Thinking out of the box: Podcast tells tale of an innovation in kitty litter

  • September 8, 2021
  • By Kurt Greenbaum
  • 2 minute read

Cat litter isn’t sexy, but it can earn you some scratch—especially when you think out of the … um … box. Nestlé Purina PetCare CEO Nina Leigh Krueger tells the go/no-go story of a kitty innovation in our latest On Principle podcast.

For most of her career with Nestlé Purina PetCare, Nina Leigh Krueger had worked on the pet nutrition side of the business. When the WashU Olin alumna joined the company’s cat litter group to lead its marketing, she found she was a fish out of water—and facing a challenge with a high sales goal in a stagnating business. Leadership, questioning whether or not to exit the business, challenged her to make or break the line. 

Our story sets the stage for that pivotal moment and goes on to share the work she did in building and creating a team dynamic that was creative in its thinking. Then, once Krueger understood how the team worked, how could she blow that up and identify paths to pursue in the business? Could she renovate an existing product or find something totally new to build from the ground up? 

In addition, she did something marketers rarely do and offered up her marketing budget to R&D to help spur growth through product development. And she gave the scientists a seat at the table to listen to consumers. 

The kernel of the idea for lightweight litter came from one of those scientists. They began to toy with potential solutions. A prototype was created using corn husks. A year later, Krueger was promoted to president of the litter business, and it was time to accelerate the work toward lightweight litter. 

The end of the story? Success and a challenge from Krueger to make the company’s litter division—near extinction a couple of years earlier—into a billion-dollar business. That milestone came when the brand reached $1 billion in sales in 2020. 



About the Author

Kurt Greenbaum

Kurt Greenbaum

As communications director for WashU Olin Business School, my job is to find and share great stories about our students, faculty, staff, and alumni. I've worked for the Consortium for Graduate Study in Management as communications director and as a journalist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Sun-Sentinel in South Florida and the Chicago Tribune.

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