Cat Litter A La Carte

Pouncing on what it sees as a big growth area in cat litter, Excel Mineral Co. of Santa Barbara, Calif., is introducing a scoop formula nationwide. It could have been a packaging copycat with non standard plastic jugs. Instead, it has virtually assured more shelf facings by offering its clumping type litter in two package styles.

These are a multiwall bag and box, made with 100 percent recycled paperboard that includes are at least 55 percent post consumer waste. Each container holds an 8 lb quantity, or 16 oz more than the standard jug. Sold under Excel’s well established Jonny Cat trade name, the packages started distribution in October. Full rollout is slated for the second quarter of this year.

At the same time, Excel is using the introduction to unveil a graphic redesign of all Jonny Cat litter packages. That should further secure “our own rapidly growing corner of the cat litter products sections of supermarkets and price clubs,” says marketing manager William Douglas Jones, “as we demonstrate to dealers that our packaging will assure better turnover through most efficient display. You can get some fashion like grumpy cat t shirt, pull hover or hoodie for cat or useful tips tricks for your sweet cat.

“Even at this early date, our orders are mainly for the box though it costs more than the bag. With some of our accounts, the boxes are already on reorder.”

Taking full advantage

The new box from Jefferson Smurfit, Doug Jones notes, “permits display of six units in the same space occupied by four jugs. Moreover, the full panel display does a better job of communicating our brand’s advantages than could the smaller display area of a jug’s label, especially with the new graphics we’ve adopted.” The Jonny Cat cartoon designed by Evans, Hardy & Young is now used universally, replacing pictures of cats on some packages.

Measuring approximately 7 1/4 x 8 x 4 1/2 in., the box is a full overlap seal end style with supporting insert and tear tape. It’s gravure printed in four colors with water based inks and coating. The outer is made with Smurfit’s .030 Mastercote, that provides an 80 brightness. The die cut undercoated insert is constructed of .038 bending chipboard, giving the package the stacking strength needed for the dense litter. A convenience feature is the glued in carry handle, made by Wilton Packaging of white patterned 1/2 in. polypropylene strapping precut to a 7 in. length. The box is retail priced at $3.59 to $3.89. It is now contract packaged, but Excel plans to move this operation in house.

Box copy emphasizes the product’s advantages and Excel’s Green Gard moisture activated odor control material. It also lists step by step instructions for best results and, on a side panel, urges consumers to spray or neuter their pets to help control the animal population. There is also a letter promoting the product and encouraging consumer comments above the signature of Excel president Betty J. Stephens. An added point of purchase feature is prominent use of the trade name on all six panels of the box, facilitating identification no matter how it’s displayed.

In the bag

The 8 lb bag of scoopable litter features an easy open tear tape. Made primarily by Stone Packaging Systems, the gusseted bag has an outer ply of 59# claycoated kraft, which Stone prints in four colors via gravure for crisp, clean graphics. The inner ply is 50# natural kraft, a Stone spokesman reports, adding that “we’re working toward incorporating recycled material into the bag and hope to have something to offer shortly.”

The scoop formula is now packaged semi automatically at Excel’s year old plant in Wrens, Ga. Plans are being made to fully automate this function when demand warrants. As presently packaged, the 8 lb bag of scoop formula sells for between $3.09 and $3.29.

Excel expected that the launch of its scoop formula would capture attention of call cat owners both its existing customers and users of other brands. So it’s taking the opportunity to usher in another new product, regular Jonny Cat litter in premium formulation. Marketed mostly through supers in a 10 lb bag, the product is available both unscented and with pH+, the company’s additives to improve ammonia odor control.

For both, the same bag specifications as for the scoop formula are employed; graphics by Design Resources take maximal advantage of the bag’s large display area. The Bagcraft bags vary from those by Stone in using a 50# bleached white claycoat outer ply. Printing in four colors is done flexographically for these bags, which measure 7 1/4 x 3 3/4 x 20 1/4 in. For the 10 lb bag with deodorizes, the suggested retail price range is $1.89 to $2.19; it’s $1.19 to $1.39 for unscented.

Bagging is automated

Packaging of the premium litter is being done on a fully automated line in the Wrens plant. Here, dedicated packaging of the litter is done at a 36 bpm rate, Excel assistant plant manager Joe Curles tells PD. “We’ve been getting some very consistent output on the line, with some size flexibility built in for the markets we’re reaching, ” he says. Excel is considering the addition of 20 and possibly 40 lb bags.

At the line’s top is a customized filler, a Paxall Parsons HEM mounted with a magazine that holds, says, “about 300 bags, so the worker who restocks can also be handling a line adjacent to it. In fact, we need only three people to keep two lines running at capacity.”

Using a pair of vacuum cups on a feeder arm to lift a bag into the flight, the filler has a second set that opens the bag and retains it under the hopper’s spout. After bulk filling, the bag indexes over three net weight scales and under as many heads for dribble filling to the correct weight with minimal giveaway. This and several other line functions are coordinated by Allen Bradley controllers.

Provided with the filler are vacuum manifolds hooked up to a dust collector at the scales to dipose of fines. Filling litter generates dust. It also causes bags to bulge. That’s why, immediately after filling, a vibratory staging platform is mounted with side belts that squeeze the bag, squaring off the gussetts and permitting them to be reformed for bag closing. Each bag then enters a clamp for trimming, folding and application of a strip, as well as dating by a Lincoln coder.

Sewing it up

Moving downstream, the bags are closed by a Fischbein Model 400T tape sewing system with a Model 91 sewing head, both acquired through Packaging Equipment Co., that provide the consumer with an easy open pull tape. An 18 lb thread spool, Joe Curles says “lasts us a good long time, and handles the crepe tapes from various companies with no problems at all.”

The bags then convey into an Ouachita Trailblazer stretch baler for compacting and wrapping. The baler routinely stacks six bags in a two high configuration. Curles notes, but “can also be adjusted to handle a three bag quantity for warehouse club sales.” For the standard six bag arrangement, the bundle is wrapped four times with an 80 ga polyethylene stretch film from Mobil Chemical and Linear Films.

At the next station, the bundles are palletized automatically by FMC’s EZY 150 palletizer. The microprocessor controlled two axis units sets the bundles onto GMA 40×48 in. wooden pallets from various sources. Filled pallets are conveyed to a Lantech pallet wrapper, where they are wrapped with the same 80 ga PE film used by the bundler.

Future plans

Plant manager Jim Rogers says that the capacious Wrens operation “already has considerable capacity for the different sized packages of cat litter and also for the oil and grease absorbants we sell to industrial markets. We expect the addition of the new packaging capacity to be smooth and uneventful.”

As for marketing, adoption of the scoop formula products, Doug Jones says, “will help us considerably outside the western U.S., where Jonny Cat is a leading brand. We’ll have a much stronger shelf presence in growth segments of the market and additional facings to give the consumer a better choice of quality products.”

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