Why Pet Stores Should Refocus on Their Cat Litter Assortments | Current Issue

Cat owners continue to seek out litter and related accessories that solve problems and offer convenience, and today, they have more options to fulfill those wants and needs.

Core attributes such as “odor control, low dust, hard clumping and low tracking” are sought-after standards for pet owners shopping for litter, said Gina Zaro, marketing director for Dr. Elsey’s Cat Products, a manufacturer in Cheyenne, Wyo. These are expectations that aren’t going to go away.

Dr. Elsey’s is currently working on a new product line using Dr. Elsey’s Ultra Litter as the foundation, Zaro said. Ultra+ is designed to offer long-lasting performance, low tracking, hard clumping and superior odor control.

Convenience and cleanliness are paramount in litter, said Jean Broders, director of marketing for Muscatine, Iowa-based Kent Pet Group, maker of World’s Best Cat Litter.

“Finding litter all over the house is not acceptable, and consumers are showing that by the litters they are choosing,” Broders said. “Same goes for dust. Consumers are finally realizing there are options and they don’t have to settle for these pain points.”

In January, World’s Best Cat Litter launched its Low Tracking and Dust Control Litter, which Broders said is an unscented, multiple-cat litter specifically formulated to stay in the box. It is made with long-lasting corn and with larger granules to drastically reduce tracking and virtually eliminate dust, she added.

Aidan Gannon, owner of Petzlove Food ‘n Stuffz, a pet supply store in Lone Tree, Colo., said that the biggest request is typically for a litter that is “dust free.”

“Since there is no completely dust-free or track-free litter, offering litter mats is a great way to overcome the issue,” Gannon said. “In addition to minimal dust, odor control is top on the list of requirements that cat parents look for in litter.”

Gannon admitted that litter can be a challenging category but said highly visible displays are key.

“At PetzLove, we have found the most effective way to maximize sales on litter is to place the inventory on a low display table in the center of the cat section,” he said. “We found that the 360 [degree] display and the accessibility of the product leads to a significant increase in sales.”

Independent pet retailers who take the time to promote and stock a litter section can see their efforts pay off, despite the competition, Gannon added.

“With low margins and high competition from online, grocery and big-box outlets—not to mention the space requirements—it’s easy to get frustrated and decrease the emphasis on this category,” he said. “But a product that every cat owner needs on a monthly or bimonthly basis is worth putting the effort into. Most customers will pick it up with their monthly food purchase if it’s visible and accessible to them rather than make another stop.”

In addition to offering customers convenience, retailers would do well to embrace this category due to its significance for cats’ health.

“At Dr. Elsey’s, we feel that litter is an essential function for keeping cats in loving homes,” Zaro said.

The company’s cat litter products solve specific issues and behaviors through research and by using a veterinary-formulated approach, she added.

“Nonuse of the litterbox is the No. 1 behavioral reason cats are re-surrendered to shelters, abused and euthanized,” she said. “Our Cat Attract Litter is the original proven solution for cats with issues. Our other solution-based litters address respiratory issues, sensitive paws, anxiety, stress and senior cats.”

Today’s cat owners have many litter products to choose from—particularly when they are looking to solve problems or meet specific needs.

“Litters made from truly natural and sustainable substrates are giving consumers the options to make the right choice for their litterbox,” Broders said. “More and more are understanding the need to have a healthy, safe product in their homes. Health and wellness are top of mind for pet parents, as well as for their cats. Doesn’t everyone want only the best for their cats? Consumers are more educated and are willing to pay more for products that fit their personal needs.”

Janice Yamamoto, director of marketing for Next Gen Pet, a manufacturer in Laguna Niguel, Calif., noted that the emergence of non-clay-based litters has made a difference in daily living for people like her.

“As an asthmatic with allergies, being able to use non-clay cat litter makes a huge difference in my daily life,” she said. “The beauty of the alternative-litter segment is that there is a litter for every concern: clumping, lightweight, eco-friendly, extra-strength odor control—Next Gen’s Fresh litters have it all.”

The introduction of so many different types of litter has been welcomed, but Allison Francy, owner of The Cat Shoppe, a pet supply store in Nashville, Tenn., noted that it has created a need for different types of litter mats.

“Different litters require different types of mats—there isn’t just a universal product that will work with them all,” she said. “Since some litters are finer, you really need a trapping mat. But with larger granules, a trapping mat means all the pieces are stuck and won’t come out. We carry different litter mats that match up with the different types of litter.”

Helping Owners Find the Right Solutions

Retailers can match customers with litter and the related accessories that will work best for their needs.

“Education is so important when helping customers search for a litter solution,” said Jessie Nixon, marketing manager for the PetSafe brand, part of Radio Systems Corp., a manufacturer in Knoxville, Tenn. “There are innovative products available that address the concerns of the customer, but they are often overlooked due to lack of understanding or awareness. When retailers listen to the needs of the customer, they can pair them with the quality solution that is right for them. PetSafe is focused on providing high-quality litter solutions that exceed the expectations of the customer. Sometimes customers didn’t even know a solution like [PetSafe’s] ScoopFree existed or was possible before finding us.”

When talking with cat owners, it’s important to ask the right questions.

“Customers may be in the store looking for a solution to their litterbox problems,” Zaro said. “Retailers should ask questions about litterbox issues cat parents might be facing. For instance: Is the cat using the litterbox? How many cats and litterboxes are in the household? And what kind of substrate does the cat prefer? In switching litter, it can be helpful to mix the new litter with the old litter and slowly switch over to prevent litterbox non-use. Adding an additional box and giving your cat a choice between litters is also a good idea.”

Keep It Clean

As with cat litter, convenience and cleanliness are also key considerations that come into play for litter-related products, such as litterboxes and other accessories.

“At PetSafe, we find that pet parents are primarily searching for convenience and odor control when looking for the right litterbox solution,” said Jessie Nixon, marketing manager for the PetSafe brand, part of Radio Systems Corp., a manufacturer in Knoxville, Tenn . “Cleaning the litterbox isn’t anyone’s favorite part of having a cat in their home, so we try to make the process as simple and mess free as possible. Pet parents should be able to focus on the relationship they have with their pet, not the chores of cleanup.”

PetSafe recently introduced the Multi-Cat Litter Box, an all-in-one solution for multi-cat households that is large enough for cats to share.

“It includes two convenient, removable compartments—one is designed to house the large, metal scoop that’s included, and the other features a rubber seal for waste bags and waste,” Nixon said.

The brand also has a ScoopFree litterbox that automatically rakes the dehydrated waste into a covered waste trap to lock odor away.

Sherry Redwine, owner of Odyssey Pets, a pet supply store in Dallas, said that when shopping for litterboxes, her customers often seek out a deep box so that it keeps more litter in the pan, instead of on the floor.

“Our best-selling litterbox is actually a ‘bus tub’ from the restaurant supply store,” she added. “It’s the perfect size and is deep and durable.”

Allison Francy, owner of The Cat Shoppe, a pet supply store in Nashville, Tenn., said that high-sided litterboxes are of interest at her store. It all circles back to a mess-free experience.

At Petzlove Food ‘n Stuffz, a retailer in Lone Tree, Colo., owner Aidan Gannon said that enzymatic sprays to reduce odor are always popular, in addition to other supplies.

“Litterbox liners are great sellers too—everyone loves a mess-free cleanup,” he added. “Litter mats that trap dust and pellets from the cat’s paws as they exit the box are an easy seller, too.”

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