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December 4, 2017

Any retailer who has attended a major trade show in the past year will no doubt be familiar with the sight of Ricky the Rescue Cat driving his navy blue car around the trade show floor promoting Cats Incredible litter that bears his likeness on the bag.

It’s turned out to be a great ploy to capture retailer attention, “driving” retailers to the Lucy Pet Products booth where Litter Box Bob is on hand holding a tray of litter as if he is selling snacks at a baseball game, proving that the used litter really doesn’t smell.

To further make the point about the odor capture capabilities of the product, Dr. Karen Halligan, the company’s resident veterinarian, has an ammoniareading meter that demonstrates the zero ammonia odor benefits of the litter.

“Ammonia is toxic to cats and people in the household,” Halligan explained. “Cats that are exposed to ammonia experience symptoms such as runny noses, problems breathing, eye problems and increased upper respiratory disease. Ammonia emanating from a litter box can also trigger an asthma attack in both pets and people. High levels of ammonia can cause severe problems—even death. Toxic ammonia fumes is also a prime reason why cats will stop using a litter box.

“I have been able to take cats off eye medications, antihistamines and even their inhalers for asthma after switching to Cats Incredible litter all because there is zero ammonia,” Halligan added.

The Draw of Coupons

The company’s show-and-tell approach to get its message out extends to in-store demonstrations and special store events for customers. Further, according to Betsy Martin, director of marketing and development, the company offers coupons so that customers can try the products for themselves. Because ammonia is such a big issue with regard to litter box use, Nestlé Purina Pet Care has also added ammonia blockers to all its Tidy Cats litter products, including the lightweight variety.

“Our Tidylock technology is guaranteed to prevent ammonia odor for two weeks when used as directed,” explained C.J. Campeau, brand manager for Tidy Cats.

The company is currently experiencing record sales in the lightweight litter category and cites its top-selling lightweight product as Tidy Cats LightWeight 24/7 Performance followed by Tidy Cats with Glade Tough Odor Solutions.

And, according to Campeau, coupons are a very effective advertising ploy as it invites consumers to try for themselves.

“We have focused on the media and promotions to drive people to physically experience the weight of the product in-store,” he said. “Our original ‘Toss Me that Litter’ campaign and ‘lift test’ generated a lot of excitement in-store across the country. And while lightweight litters do well on e-commerce sites due to lower shipping costs, brick and mortar outlets are great for giving consumers the surprise and delight of lifting the product and feeling how light it is.”

Lightweight: A Heavyweight

Lightweight litter is also proving to be a very popular addition to the Fresh Step litter category line-up.

“We have had a great response from consumers for whom the heavy nature of regular litter is a pain point,” said Lauren May, brand manager of Clorox Pet Products. “It’s great for cat owners living in urban areas in apartment blocks with no elevators and for people regardless of age who cannot lift heavy objects. Lightweight litter is worth the premium price. These customers seem to be more than happy with the additional options evidenced by their repeat purchases.”

And across the category, Fresh Step also confirmed that litter products scented with Febreze are the biggest sellers.

“However, these days, there is a litter option available for all cat parents out there,” May added.

Au Naturale

On the natural litter front, ökocat reports that sales have continued to increase in all parts of the country. “We have doubled our sales team in the last few months, and they have been working very hard to support and grow ökocat distribution at pet specialty stores,” said Leslie Ellis, consumer communication manager for Healthy Pet, manufacturer of ökocat. “The original ökocat Wood Clumping Litter in the blue box continues to be the top seller at most retailers but the newest formula, Super Soft, is rapidly gaining ground. It’s very lightweight and soft, making it the perfect litter to transition to from traditional clay litter.”

Further, the company has been conducting in-depth consumer research and will be using the insights learned to make brand awareness a major initiative in 2018.

Diagnostic Litters

Apart from improved odor control and lightweight products, the introduction of diagnostic litters has also given consumers more options in the litter marketplace.

“Diagnostic litters are a fantastic idea and can provide tremendous assistance for cat owners in determining proper care for their pet. Unfortunately, the general public hasn’t completely embraced this idea yet, and I think part of that is due to no presence from the national brands in this category,” said Trevor Russwurm, national sales manager for Pestell Pet Products, makers of LifeMate Health Alert Clumping Cat Litter. “If Arm & Hammer or Purina were to launch a product of this nature, their massive advertising campaigns would immediately draw more awareness to the concept, and companies like Pestell would benefit from that increased exposure.”

Russwurm confirmed that most diagnostic litters are marketed by smaller companies that are not household brands, and getting the word out is not easy. Many cat owners will make that incremental spend on healthier food, but are much more resistant to a value-added litter of this nature.

“It is definitely an uphill battle to reach out to consumers without spending an enormous amount of money,” he added.

A Vibrant Litter

UltraPet, manufacturer of various silica gel litters, has turned to social media to spread the word about its NEON Litter, which is specifically being marketed to millennial cat owners.

According to Tom Atyeo, marketing manager for UltraPet, NEON Litter is very active on Facebook and Instagram.

“Customers are now posting and tagging photos they take of their cat’s litter boxes, displaying the ‘litter art’ they do for their cats. It’s a very engaged community,” he added.

According to Atyeo, the first pet retailer to really embrace NEON in its stores is Centinela Feed that has 16 stores in southern California, primarily in the Los Angeles area.

“They, like other pet retailers now successfully selling NEON, have discovered that opening a bag and pouring out litter for customers to see and touch has resulted in better sales,” he said.

Store managers and employees at various Centinela Feed stores all confirmed that it’s a popular choice for their cat customers not only because of the colors, but also because of its functionality, as gelbased litters don’t track outside the box and are dust-free. Further, they concurred that it’s not only millennial cat owners who are purchasing the brand (the original target market).

UltraPet also has a very successful rewards program to promote customer loyalty among its other brands.

“The Rewards Clubs for Ultra Pearls and Litter Pearls are used by many customers,” Atyeo said. “The program works by customers remitting six UPC tags from our products and we send them a coupon for a free bag. The program is a great way to reward customers. Coupled with the reward programs by companies like Pet Food Express in California [Buy 3, Get 1 Free], customers’ savings can be substantial.”

Fresh Step also boasts a vibrant rewards program and is further using it as a tool to engage with their growing Fresh Step online community.

“Our Paw Points program is a fun and easy way to earn rewards just for buying the litter,” May explained. “Paw Points rewards consumers regardless of whether they choose to shop online or in stores. However, shopping in-store is still the most popular way for consumers to purchase their litter. We estimate that approximately only 3 percent of cat litter purchases are currently made online.”

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