The pet industry has overcome a year of COVID-related challenges and continued to flourish, reaching a milestone in 2020 by exceeding $100B in U.S. sales. People are adding pets to their families now more than ever for companionship during lockdown, causing a spike in ownership. This has been supported by a September 2020 study from the American Pet Products Association (APPA), which reported that 11.38 million U.S. households have acquired a new pet during the pandemic. Spending more time at home with their pets during lockdown means owners are better equipped to identify their pet needs. The demand for quality products with brand transparency has increased within the last few years, but has recently been amplified partially because of the pandemic.
While pricing, visual appeal and functionality remain important factors that consumers consider when choosing a product, how and where a product is made and its materials or ingredients are sourced is edging to the forefront of the list. Pet parents are seeking out brands that share their same ethics and values. In the height of the digital era, people have instant access to ingredient lists and can conduct their own research on what those ingredients mean for their cat’s health. Leaders in the cat sector have taken note of this and are striving to create products that will satisfy the owner as much as the cat. Whether it be a cat bed, toy, food or litter owners are looking for brands that can service their cat’s needs during every stage of life development without compromising their moral principles.
It’s no secret that humans need a comfortable bed, and cats are no different. On average, cats can sleep between 12 and 16 hours a day or more. Materials and scents, however, play a large role in cat bed design and production.
Distinctly Himalayan’s Dharma Dog Karma Cat brand offers a line of cat caves that are handcrafted by women’s collectives in Nepal. Created in 2013, the brand aims “to provide economic stability for our artisan partners in a way that is environmentally sustainable, all while maintaining the highest standards of style and quality that you and your customers expect.” Made from a blend of Tibetan and New Zealand wools, these caves contain lanolin, a natural oil in sheep’s wool which reminds them of the scent of their mothers. Cats are naturally drawn to the oil as it can relieve stress and anxiety, and helps to keep paws and fur healthy. Lanolin rich wool works to regulate temperature, keeping your cat warm in the winter and cool in the summer. The lanolin is also antimicrobial and odor resistant, but made with the owner also in mind, these cat caves are machine washable for convenience.
“There’s a lot of details that go into production. We really focus on the kind of wool that we use. Because we have such an in-depth knowledge of the production process we know every detail of the business,” said Jennifer Neufeld, co-owner of Distinctly Himalayan. “We know where the wool is coming from, how it’s treated, that it’s humanely harvested, that it’s dyed in the proper way, that it has the long fibers that were looking for and that is not chemically cleansed so it has a lot of lanolin.”
Distinctly Himalayan specifically makes sure their wool does not come from carpet factory floors, which may contain dirt and dangerous particles like metal shards and glass, a common practice in the felt industry in Nepal. Distinctly Himalayan uses safe, azo-free (no toxic chemicals) dye, and there are no synthetic micro-fibers that may be harmful if ingested.
Walking Palm is another company that strives to create quality products while maintaining their company’s mission to use their business “as an economic opportunity to provide better lives for our extended family in Nepal. We hand craft all of our products with our friends in Kathmandu, Nepal, and we pay 200 percent of the average wage.”
Each cat cave from Walking Palm is unique, as each is hand-felted from fine all-natural wool from New Zealand, and can be personalized with your cat’s name. The wool caves are designed to be a place where cats can burrow, rest, feel safe and call their own while appealing to owners.
“The cool thing about our caves is that they are very colorful. We can dye the wool any color we want, and we use a natural vegetable dye to do so,” said Alonzo Guess, co-owner of Walking Palm. “By having different colors it makes an item that is able to balance with any color you have in your home. It has to look attractive, but it also has to be functional. You can’t sacrifice function over form and vice versa.”
Adding to their already existing line of cat caves, Walking Palm is releasing new cat baskets. These felted wool baskets, available in white and grey, have hemp rope handles and are like an open top cat cave, but are also aesthetically pleasing. Cats love the smell and soft, flexible feel of the merino wool hideaways and baskets to curl up in after a long, hard day of playing.
Cat toys are a hot commodity during the pandemic as they keep your cat entertained while you work. Toys can be a helpful tool when dealing with problematic behavior due to excessive energy storage, and are also useful when looking for physical and mental stimulation. Interactive puzzles can improve a cat’s overall concentration and cognitive abilities while durable toys can promote healthy teeth and gums.
The demand for sustainable products applies to the toy category as well. Consumers are aware of the environmental effects of conventional plastic and rubber toys and are seeking out safe alternatives. Brands have heard the desire for eco-friendly toys and are capitalizing on this trend by creating toys from nylon, recycled polyester and biodegradable materials. Retailers that consider stocking their inventory with these types of toys are better poised to satisfy their customers.
Primetime Petz brand Hauspanther cork bombs are made for encouraging exercise and interactive playtime with your cat. Made of natural cork, the toy is light and bouncy, and provides an appealing texture. Kittens are drawn to the toy because they can easily sink their teeth and claws into the cork.
“The cork bombs really speak to the trend of eco-friendly, natural materials,” said Kate Benjamin, head of product development and marketing at Primetime Petz. “This is definitely not a passing trend. Cat ownership and the understanding of what cats really need to thrive in a home environment is here to stay. Cats are all about the home, so this idea that we’ve all been at home for a year is just playing into that. Hopefully we will see more innovation and more true understanding of what it is that helps cats live their best lives.”
This line of cat toys are designed to appeal to a cat’s hunting instincts. Each toy encourages a different kind of play behavior from stalking and pouncing to chasing and tossing, keeping cats active and entertained.
“When it comes to cat toys you want to think about textures. We have different fabrics that have different feels, for clawing and biting, to create toys that mimic prey,” said Benjamin.
DuckyWorld Products created its line of catnip toys, Yeowww! Catnip, with the focus on the quality of the catnip. It’s organically grown, using only the leaves and flower tops while discarding the stems to be sure to include the parts of the plant that cats respond to the most. Having healthy plants translates to a blend of catnip that cats have a strong reaction to. Each DuckyWorld toy is filled 100 percent with this blend of catnip; there are no fillers of any kind. Additionally, DuckyWorld products are designed with safety in mind.
“There are no strings, plastic pieces or polyfill in our toys that can be accidentally ingested during play, making them safe for kittens and adult cats alike. We have toys in all shapes and sizes to suit any cat’s preferences,” said Kris Kaiser, digital marketing specialist at DuckyWorld.
Finding specific solution-based products can make a big difference in the type of care an animal receives. Products geared specifically towards a certain stage of life or ailment can offer a better quality of life for the cat. Retailers who are knowledgeable about cat healthcare are better equipped to recommend products to first-time pet parents. Working with a company to understand why their product is made for a specific age range or ailment is key to helping cats, customers and driving sales.
Kittens, for example, have an array of necessities, such as food, litter, litter boxes, toys and everything in between. The research-driven consumer wants products that enhance their kitten’s senses and overall wellness. Therefore, having a wide selection of products available with the right ingredients or materials and designed with the kitten in mind gives those consumers the opportunity to find the exact product they are looking for. These specific products cater to consumers because they address the basic needs of every kitten while offering features that benefit a kitten’s individuality and personality.
Inappropriate elimination is the No. 1 behavioral reason cats are abused and surrendered to shelters. Dr. Elsey’s is the only feline-focused and veterinarian-owned, original solutions-based cat product company that addresses the needs of cats and their pet parents. Dr. Elsey’s goal is to help keep cats in their homes and using the litter box while minimizing their company’s waste footprint. Good habits start when cats are young, which is why Dr. Elsey’s created Kitten Attract. This training litter is made of premium litter with superior clumping ability and ground to an ideal granule size and texture for a kitten’s tender paws. Kitten Attract litter contains a kitten-specific natural herbal attractant that piques a kitten’s curiosity to use the litter box. The combination of herbs, texture, and particle size provides a unique and effective solution for owners of kittens.
One of the newer releases from Dr. Elsey’s is the Respiratory Relief Clumping Clay Litter. This low dust and hypoallergenic litter helps to control respiratory disease in cats created with a formulation free from plant proteins, perfumes or deodorants. The natural essences in the litter along with the low dust help to reduce stress, which can be an important factor in controlling feline respiratory disease.
“We do not add any perfumes or baking soda to our litter. It’s just premium clumping clay litter,” said Gina Zaro, marketing director for Dr. Elsey’s Cat Products. “It has all the attributes a customer is looking for; low dust, hard clumping and superior odor control.”
Although cat owners may think they know what they need, Kent Pet Group spends time educating both customers and retailers about cat care to ensure people are making the most informed decision when picking a litter. Loyalty programs and a good assortment of natural litters are the two highest indexing purchase drivers for the pet channel, meaning retailers can capitalize on offering a range of litters as owners are sure to continue to return to purchase a brand they trust.
“Over the past 20 years, Kent Pet Group has been making great strides made in creating absorbent and odor-control products that advance sustainable pet care and I think it is important for retailers to know what those products are and how they work,” Steve Gordon, president at Kent Pet Group told Pet Age in a February 2021 article.
Kent’s World’s Best Cat Litter uses a patented process to compress corn into super-absorbent granules that traps orders deep inside and forms tight clumps on contact. Made from plants or recycled paper with no harmful chemicals, no artificial perfumes and no silica dust this litter is a natural option made with natural plant based extracts that are safe for cats. Because World’s Best Cat Litter is made from whole-kernel corn and other plant materials, it is naturally absorbent and flushable.
“Consumers want a product that performs and makes cleaning the litter box easy, but are demanding the safety aspect, along with that performance,” said Jean Broders, director of marketing at Kent Pet Group.
“Similar to other categories, we believe that consumers will continue to demand improvements in sustainability and animal welfare. Advances in packaging, ingredients and delivery models will continue to shape the future of cat litter in good ways that benefit pets, people and the planet.”
In addition to providing quality litter, World’s Best Cat Litter is also a philanthropic brand. In the last year, Kent donated over one million pounds of litter to shelters across the country. “The number one reason that cats are returned to shelters is that the cat is not going in the box so we view the work of shelters and our work with litter as a deep partnership,” said Gordon.
When searching for food and treats, cat parents are looking for transparency in ingredients, meaning natural and fewer ingredients. According to a study by the APPA, 72 percent of people surveyed said their pet’s diet is “very important to them” and that they “do not plan to make any changes to it regardless of their financial situation.”
Not every cat is able to eat just anything as dietitian restrictions like allergies or picky eaters have owners searching for solution-based products. The growth of the natural and raw food category has rapidly increased and is forecasted to continue to grow over the course of the next few years. According to a survey conducted by Blue Buffalo, 55 percent of cat owners said they “feel they must choose between food that is good for their cat and food their cat enjoys.”
Fortunately for cat owners, companies are developing recipes that are not only healthy, but also tasty.
“Most of these pet parents are very ingredient focused and want to feed their pets healthy options; they want to give their pets the equivalent of an apple versus a
bag of chips or chocolate,” said Andrea Bourne, senior marketing specialist at PureBites. “Because of this, pet parents have gravitated towards PureBites during the pandemic given our one to three pure human grade ingredient profile.”
Recently, freeze dried food and treats have become popular in the cat food sector. The process of freeze drying is delicate, but when done properly can preserve structural and nutritional integrity of fresh raw food.
“Since most freeze dried treats are made with only one or two raw ingredients, they are perfect for cats that are overweight, diabetic, have allergies, gastrointestinal disorders, or are on a restricted diet,” said Bourne. “Retailers should challenge pet parents to really read the ingredient labels on pet food and treats.”
Although pet parents may conduct their own research, it is imperative that retailers are able to educate owners on what they’re feeding their feline friends. PureBites offers a selection of merchandising tools for stores to help spread the word including special promotional offers, floorstands, clipstrips, shelf talkers and samples. If a brand does not already offer materials to help educate consumers, retailers are encouraged to ask for them. Having an informative pamphlet available to train store employees will in turn educate customers and translate to a growth in sales. People often want to make healthy decisions, but may need to be pointed in the right direction.
Another trend in the cat sector that has been steadily growing is the wet food category. Product development and advances in packaging technology have allowed this category to thrive. Pet parents are no longer bothered with the messiness and hassle of opening cans as well as the struggle to properly store open cans. The demand for quality ingredients has opened the door for brands to experiment and create new innovative products.
Tiki Pet has a line of cat foods called Tiki Cat which features wet foods with a twist.
“Tiki Cat After Dark Pate capitalized on wet category growth, the popular pate format, the knowledge that cats need meat and the demand for exotic proteins like rabbit,” said Ann Hudson vice president of marketing for Whitebridge Pet Brands and the Tiki Cat brand. According to Hudson, Tiki Pet has not slowed down despite the pandemic, introducing more than 50 new items in 2020.
“Retailers are really excited about the future and the demand for new products is high,” she said. “Brands continue to move into the grocery and FDM channels so specialty retailers have new space in store to support channel-exclusive brands.”
Bill Frey, marketing director for Champion Petfoods agrees that demand has not wavered over the past year. If anything, the pandemic has encouraged manufacturers to be flexible in how they are working with their retail partners.
“Demand for premium pet food and a strong innovation pipeline has continued during COVID-19 and we don’t see that slowing down post-pandemic,” said Billy Frey, marketing director of Champion Petfoods. “One of the biggest in-demand components is flexibility in shopping options. We’re constantly working with our retailers to support options that cater to pet lovers’ evolving needs, and provide adequate resources for them to promote these new shopping practices.”
If the pandemic impacted anything in the pet industry, it’s product availability, and Frey assures retailers that is not an issue with Champion’s two brands, ORIJEN and ACANA. Both are in high demand due in part to their ingredient lists. The ACANA Indoor Entrée, was developed specifically for indoor cats to help maintain a healthy body weight, skin and coat. The ACANA First Feast, on the other hand, was made for new kitten parents looking to start their kitten on the right nutritional path.
“We have a strong supply chain to ensure ORIJEN and ACANA are always available,” he said. “By providing different purchasing options and maintaining a strong supply chain, we can ensure pet lovers are still able to reliably purchase their pets’ favorite food and treats.”