Scooping up.

Detroit Lakes, Minn. — “Gotta be patient,” Mike Hughes murmured to himself while technicians, construction workers and AURI staff put the fine-tuning touches to the massive metal machinery in his plant.

As president of Pet Care Systems, Inc., a manufacturer of wheat-based cat and small animal litters, Hughes was understandably anxious. The new machinery was producing the first commercial batches of a redesigned litter product — enough to reach more than half the country’s Target stores by mid-May.

All it’s cracked up to be

The new crumbled litter has a more coarse texture than Pet Care Systems’ original ground wheat litter, “Swheat Scoop,” introduced seven years ago. It also tracks less, absorbs one third more moisture and clumps more quickly. The new generation Swheat Scoop is also the only alternative litter recommended for use in Litter Maid brand automatic litter boxes.

“There are some competing products out there, but we thought we could do better,” Hughes says. “So we checked with Jack (Johnson) and Al (Doering) at AURI to see what we could do.”

Developed and analyzed in AURI’s waste utilization lab in Waseca, the patented litter has been tested with overwhelmingly positive results.

Fractured wheat starch causes the litter to clump quickly, and a protein enzyme present in wheat controls the ammonia odor. Although the product looks like clay litter, it can be scooped and even flushed into sewer or septic systems.

“They took a good product and made it into a premium product,” says Al Doering, AURI technical services specialist. “This product will compete with clay litters on the market but has the advantage of being safe for sewer and septic systems and is nearly dust-free.”

Deeper into retail

Having litter sold in Target is a major development for Pet Care Systems. Already in about 7,000 pet stores such as PetSmart and Petco, the addition of 500 Target retail outlets is an important development. Hughes says five percent of cat litter is purchased in pet stores, while mass merchandisers like Target sell 41 percent. The wheat litter is also available in 10 Wal-Mart stores in Minnesota and North Dakota.

The success of Pet Care Systems’ wheat-based litters is good news for area farmers as well. Hughes says his company buys 95 percent of the wheat used in production from northwestern Minnesota farmers.

Patience, it seems, pays off. “We know this new litter will sell better,” Hughes says. “Even our competitors are telling us we have a winner.”