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Freeze-Dried Fish Food Faces Changing Market

This aquarium staple is facing a changing fish food market and stiff competition.


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Freeze-dried fish foods once served as a safe, effective alternative to live fish foods and a way to supplement fishes’ diet. However, these products have come under pressure from new developments in the fish food market.

The buzz centers around new frozen food offerings and canned offerings, but there is a small segment of freeze-dried fish foods that are doing well, retailers report. Primarily, the challenge has been finding the right place for freeze-dried offerings in a retail environment. With shelf space and resources at a premium, retailers and their customers are focused more than ever on the nutritional aspects of their offerings.

Taking the spotlight—and market share—are frozen foods. Most retailers reported sales gains from decent to exceptional in this category, and these increasingly are viewed as the new “premium” foods in the aquarium industry.

“The biggest uptrend [in fish food] is the frozen all-in-one stuff,” said Mark Faber, aquatics manager for Preuss Pets in Lansing, Mich. “That’s what most people are asking me for. There are a few different brands out there. I’m thinking of the Rod’s Food [brand], specifically. We’ve been selling a lot more of that [brand], and I think [all-in-one frozen foods are] becoming more common.”

Some retailers don’t even offer freeze-dried foods anymore, opting to focus on frozen products.

The reality is, most freeze-dried offerings are identical to past products.

“I don’t actually sell freeze-dried foods,” said Bruce Kelley, manager of Aquatek Tropical Fish in Austin, Texas. “I recommend frozen food and high-quality pellets and some limited use of flakes.”

The reality is, most freeze-dried offerings are identical to past products.

“Freeze-dried is kind of the same old stuff,” said Ed Dean, store manager for Aqua Life Aquarium in Rocklin, Calif. “You’ve got your krill, you’ve got your blood worms. We’ve been getting freeze-dried Australian black worms, which do really well, but I wouldn’t say they’re cheap, and there’s not a lot of major companies [offering] it. We have to get it from hobbyists. Most of the major freeze-dried stuff … has been around forever.”

Products in the segment aren’t generating a ton of excitement and have assumed the role of safe “alternative” foods for specific situations.

“I think [freeze-dried foods] are easier for a lot of people who have been feeding live foods,” Faber said. “Live feeding obviously has its own issues. The health factor’s always there, and freeze-dried is definitely a healthier option.”

Nutrition
Some in the industry question the nutritional value of freeze-dried offerings.

“Freeze drying is interesting,” said Dr. John Hirsch, founder and managing partner of Doctor Eco Systems in Maryland Heights, Mo. “[These foods] aren’t fast food, [but] they’re not totally natural. I think they fall in the spectrum … I think in general they’re just as healthful as all-natural foods. [However,] you’ve got to feed a varied diet.”

Freeze-dried foods can be more convenient than frozen.

“The biggest thing about [freeze-dried] is just the nutritional factor,” said Mark Faber, aquatics manager for 

Preuss Pets in Lansing, Mich. “There’s definitely a huge nutritional factor [between] the frozen versus the freeze dried. In our experience, the freeze-dried [foods] lose some of that nutritional factor, so it would be a convenience factor [when considering using] the freeze dried.”

Though there is debate about the nutritional value of these foods, they still have a place in the market. Fish foods offer retailers a way to compete with Internet sellers. Having a freeze-dried option available for those who need to transition off live foods or who want the added convenience makes sense for retailers trying to stay competitive in the current environment.

"When people buy [fish foods] on the Internet, they have to wait for shipping, so we always have that competitive edge.”

“Internet competition is always a worry for us,” said Jeff Leung, manager of Aqua-World Pet Super Center in Pittsburgh. “We’ve been lowering our prices to make [the business] more competitive … When people buy [fish foods] on the Internet, they have to wait for shipping, so we always have that competitive edge.”

Merchandising
An advantage brick-and-mortars have is that they can showcase aquariums and market freeze-dried foods directly to new customers, who might prefer a simplified feeding option.

“Nano tanks are really popular right now, and specifically nano freshwater planted tanks and dwarf shrimp tanks,” said Ed Dean, store manager for Aqua Life Aquarium in Rocklin, Calif.

This interest in small nano setups skews toward beginners, which offers retailers the opportunity to push foods such as freeze-dried options to simplify upkeep and help customers stay in the hobby.

For experienced hobbyists and long-time customers, two keys to generating new food sales are pricing and discount offers.

“I’d say the biggest thing when it comes to food is price point,” Dean said. “People are all about price point. They don’t want to buy the [lowest priced] item out there, but they’re going to buy the next step up from the cheapest they can find.

“The biggest thing when it comes to repeat customers is [having] sales,” he added. “People love food on sale, and most foods have a really high mark up, so it’s really easy to do a buy-one-get-one-free [offer]. It makes a big difference, because customers are going to be buying food anyway, and if they see that as a sale, they will come here instead of going to any of my competitors.”

New to the Category
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Though traditional freeze-dried offerings such as Cyclops, Mysis, krill and bloodworms, among others, have been available for a long time, there is a new type of freeze-dried foods that is gaining buzz. 

“There’s also a lot of [freeze-dried] powdered coral foods and powdered shrimp foods that you stir up and turn into a gel, which are becoming very popular,” said Ed Dean, store manager for Aqua Life Aquarium in Rocklin, Calif.

Unlike traditional freeze-dried products, these are formulated to be mixed and turned into a gel food.

“The new items coming from Dr. Tim’s show promise,” said Steven Oberg, aquatics manager at Preuss Pets in Lansing, Mich. “There are freeze-dried peas, small shrimp, as well as dried garlic that comes in these little pepper grinder containers. These are ground up and added to a frozen food gel-type formula.  It’s a cool idea, and we’re curious to see how it works out.”

Other novel competing food products are appearing on the market as well, beyond the shift to new frozen foods.

“There’s a lot of funky foods [coming out],” Dean said. “They’re not necessarily freeze dried, but they’re coming out with a lot of canned foods that I actually really like. [For example,] Zoo Med’s new Can of Cyclops. They have canned brine shrimp and canned snails, too. It comes out clean and it’s pre-cooked, which sounds weird, but it tends to stay in the fridge a little bit better.”

The advantage of freeze-dried fish food is still the same, and it still makes sense for some retailers and their customers.

“Freeze-dried foods … remove water for stability and storage while preserving all of the benefits of the original product,” said Aleck Brooks, specialty sales for San Francisco Bay Brand in Newark, Calif. “What you get is the convenience and the nutrition of fresh and frozen in a jar.”


This article originally appeared in the January 2016 issue of Pet Product News.

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