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Fishing for Profits

Industry participants report that pellets reign supreme in the aquatic foods category.


Pellet fish foods are giving flake products a run for their money these days, as pellets become more popular with fishkeeping hobbyists.

Unique shapes, different textures, novel ingredients and probiotics are among the trends cropping up in the pellet category, said Chris Clevers, president of Hikari Sales USA in Hayward, Calif., adding that with the increase of options, retailers should be choosy.

“Retailers have to guard against letting the marketing hype and wonderful stories, rather than the scientific evidence of effectiveness and efficiency, impact their decision making as it relates to the products they choose to stock,” Clevers said.

Jason Frey, president of Premium Aquatics in Edinburgh, Ind., has seen an increase in the demand for fish food pellets over the past few years.

“They are getting more popular than flake foods,” he said. “Most of our customers are looking for higher-end, high-quality pellets.”

There seems to be a trend toward sinking rather than floating pellets, said Jason Oneppo, head of research and development at Ocean Nutrition Americas in Newark, Calif.

“This is due to the many types of filtration that skim water from the surface such as overflow or corner boxes,” he said. “If the pellets float, it will be sucked up by the filtration.”

More pellets and granules are being released into the marketplace, as they are a great alternative to flakes because they break down more slowly, causing less mess in an aquarium, said Chris LeRose, aquatic division manager for The Hagen Group in Mansfield, Mass.  

Eric Russo, assistant manager at Absolutely Fish in Clifton, N.J., said the staff at the store recommends pellet food over flake food, a trend he pointed out is going industrywide.

“It’s more concentrated and less messy,” he said. “Plus, you have the option of using multivitamins, so there’s more nutrients in every bite. Another advantage is that pellets work much better in a vacation feeder.”

Different Sizes, More Options

This past year, Hikari Sales USA in Hayward, Calif., developed some smaller sizes of unique products it already offered, such as Mini Algae Wafers, which provide owners of smaller tanks or specimens the opportunity to feed their fish without having to break apart the larger-sized pellets, said president Chris Clevers.

“Additionally, we’ll soon introduce Monstivore Delite, a larger version of our Massivore Delite, which will be the largest pellet on the market for carnivorous fish and offer the monster fish keepers another option to keep them away from live foods, and the parasites and bacteria they bring along with them,” Clevers said.

In September, Spectrum Fish Food will undergo a major product update in response to consumer demand.

“One new formula introduces squid as our second protein after Antarctic krill. While we will still use fish, it’s less so,” said Ian Tepoot, president of New Life International, the parent company of Spectrum Fish Food in Homestead, Fla. “Squid has higher protein, oil and vitamins and less ash content than fish. We’re also adding ginger in addition to garlic. All of these were driven by availability and experimentation on improving the formula.”

Ocean Nutrition Americas in Newark, Calif., is currently working on new sizes, shapes and varieties of pellets for release over the next year, said Jason Oneppo, head of research and development.

Staying in the Know

Hikari Sales USA’s sales team spends lots of time one-on-one with retailers and their staff in their stores, at regional events, at club gatherings, at distributor open houses and at trade events to help them become nutrition experts so they can impart this knowledge to the consumer, said president Chris Clevers.

“We also spend lots of time at consumer events talking with consumers one-on-one to help them make an educated decision on the foods they choose to feed their fish,” Clevers said. “This, coupled with lots of interaction via social media and online, provides lots of opportunities to expose flake food users to pellets so they can experience the many benefits firsthand.”

Keith Langley, project manager for Cobalt Aquatics in Rock Hill, S.C., said the company speaks at numerous hobbyist and consumer shows throughout the year, providing talks on proper fish nutrition. It also offers in-store training for its retail customers and their sales staff to teach people how to explain and sell food to fish hobbyists.  

“A lot of people don’t really understand why one type might be better than another, and it’s important that we educate them on proper nutrition for their aquatic pets,” he said. “Having advocates on the floor is a great way to get this important information out.”

Ian Tepoot, president of Homestead, Fla.-based New Life International, maker of Spectrum Fish Food, said the company has always been focused on marketing through education.

“Our recently relaunched website, which will be enhanced continually with new sections and expanded, contains extensive information on fish nutrition and focuses heavily on providing info on each ingredient and its role, as well as common fish diseases,” he said. “We believe that a more-educated consumer is the ideal customer.”

New Life also has partnered with the YouTube channel Solid Gold to sponsor educational videos.

Drawing Attention to Food

Some of the most effective retail displays in aquarium shops involve monitors behind the registers that play reels to highlight the various products they carry. However, displays can only go so far.

“Having fish fed the product, and this fact being displayed proudly, is a great sales tool because the consumers can see the results—assuming the retailer has confidence in the product to produce results,” said Ian Tepoot, president of Homestead, Fla.-based New Life International, maker of Spectrum Fish Food. “Also, for smaller retailers that can do so, there is no substitute for a knowledgeable salesperson who uses the product and can provide information and testimonial.”

Jason Oneppo, head of research and development at Ocean Nutrition Americas in Newark, Calif., said keeping food at or behind the front counter near the register is a good idea.

“When customers are purchasing fish, it gives employees the opportunity to ask what foods they are feeding,” he said. “They can then recommend additional foods based on the species of fish that are being purchased and what the customer has in their aquarium at home. This is also an excellent way to start a conversation and build a valuable, lasting relationship with customers.”

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