Fresh & Green
by Melissa Breau
September 30, 2012
Cat gardens are on the rise, and they represent a great way to add some green to the store this fall.



Amidst the browns, reds and oranges that seem to be everywhere this fall, a new color is cropping up with increasing frequency in pet retail stores: the color of freshly grown, live cat gardens—a bright, eye-catching green.

The cat garden category made its debut at least 13 years ago, but it has seen a uptick over the last 18 months, according to Mark Teixeira, president of Bell Rock Growers. Sharon Rangel, owner of Lucy’s Cat Grass, agrees. She says her company alone has seen an eight-percent increase in sales this year.

Both says that a major driver behind the increase in sales is the ever-growing interest pet owners are taking in their pets’ nutrition. “Over the years, consumers have become knowledgeable about their pets’ nutrition, and we see this clearly in their demand for healthy and natural alternatives,” says Teixeira.

That, combined with the fact that more customers than ever are aware of the category and its benefits for their cats, is likely to keep the category on its upward trajectory.

Gabriella DeSantis, senior director of marketing at OurPets, says, “Once a product becomes a trend and takes off, retailers need to have the right balance of product and the right brand offering.”

In the cat garden category that means looking at a wide variety of options. The plants considered part of the cat garden category include cat grass, wheat grass, catnip and buck oats, and retailers can choose to stock live plants, seeds and/or grow-your-own kits—some of which come with pots to plant in and others that grow right in the packaging.


Classifying Plants
Most retailers divide the category into two general sub-categories: self-growing and live. Each come with its own pros and cons.

Live cat gardens, although relatively easy to grow, can be a tricky category for retailers who haven’t previously stocked perishable products. “Retailers should know how the product grows and to keep the live grass looking fresh,” says Rangel. “Watering is a must. Live cat grass should be replaced within five to seven days to remain fresh and green.”

As plants, living cat gardens also require at least some sunlight, which restricts where they can be located within the store. However, these cons are well balanced by the pros that these products have to offer. They generally come with a high margin and benefit from high visibility. “The growing dimension is interactive and we have heard really stops people in the store,” says Ann Killen, co-owner of Potting Shed Creations. Living plants’ ability to capture customers’ attention, coupled with relatively low price points, makes them great as impulse sales and basket builders.

Seeds and growing kits are less eye-catching, but they also come with far fewer needs. They don’t need to be kept alive, so they can be placed beside other cat products, instead of being limited to areas that receive natural sunlight. There is also none of the worry about perishability; because customers grow the plants at home, it’s easy for them to enjoy the maximum possible period of freshness.

“Many cat grass customers prefer to purchase live grass as opposed to growing it themselves,” says Rangel. “It serves as a ‘grab and go’ item, satisfying the urge to provide something live and healthy for their cat. Other customers get satisfaction in growing their own cat grass.”

Most stores are likely to find that offering a mix of both types of products is the best option. Or, “If [retailers] don’t want to order live product, they have the option to bring in the self-grow kits and grow them in-store,” suggests Teixeira. “In that way, they can offer the product either as a self-grow kit or pre-grown in the bag for the consumer who prefers that option.”

Retailers might even consider growing a few packs for display purposes only, just to show customers how it’s done and to benefit from the appeal of a growing plant.


Growing Things On Display
Regardless of which products retailers decide to offer, once the items arrive, they will have to decide where to stock those products. Merchandising varies slightly depending on which plants and formats the store has brought in, but generally live plants make for a strong display in the front of the store, where they’re likely to be purchased on impulse, while seeds and grow-your-own kits fit more naturally into the cat treat section.

Another option is to create a stand-alone or endcap display that features both. “What we have found at wholesale trade shows over the years seems to hold true for stores,” says Killen. “If you can show them growing, [cat gardens] really sell better… the growing aspect can really activate an otherwise straight-forward display.”

If a store chooses to combine the two in a single display, it also makes it easier to use the display as an education center. “Displays detailing the benefits of cat grass in a cat’s life will encourage the customer to purchase,” says Rangel.

DeSantis agrees, explaining that when the consumer can easily see the need for cat grass and other garden products, the section becomes a destination for cat owners.

Once the store has decided on its selection and set up its display, it’s time for what is possibly the most important part—educating staff members. “Store associates need to be aware of the benefits of the product,” says Teixeira. He says pet grass offers both nutritional and digestive benefits. As a super food, one pound of pet grass is equivalent to 23 pounds of fresh fruits and garden vegetables, in terms of overall nutritional value. It’s equally important to know what pet grass doesn’t have in it—“wheat grass contains no wheat gluten,” he says. “Which is a question customers frequently ask.”

“’Health’ is the best benefit our two products promote for cats,” Killen says. “The organic wheat grass, when grown and served fresh, is rich in essential vitamins and minerals. It is also rich in chlorophyll, which acts as a detoxifier, mild antibiotic and deodorizer. Our organic catnip is a wonderful herb that can boost the mental health of cats and help relieve boredom.”

For specific information on the various types of plants, it’s important that retailers talk to their manufacturer partners—many of whom will offer educational materials they can share with their staff and then, in turn, with their customers.

After all, is there a better way to celebrate fall then by adding some green to the season?