Pond Season Is Here
After a long winter of slow sales, retailers can boost revenue by catering to pond owners.
In much of the country, pond product sales—particularly in the pond food category—tend to wane during the cold months of winter. That’s when fish, turtles and other pond critters hunker down and hibernate, slowing their metabolisms and fasting for the season.
But as soon as those water temperatures warm up in the spring, a feeding frenzy begins and sales in the pond food category surge, said Rick Preuss, owner of Preuss Pets in Lansing, Mich.
“We stock cooler-season pond food and products through the winter, but in the spring, April or so, we bring out the spring food and supplies,” he said. “And when temperatures really heat up, the peak-season, color-enhancing and fast-growth formulas come out.”
Whether it’s spring, summer or fall, pond food is a reliable category for retailers who sell water garden goods, said Damian Hall, marketing communications manager at Rolf C. Hagen (USA) Corp. in Mansfield, Mass.
“Consumable pond products are steady and rising product lines for most retailers; sales trends in this category are consistent,” Hall said. “Like any food product, consumers are looking for quality products that meet the nutritional needs of their fish.”
Seasonal Pond Food
Ever wonder why pond food comes in so many varieties? Manufacturers concoct multiple menus for good reason: They’re catering to the dietary needs of koi, goldfish and other pond fish as they change through the seasons, said Damian Hall, marketing communications manager at Rolf C. Hagen (USA) Corp. in Mansfield, Mass. What they crave during the summer differs from what they need in the spring and fall.
“Pond foods come in a variety of formulas to support the seasonal needs of pond and cold water fish, typically goldfish and koi,” Hall said. “The dietary needs of these fish differ throughout the season based on temperature of water and their activity level.”
In the winter, when fish are enjoying their annual torpor, they need very little food—or no food at all in cold climates. But in transitional months when water temperatures hover between 40 and 55 degrees Fahrenheit or so, experts recommend easy-on-the-belly wheat germ-based diets.
“Wheat germ foods are what I suggest for feeding in the spring and fall,” said Helen Roberts, DVM, who works with Aquatic Veterinary Services of Western New York in Orchard Park, N.Y. “They’re easy to digest and don’t have a lot of fillers. They jump-start a fish’s gastrointestinal system; it’s analogous to when you’re sick with the flu and you start to eat broth to get going again.”
Once summer temperatures arrive and the fish have settled back into their regular eating routine, they can be switched to a nutrient-dense diet that promotes growth and color, Hall said.
“As spring weather turns warm, fish should be transitioned to an all-season formula that provides a steady and balanced nutritional diet,” he said. “Pondkeepers can also feed color-enhancing or growth formulas in place of all-season diets. These are very popular diets for hobbyists. The diets do exactly what they say: A color-enhancing diet is formulated to bring out the vibrant colors of koi and goldfish, and growth formulas are used to help fish rapidly and safely put on weight.”
Kathie Dienes, marketing manager at The Pond Guy in Armada, Mich., agreed, noting that anything that brings out fishes’ health and vibrancy sells.
“Color-enhancing and growth foods are usually the most popular,” she said. “Customers love to feed their fish and see them grow quickly.”
Rick Preuss, owner of Preuss Pets in Lansing, Mich., stocks spring/fall and summer/color-enhancing pond foods at three different price points to offer several choices for customers.
“We have a house blend, a most-recommended brand and a higher-end diet, because we want the very best for our customers,” he said.
Fish aren’t the only pond dwellers that hibernate over the winter. When air and water temperatures chill, outdoor pond turtles will slow their metabolisms and brumate, in herpetological terms, cozily tucked into the mud until spring, said Kathie Dienes, marketing manager at The Pond Guy in Armada, Mich.
When they wake up, they’re hungry—so retailers should point their pond customers to prepared turtle diets, said Ashley Rademacher, animal care and education coordinator for Zoo Med Laboratories Inc. in San Luis Obispo, Calif., and recommend a formula based on their turtle’s life stage.
“A hatchling formula is higher in protein to accommodate the rapid growth rates of hatchling and juvenile aquatic turtles,” she said. “The growth and maintenance formulas meet the dietary requirements of growing and adult aquatic turtles. Floating pellets make it easier for aquatic turtles, who prefer eating at the water surface, to locate their food.”
And don’t forget the treats, Rademacher said.
“Encourage customers to add a nice high-protein treat to their turtle’s diet,” she said. “In nature, aquatic turtles eat animal and plant material as part of their natural diet, so show them treats with ingredients like fish meal, shrimp and kale to simulate their natural diet.”
Educate and Inform
As spring approaches, retailers should be prepared to assist hobbyists with their fish and turtle feeding routine, said Damian Hall, marketing communications manager at Rolf C. Hagen (USA) Corp. in Mansfield, Mass.
“Education is vital when caring for any animal, fish or fowl,” he said. “Beginner pondkeepers need to understand the season cycle of ponds and how this affects the fish, the plants and, of course, the equipment.”
Go with them through the dietary changes season by season, particularly in regions where temperatures swing widely throughout the year, said Kathie Dienes, marketing manager at The Pond Guy in Armada, Mich.
“If you’re in a cooler climate, knowing which type of food is suitable and when to start and stop feeding fish is important for their survival,” she said. “Remind customers to feed a wheat germ-based food when temperatures are between 40 and 50 degrees, and to stop feeding completely when water temperature is below 40. During the warm summer when fish are active, foods with a protein boost will keep them strong and healthy.”
Hall encourages retailers to display their pond food wares prominently, particularly in the spring.
“Pond food should have a prominent place in every pond department in a pet store or water gardening center,” he said. “Depending on the region, pond food can be a year-round consumable sale for pondkeepers. Even in the northernmost garden zones, pond food can and should be a three-season sale.”
Rick Preuss, owner of Preuss Pets in Lansing, Mich., showcases a stunning hands-on display in his shop, and he shares his knowledge with hobbyists new and old through classes and presentations at the local koi and watergarden club. It builds trust—and customers, he said.
“We focus on our assets, what we know, and we give it to the public,” he said. “We’re not into blasting ads. We’re more into building trust and confidence.”
This article originally appeared in the April 2016 issue of Pet Product News.