There are many reasons that can drive sales of small animal bedding, such as price points, water absorption, and product safety. Among those characteristics, best-sellings are those that can control odor and reduce mess.
Why Does Small Animal Segment Become More and More Popular?
Like other pet categories, the small animal segment has been booming recently, according to industry sources.
“Because of the pandemic, people started to spend more time at home, and more and more people are becoming pet parents,” said Jason Casto, director of small animal marketing for a brand of Central Garden & Pet in Walnut Creek, Calif.
Small animal pet owners — no matter if they are pet owners or not — are looking for bedding and litter that is comfortable, safe, and functional for their pets.
"There has been increased demand for bedding and litter to help reduce messes and keep habitats fresh and clean," Casto said. "Consumers want products that are soft, absorbent, and help control odors. As a result, there has been a decline in wood shavings and an increase in paper bedding."
What Kind of Products are Prefered?
Paper waste and bedding are popular for their functionality, and many retailers say they prefer these options for personal use.
"Kaytee and Oxbow are selling best for us," said Mercedes Spradling, general manager of Rockstar Pets, a pet store in Tooele, Utah. "I prefer paper. Aspen and paper are probably the most popular option right now."
According to insider reports, safety concerns over wood-based products remain and are one of the main drivers behind the development of the paper.
“Wood shavings that have resins or strong odors are increasingly considered unsafe for small mammals, so customers are looking for alternatives to prevent health issues and expensive vet visits,” said Kellie Hayden, marketing coordinator, collateral and campaigns, for Oxbow Animal Health, a brand of Company Pet Brands in St. Louis. “Oxbow’s Pure Comfort bedding is made from pure, never-printed paper and is 99.9 percent dust free. Pure Comfort is also easy to clean up for both daily spot cleaning and for completely changing out bedding once a week. Pure Comfort can also be layered over Oxbow’s Eco-Straw litter to create a combination of comfort and absorbency.”
Paper Products are Thriving
Paige Phillips, a small animal assistant working at The Pet Works, which has stores in Oregon and Washington, is also noticing the trend that paper is thriving.
“People are leaning more towards the paper-based bedding options these days,” Phillips said, attributing the trend partly to health concerns. “Our customers are concerned about dust. A lot of the other beddings can be a little bit dustier than paper types.”
Even the higher price of paper products won't deter some customers compared to wood products.
Darlene Brooks, the owner of Our Pet World, a pet store in Auburndale, Florida, said: "Inexpensive bedding sells best, but we do have a lot of customers who choose paper bedding. They are becoming more conscious." Ecology, THEY want something more than just a landfill. "
“Inexpensive bedding sells the best, but we do have a lot of customers who have gone to paper beddings,” said Darlene Brooks, owner of Our Pet World, a pet store in Auburndale, Fla. “They’re getting a little more conscious of ecology, and they want something that’s not just going to sit in the landfill.”
Casto calls for retailers to attach great importance to paper bedding and offer variety.
“Although wood beddings are still relevant, consumers are shifting towards paper options for health and safety reasons,” Casto said. “Within the paper bedding assortment, it is important to offer various sizes and colors.”
In Our Pet World, pine and corn bedding are the top selling choices, but the paper is the growth, said Brooks.
“Paper litters have probably experienced the largest increase in sales,” Brooks said. “Customers are looking for something that’s biodegradable and doesn’t affect their environment so much. Even when I try to explain that some animals just don’t do well if you put them on the inexpensive pine, because it’s dusty and pets’ noses will become inflamed, customers are still going for cheaper pine options. Small animals can end up with respiratory and eye infections, but [customers] still don’t necessarily listen.”
Education is of great necessity to help consumers realize the merits of paper bedding, in particular, because of the reason that they are conducive to reducing dust in the pet environment.
“An odor-controlling, natural, absorbent, paper-based bedding is beneficial for exotic pets,” Casto said. “Kaytee’s Clean & Cozy Natural paper bedding is absorbent to help keep pets clean and dry and is also soft … to encourage burrowing. Kaytee Clean & Cozy does not produce a lot of dust. It is 99 percent dust free to keep cages cleaner.”
Another Popular Product—Pine Bedding
Retailers report that pine bedding has a strong presence in the segment, the products are still selling well, and the price is a strong selling point.
“Prices have gone up on everything,” said Oscar Lopez, manager for Pratt’s Pets, which has stores in Arizona. “Customers have taken notice. There’s a shift going on, for sure. Our other two stores started seeing it about two months ago. We just started seeing it last month. Coming out of spring into summer, we sell a lot of bedding, and people have been buying pine because it’s cheaper. Our customers are sensitive to price point and value right now.”
The large-packed pine options have attracted some customers looking for a great value.
“Pine shavings still hold up pretty well, especially because we get vendor support where we can get a good buy-in and do a deal on it for the consumer,” Lopez added. “When we do a deal on it, we put it right in the front or on the floor somewhere. It sells really well.”
Regardless of trends, bedding and litter are steady sellers used by independent retailers to help drive business in the category, with retailers reporting they are able to remain competitive on price.
"Bedding is a great repeat-sell item for us," Spradling said. "It's consistently getting customers back. There really isn't a lot of competition in that segment. We generally have the same price point compared to other retailers."
Carrying a variety of options helps retailers stay competitive, as products in this segment are a staple of customers providing a clean and safe environment for their pets.
"Bedding is absolutely about repeat sales," Lopez said. "It's something that we need to carry with us all the time, and we need to have at least three or four types of small animal bedding in stock. We have to give customers a choice. We've found that we need to have something on all three levels, including Cheaper options, mid-range options and high-end, more expensive options, depending on the quality of the bedding.”
Retailers can also help improve customer sentiment by ensuring in-store fencing is kept in good condition and clean at all times. It can also be useful to encourage clients to do the same at home.
“Emphasizing the importance of cleaning small animals’ enclosures at least once a week, if not more, is essential,” Hayden said. “This practice keeps pets’ habitats sanitary and safe to live in. Discussing spot cleaning with customers can also help drive sales—when pet parents remove small bits of soiled bedding daily, they not only keep habitats from accumulating unpleasant odors but also need to replace the removed, soiled bedding with new, clean bedding.”