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Cat litter. (Nonfoods Handbook: Advertorial).

Natural litters offer consumers a novel biodegradable product and retailers high profit margins, says mike hughes, founder and president of Pet Care Systems Inc., makers of swheat scoop brand cat litter and swheat scoop brand small animal litter & bedding.

What is the state of the cat litter category today?

Mike Hughes: The category is approximately $1.2 billion to $1.5 billion at retail and is growing 2% to 3% per year, according to Information Resources Inc. (IRI). Today, over 34 million U.S. own a cat, and the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association (APPMA) predicts that by 2008 there will be 81 million cats in the United States. The cat litter category is dominated by four major manufacturers: Clorox (Fresh Step, Scoop Away, Jonny Cat), Nestle-Purina (Tidy Cats), Church & Dwight (Arm & Hammer Brands) and Oil-Dri (Cats Pride). So, sales are increasing as the number of cats continue to grow, and as a result of higher priced, more value-added products being introduced into the marketplace.

What trends are driving the category?

The category is comprised of three primary segments: clay, clumping and alternative litters. The clumping category (clay plus a binder-like sodium bentonite) is the largest segment, accounting for about 60% of category sales. The second largest segment is clay, which accounts for about a third of the category's volume, although its share is declining. The third segment is the alternative litter group, which is comprised of clumping and non-clumping litters made from many materials, including wheat, corn, pine, silica, paper, and even recycled wood. This is the smallest but fastest growing segment of the category.

The growth in clumping litter sales is driven by convenience. When properly maintained (scooped daily), it reduces the need to change the entire litter box as frequently. Growth in the litter segment is also driven by new technologies, such as the recent introduction of silica gel litters. Silica products allegedly absorb odor better than clay or clumping litters, but their two big negatives are high prices and the fact that they don't clump.

Alternative litter sales are growing at a rate of 7% to 10% per year due to health and ecological concerns. A growing number of consumers believe that natural products, such as wheat, corn, paper and pine, are safer and healthier than other products because most of them are 100% biodegradable and chemical free. In contrast, clay, conventional clumping and silica products are inorganic and are not biodegradable in the sense that they cannot be re-absorbed by the environment. People believe these natural alternative litters are better for themselves, their cats and the earth. These products are premium priced, but they do offer distinct consumer benefits.

How can grocery retailers build sales and profits from the cat litter category?

The traditional litter category (clumping, clay and silica gels) is pretty much a commodity business. It's very hard to differentiate between the brands when most use similar ingredients and odor control technologies. This circumstance affects not only manufacturers' margins, but retailers' as well. The fastest, and most sustainable growth appears to be in the natural, biodegradable niche.

This niche is currently served by the pet store channel, which is more progressive in embracing novel approaches. As natural, biodegradable litters become more prominent on the public's radar screen, demand will continue to grow. Consumers will expect to purchase these items in grocery and mass merchandiser channels. And soon, these products will become full-fledged mainstream brands commanding a higher margin than the traditional clay, clumping and silica based litters.

Tell us about Swheat Scoop. How is it unique?

Swheat Scoop is a one-of-a-kind, natural clumping litter made from processed secondary nonfood grade wheat. The patented process exposes natural wheat enzymes and starches that provide outstanding odor control and excellent clumping. The product is clay free, chemical free and fragrance free. It's certified safe for flushing in sewers and septic systems. In fact, it's so safe, veterinarians recommend it for kittens and newly declawed cats. Pet Care Systems holds several international patents on the product and production process.

What does the future look like for the category?

From my perspective, consumers are demanding more natural, ecologically friendly products and fewer chemicals in their homes. Natural litters like Swheat Scoop will outpace the growth of traditional litters by a wide margin. I don't expect natural litters to be the largest segment in the category, but I do anticipate that they will continue to grow at a double-digit rate for the foreseeable future and offer grocery retailers the highest margins in the category.
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Publication:Grocery Headquarters
Date:Aug 1, 2002
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