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Flake Food Favorites

Though competition is heating up, these classic aquatic foods offer retailers a chance to bring in new hobbyists and keep customers coming back.


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Flake food, the staple offering for aquatic pets, still holds a place in aquarists’ minds and on retailers’ shelves, but increasingly, premium offerings and alternative food types mean the focus has shifted to quality and price point. 

Most retailers reported that flake food sales are holding their own, albeit primarily for freshwater applications. 

“Flake foods are still a bigger seller on the freshwater side of the hobby, but not so much when it comes to saltwater,” said Marcia Martin, co-owner of Coastal Aquarium in Richmond Hill, Ga. “We do a lot of saltwater, so we probably sell as much frozen food as we do flake food, if not more.”

Premium fish foods are increasingly popular, as well, and manufacturers are improving the quality of flake food to meet demand. Price point can be a consideration, but a wide selection helps support sales.

“It’s always a great idea for any retail store to have a difference in price available for a customer,” said Chris LeRose, aquatic division manager for The Hagen Group in Mansfield, Mass. “Not every customer is going to want a premium price on fish foods, but then you have the customer that is educated about foods and wants to give their livestock a better food.”

While flake food still makes up a large portion of fish food sales volume, competition from other types of foods is slowly changing the market, even on the freshwater side of the hobby.

“I would say flake food makes up a majority of sales, but it’s changed,” said Jonas Sternberg, owner of Sierra Fish and Pets in Renton, Wash. “It’s evened out dramatically. Revenue is higher for gourmet foods or alternative foods, such as frozen foods.” 

However, flake foods do play an important role in helping retailers support new aquarists and keep customers in the hobby.

“The average consumer is still flake-food oriented because it’s the easiest staple diet to give fish at all times,” Sternberg said. 

Flake offerings can also help as aquarists make the transition to more elaborate diets that generate higher revenue. As they become more experienced in the hobby, customers are switching away from the older, generic foods and going to the more premium-based foods, said Paul Nixon, owner of Slither and Swim in West Haven, Conn.

“If you ask 10 people what fish eat, nine of them would say flake food,” he added. “As they get more into keeping fish, they realize that there are freeze-dried products, there are better-formulated pellets and a lot of different options they can feed their fish.”

Flake Food Introductions and Reformulations

Increasingly, aquatic food manufacturers are offering higher-quality fare and adding new options to their flake lines as hobbyists become choosier about what they feed their fish. 

Reformulating older food offerings is increasingly popular, and certain ingredients are catching customer attention. Tetra has revamped its nutritional lineup to include its Active Life Formula, which adds prebiotics, antioxidants and immunostimulants to aid digestion and support fish health, said John Fox, division vice president, aquatic marketing, for Spectrum Brands’ Pet, Home & Garden Division in Stamford, Conn. 

“Fish health is always a priority for us, which means that formulas never stop evolving,” he added. 

The new formulation is used in the company’s TetraMin Flakes and is on shelves now. Tetra will include the formulation change in its Color Flakes, Goldfish Flakes and Cichlid Flakes lines, Fox said. 

The company is also revamping its packaging to include bright, colorful icons designed to highlight the main benefits of the foods, Fox added, including a new badge for the Active Life Formula.
Other manufacturers are also redesigning packaging to help grab customers’ attention. For example, Aqueon is updating its logo features on its flake products and is focusing on clean packaging to help attract customers, said Pamela Morisse, digital and media marketing manager for Central Garden & Pet Co. in Walnut Creek, Calif. 

Meanwhile, in response to a demand for innovation and quality in the market, The Hagen Group introduced its Bug Bites fish food line under its Fluval brand this past year. 

“It is not a flake but a granule or pellet,” said Chris LeRose, aquatic division manager for the Mansfield, Mass.-based company. “We have just added more to the Bug Bites line with a new formula for color enhancing.” 

Healthful Additions 

Premium flake formulations increasingly feature new ingredients or other additions to improve palatability and help aid fish health. 

“It’s not your classic fish meal,” said Jonas Sternberg, owner of Sierra Fish and Pets in Renton, Wash. “One alternative ingredient is soldier fly larva. We’re seeing an improvement of ingredients overall.” 

Instead of using fish meal, manufacturers are now sourcing whole rock fish and salmon for flake food formulas, Sternberg added.

Fishkeepers are increasingly conscious of their fish’s well-being, driving demand for another new food ingredient in the hobby—probiotics.

“Probiotics are trending right now,” said Jason Oneppo, research and development manager for San Francisco Bay Brand and Ocean Nutrition Americas, both of which are headquartered in Newark, Calif. “More producers of fish food are adding probiotics.”

Human health and food trends have been crossing over into dog and cat products, and now even fishkeepers are looking for pet items and foods that they initially became aware of through human products.

“Ingredients new to aquarium fish food are constantly being incorporated into formulations,” Oneppo said. “Often, these ingredients are items that are being used in products for human and companion-animal consumption. One popular ingredient popping up in foods now is goji berries, but they have been promoted as a superfood in the nutraceutical market for at least 10 years.” 

New processes for manufacturing fish foods also are changing the marketplace. Fluval has decided to use an extruding process in its fish food.

“With the extruding process, you don’t lose the nutrients of the ingredients,” said Chris LeRose, aquatic division manager for The Hagen Group in Mansfield, Mass.

Variety Is Key

Flake foods come in a wide variety of formulations, from traditional all-purpose flakes to higher-end species-specific foods and premium options. That means there’s a range of price points for customers to choose from. 

“More people are willing to spend a little more money on a premium food under the concept that you don’t have to feed as much of it,” said Paul Nixon, owner of Slither and Swim in West Haven, Conn.

He offers Sera, Aqueon and Tetra flake lines to customers, all of which sell well at various price points. Nixon organizes his fish food section by price, with budget options on the bottom, mid-tier products in the middle and premium offerings on the top shelf.

Regardless of price range, flake foods sell well across the spectrum, retailers reported. 

“We sell equal amounts of flake foods at different price points,” said Marcia Martin, co-owner of Coastal Aquarium in Richmond Hill, Ga. “I don’t keep tons of flake food in at one time, because I like to keep it fresh.”  

Cobalt’s line of flake foods sells well, Martin noted, as do Aqueon’s flake products. 

Knowing the local market and a store’s customer base can help retailers determine what price points are most effective. The market offers something for every aquarist in every price range. 

“Our flakes range anywhere from $1.49 on the low end up to about $21.99 for the high end,” said Jonas Sternberg, owner of Sierra Fish and Pets in Renton, Wash. “Omega is probably our No. 1 seller.” 

Though price points vary, ultimately, retailers can find a good blend of products to offer customers.

“Some people shop for a bargain and some people shop for quality, so it would depend on the customer,” said Jason Oneppo, research and development manager for San Francisco Bay Brand and Ocean Nutrition Americas, both of which are headquartered in Newark, Calif. “Premium options for flakes are becoming more and more popular, and the difference in price between a premium and nonpremium brand is not that significant.”

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