Crazy for Catnip
by Melissa Breau
November 1, 2012
Most people are familiar with catnip as a fun treat that tends to drive kitty a little crazy, but it is actually a lot more versatile than that.



Catnip is an essential part of every store’s cat aisle—and it can be found in a wide variety of forms. Retailers can choose from grow-your-own kits, packs of dried herb, living plants, sprays, oils, markers and more when stocking their catnip section. Yet, despite this wide range of options, many cat owners and even some retailers fail to recognize the true versatility of this product.

Catnip is often relegated to the “play” section of the aisle, but it can also be a powerful tool when it comes to training cats and even promoting exercise. “The majority of cats are extremely attracted to catnip, so it is useful for a variety of things,” says Kristie Hamilton, director of sales at Imperial Cat.

Most cat owners don’t realize that their cat can be trained—which leads to a high rate of owner surrenders—and they often think the only option for helping a cat to lose weight is a diet. After all, it’s not like their cat can go for a run with them the way a dog can. Fortunately, they’re wrong on both counts.

“Catnip can be used in so many ways, from helping to lure cats into carriers to play, to focusing a cat’s scratching on a post or corrugate box instead of a couch,” explains Cristen Underwood, director of marketing at Quaker Pet Group.
Yet despite catnip’s long-standing reputation, says Hamilton, “many cat owners are still uneducated about the various benefits of this herb and how cats react to it.” 

This lack of awareness makes it important for retailers to educate consumers—and not just on the additional uses for catnip, but also on other lesser-known details, such as when and how cats respond to the plant. “A new cat owner may not realize their young kitten will not develop a response to catnip until they are six to nine months of age,” Hamilton says. “They may also be surprised at the range of behaviors cats may show in response to catnip—from wild running around the house to mellow purring—and wonder if this is normal.”

Staff should be educated on how catnip can be used for play, training and to promote exercise, so that they can share that information with shoppers. “Educating staff on a few basic catnip facts that they can pass on to consumers will help [retailers] avoid a loss of repeat sales from a customer that might try to introduce their cat to catnip too early and think it’s not effective, or a customer that might have thought their cats’ reaction to catnip was abnormal,” adds Hamilton.

In addition to educating staff, retailers should make sure to place catnip products in areas of the cat section dedicated to exercise and training. For example, a retailer might add a clip strip or small display near weight-loss food options with a sign suggesting cat owners help their feline friends lose weight the “fun way,” to help convey how it can promote exercise. Another option would be a similar display near cat beds and scratching posts; there, the sign would explain how catnip can help cats take ownership of a new bed or scratching post and how it can make that bed or post instantly more interesting.

In addition to promoting a few catnip products in various sections of the cat aisle, Mark Teixeira, president of Bell Rock Growers, suggests retailers place live catnip plants up front near the register. His company specializes in living plants, and he says they make for excellent impulse purchases. They are eye-catching and engaging, he adds, but they still have a relatively low price point. “Fresh, live catnip not only provides cats with entertainment and stimulation, it also contains chlorophyll, providing an added health benefit for cats who eat the leaves—and most do,” says Teixeira.

Of course, retailers should also offer a selection within the play area of the store. “We feel the potential health benefits are equally as important as the recreational aspect of catnip,” says Teixeira. “But most consumers think of it as a toy for their cats.”


It Won’t Last Forever

With many the ways it can be used and all the options on the market, retailers may be left feeling a little overwhelmed about where they’re going to put all these products. Fortunately, most catnip products are relatively small, which allows a good selection and a mix of options to fit in even a small retail space.

Stores should still be careful not to overstock—after all, catnip has a limited shelf life. While it’s obvious when live catnip is no longer saleable, retailers often make the mistake of leaving other catnip products sitting on shelves for too long.

“Catnip is most effective when it is pure and fresh, and a sign of fresh catnip is its color and smell,” says Hamilton. “Retailers carrying packaged catnip should ensure the product is still mostly green in color; this is a sure sign the catnip is fresh. Packaged catnip should never be mostly brown in color, which signals the catnip has gone stale.”

Even if the catnip is not visible, such as when it’s inside of a toy, effective catnip will emit a strong catnip aroma. “If a toy is stuffed with poor-quality or little catnip, or if it sits on a shelf too long, it will have very little catnip aroma when sniffed,” she says.

Hamilton adds that retailers can keep catnip-related sales lively by making sure products are still saleable. “Cats will respond more to a product containing fresh catnip, which results in improved customer satisfaction and encourages repeat sales,” she says.