Marketing cat litter doesn’t seem the most glamorous job on earth, but then nobody said life would be easy except for the cats, perhaps. Keith Turney reports.

FEW PRODUCTS can boast, if indeed they want to, that they have remained relatively unchanged since Roman times. For while the use of Fullers Earth may have changed Roman cats existed without the benefits of the modern day cat litter the product can trace its history back to that time.

Now, Fullers Earth from manufacturer Laporte Absorbents, makes up a large part of the 43m[pounds] cat litter market and has recently been joined by lightweight clays and wood chip competitors.

Individual share of the market has remained relatively constant in recent years, with Fullers Earth showing a slight decline from 59% to 54%, lightweight clay going from 40% to 43%, and wood based increasing from 1% to 3% leading up to 1990, according to the last report published by market assesser, the BLA group. The sales market was reported as steady too, with 58% going to multiple grocers, 29% to pet shops and 7% and 6% going to independents and others respectively, figures reported as influenced by high proportions of cheaper own brands.

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The market forecast at 1990 looked good, with a sales rise in the previous year of 10.3%, and an estimated 35% of the 4.6 million cat owning households buying their litter regularly.

The optimism of the time fueled considerable investment, with Laport building a 17.5m[pounds] clay processing plant which is about to come on stream. Then a new product, Bio Catolet, entered the market. This was developed by a German company on the inspired idea of using recycled newsprint as a base for the litter. The process is a closely-guarded secret, as is the question of which newspapers are best for the purpose!

Either way, the product falls in line with its trade competitors with claims of good absorbency, deodorant response and covering the environmental concerns. The new product also follows the “lightweight” route of other products, but doesn’t “clump” when wet.

Exactly how the product will stand up in a market dominated by own brands is yet to be seen. The performance in the last two years in Germany and Holland is reported as excellent.

The large own label presence in this market and the difficulties in finding a suitable campaign for general public viewing tend to prohibit high levels of media expenditure.

With the new product appearing on shelf, brand awareness will begin to dictate the future volume share, forcing manufacturers to consider advertising in a new light. Nobody likes to inspect the contents of the litter tray too closely and this gives an idea of the problems promoting an advertising unfriendly product. The rather graphic term of clumping, used to outline the process of the rapid bunching of waste matter as the litter soaks up the moisture, allowing it to be scooped up easily, isn’t exactly a gift to the marketing man.

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Marketing approaches to persuade kitten and owner to accept the product work on the cat’s brand loyalty for continued sales. Other emphasis tends to be on health and hygiene for the cat, coupled with the ease of disposal.

According to the BLA group’s publication of trade estimates, the market should grow to around 46m[pounds] by 1995, as manufacturers respond to customer demands by producing new and improved products. The entry of newsprint type products to the market, with their emphasis on the environment could improve this growth, in turn heralding in a new breath of competitive air to the market.

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