of dos and don’ts involved,” says Hoffmann.

Live cat grass offers customers instant gratification; they buy it, take it home and offer it to their cat. But retailers have to keep it alive in the store, and they need to place live grass somewhere it can receive ample sunlight.

“We provide [retailers] with a free, natural-wood display with a watering tray, which makes caring for the live plants much easier,” she says.

It’s also important for retailers to understand the distribution chain of any live grass they stock, to avoid receiving grass that’s toward the end of its lifecycle and to maximize shelf life. (“Our live Pet Grass and Catnip is delivered to stores weekly, fresh from our farm,” says Hoffmann.) Since cat grass is a repeat product, retailers have to be careful to stock enough live grass to satisfy demand, without overstocking, which will result in dead, unsellable grass.

In order to strike the right balance, retailers need to combine careful experimentation with a strong relationship with a trusted supplier. “We work closely with our retailers to make sure they’re ordering the correct quantities for optimal sales,” says Hoffmann.

A supplier who has worked with stores of varying sizes and customer bases can lend their experience to help their retail partners decide how much product to order; but, since every store is unique, retailers will ultimately need to decide what works best for their own shelves.

Grow-your-own products don’t offer the instant gratification for consumer that live grass offers, but they have a longer shelf life, which means less risk for the retailer. “They can sit on the shelf for a year or two, and when you put water in them, the seeds will still germinate,” says Flantzer. And they don’t require watering or sunlight while on the shelf.

When a retailer is choosing grow-your-own products for their store, they should consider how easy the products actually are to grow. Many types of grow-your-own products now come in easy-grow containers that only require cat owners to add water. For example, MiracleCorp’s products are created so cat owners only have to water the grass once–a special design encapsulates the water, for a slow release that provides a steady supply of fresh water.


Fresh Greens
While the products have different pros and cons, when it comes to merchandising them retailers can choose whether to stock them up front to capitalize on their role as impulse goods or to stock the products according to their purpose, either with the treats or remedies.

“Most stores do very well by locating the live products up front by the registers,” says Hoffmann. She adds that live plants often receive better light up front, allowing them to flourish–and the bit of green stands out from a retailers’ other fare, which spurs additional sales.

Since MiracleCorp offers a full line of cat grass products (single serving, multi-cat, and even a gel form), Flantzer recommends grouping these items together in a traditional good-better-best approach. “You have the cat grass bag, which is the low economy end, which would be the good; the better would be the multi-cat cat grasses and then the cat nip, [which] we like to consider the best,” he says.

Retailers can choose to market these products as treats or as remedies, though Flantzer typically recommends including them either just in the treat section or in both sections. Simple signage or clear product packaging can help draw the connection for customers and ensure they understand the benefits of the product they’re buying.

Flantzer also suggests that regardless of where retailers stock the grass, they should have a sample growing at all times, “just to show how easy it is.” The sample gives retailers experience growing the grass themselves and familiarizes them with growing times, so they can help answer customer questions. And the pop of green amidst bags and shakers of cat treats or pills and supplements is sure to be attention-grabbing, which will mean more green for the retailer, too.