Cat litter sales are getting a big boost in markets hit by harsh winter weather, said retailers contacted by SN.
Some chains in the Northeast and Midwest reported double the normal sales volume for cat litter, especially on inexpensive brands. The unexpected rush on the category had some chains scrambling to keep pace.
As unrelenting ice and snow storms drained local stocks of rock salt, consumers were sprinkling cat litter on icy stairs and walkways to increase traction, or under tires to dislodge stuck cars. In some cases, retailers have had to use litter themselves on sidewalks and parking lots.
"Our volume on cat litter has been unbelievable," said Richard Vitabile, buyer for the pet food grocery division at Twin County Grocers, Edison, N.J., which supplies Foodtown and D'Agostino Supermarkets in New York and New Jersey.
"We did about 5,500 cases a week, where we normally would be doing about 2,000 to 2,500. We probably would have done more on the item if we could have gotten it," Vitabile said. He said shoppers were buying large 20-and 25-pound bags of inexpensive brands.
"In our private-label Foodtown cat litter, we were having a buy-one-get-one-free sale when the storm broke. Normally we would expect to do about 25,000 bags, but we did close to 100,000 bags," he added.
Genuardi Super Markets, Norristown, Pa., was caught off guard at first by the surge in demand, but is recovering. "We're really challenged to keep cat litter in stock. We have the purchase orders written. It is just a matter
of whether the manufacturers can travel over the roads to get it to us," said Frank Puleo, director, nonperishable merchandising. "The generic product goes first, then the next-lowest-priced one, then the next, etc. They are not buying the premium brands."
Chris Mintus, grocery product manager, Supervalu Pittsburgh division, New Stanton, Pa., said consumers in his retail customers' stores are buying all kinds of cat litter, and product shortages and delivery problems have hit.
"Rock salt is not available, and people are buying premium brands, the cheap stuff, it doesn't matter what kind it is. The demand is very high and it is a problem getting the product here so I can get it back out to the stores. It has just been a comedy of errors," he said.
At Spartan Stores, a wholesaler based in Grand Rapids, Mich., movement of cat litter is up 19%, according to Jan McKellar, a spokeswoman.
Roger Jones, vice president of sales and marketing for Felpausch Food Centers, Hastings, Mich., which is serviced by Spartan, said he experienced some out-of-stocks for a couple of days.
Retailers in the ice-plagued Washington-Baltimore area also reported exploding cat litter sales and spotty shortages.
"Some people carry it in their cars to throw it under tires and others like to throw it out on the ice on the steps and walk," said John Deckard, public relations manager for Safeway Eastern Division, Lanham, Md.
"We're selling a lot of cat litter, and the cheaper the better. We haven't had any shortages of it, but sales are up -- up big time," said Mark Polsky, senior vice president for Magruder, Rockville, Md.
Brian Huff, director of grocery at Randallstown, Md.-based Basics/Metro, said, "We had such a rough last couple of weeks, that we've just been out of stock on cat litter both in our warehouse and in the stores."
Store stocks are low on both rock salt and litter at stores in New England, retailers said.
"We keep on trucking in as much as we can get our hands on in this cold snap. Our rock salt is on allocation and we are waiting for that to come in," said Phill Schneider, director of grocery procurement for Big Y Foods, Springfield, Mass.
Tom Patterson, a buyer for C&S Wholesale Grocers, Brattleboro, Vt., said that the surge is likely to continue until stormy weather lets up.