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Fishing for Nutrition for Aquatic Pets

Various trends in the fish food category are a direct result of a growing awareness of the importance of health and nutrition among fishkeepers.


Diets for fish have come a long way since the days of fish owners simply buying the cheapest food they could find.

“We are seeing growing trends in more ‘complete nutrition’ foods,” said Hellie Priester, store manager for Manhattan Aquariums in New York. “These are foods that contain a diverse assemblage of various marine fish foods to provide a balanced diet for most fish, all in one package.” 

As more people are keeping larger cichlids in the aquarium, they have to worry about managing water quality because of the fish’s voracious appetite and tendency to scatter live and frozen food, said Claus Frenken, sales manager for Sera North America in Montgomeryville, Pa.

“The aquarist can now feed with pellets and have pristine clear water with low phosphate,” he said. “This means less water changes and algae blooms, as well as more consistent growth and coloration, without affecting the quality of the water. This gives aquarists an easier solution to keeping large fish in aquariums.”

Pam Morisse, digital and media marketing manager for Central Aquatics, a brand of Walnut Creek, Calif.-based Central Garden & Pet Co., sees a move toward USA-sourced ingredients in fish food coming in the future.

“In the pet food category overall, there is a major trend toward foods made in the USA, in which shoppers have perceived value in because they trust locally sourced ingredients,” she said. “This trend may continue to grow and impact other pet food categories, such as fish foods.


Fish Food Marketing and Display

Frozen foods can be among the most challenging products to display in a retail environment, yet both retailers and manufacturers have suggestions on how to best present and market this category.

“We have several freezers on the sales floor, and we encourage customers to help themselves, take a look at all the products available, and talk to our staff about questions and recommendations,” said Hallie Priester, store manager for Manhattan Aquariums in New York.

Mike Park, head coral curator at Manhattan Aquariums, said that visual aids help encourage fish owners to explore a variety of frozen food options.

“We have pamphlets and displays on freezers showing what’s available,” he said. “We try to make it fairly viewable so the consumer can know his or her choices.”

Geliah Lemon, sales and marketing for San Francisco Bay Brand in Newark, Calif., recommends another enticing visual cue: glass-door freezers as the best way to display frozen foods.

“Most often, when a store transitions from a solid door to a glass door freezer, they see a 200 to 300 percent increase in frozen food product sales,” said Lemon.

“Add spring-loaded freezer trays to the glass door freezer so the product is always facing outward, and so the store doesn’t have to pay an employee to constantly straighten out the stock in the freezer, and the space the freezer occupies easily becomes the most profitable square footage in the whole store,” she added.


What’s New on the Menu

Recently introduced products in the fish food category reflect the trend toward quality nutrition.

Hikari Sales USA Inc. in Hayward, Calif., recently introduced two new reef foods, Coral Gumbo and Cyclopod+, said Chris Clevers, president.

“Coral Gumbo is a mixture of all sorts of ingredients and is perfect for use with any type of reef environment as a supplemental food for the corals in the system—and the smaller creatures too,” he said. “It has bio-encapsulated multivitamins, which can improve coral growth and coloration.”

Cyclopod+ is made up of natural cyclopods that are gut-loaded with bio-encapsulated multivitamins, Clevers said.

“This product offers a more consistent, vitamin-enriched supplemental food for a reef environment to complete the nutrient cycle of life,” he said.

Sera North America in Montgomeryville, Pa., recently introduced two Sera foods for medium-size and large cichlids, said Claus Frenken, sales manager.

“Sera Cichlid Green XL and Sera Cichlid Red XL are both floating granules that keep their shape and do not pollute the water,” he said. “These two newly developed foods contain the prebiotically active mannan oligosaccharides and so contribute to improved intestinal health, reduce the growth of pathogenic bacteria, support the immune system, and improve food and nutrient utilization.” 

Ocean Nutrition in Newark, Calif., introduced three products at Global Pet Expo in Orlando, Fla., in March: Brine Shrimp With Garlic and Spirulina, Invertebrate Food and Polychaetes.

“Brine Shrimp With Garlic and Spirulina are whole, live high-quality brine shrimp enriched with the combination of spirulina and garlic, then quickly frozen, resulting in whole animals and minimal loss of nutrients,” said Geliah Lemon, sales and marketing. “Invertebrate Food, a blend of finely minced mussel with cyclops and rotifers, is designed to give the most natural and effective diet for filter-feeding invertebrates.

“Varying in size between 8 and 14 centimeters, polychaetes—sea worms—are an important food source for larger marine predators,” Lemon added. “They can be cut easily into smaller pieces, making this soft and nutritious food also available for many smaller fish and invertebrates.”


Tips for Educating Fishkeepers on Food

When it comes to selling fish food, customer education is particularly important, according to manufacturers.

“It is important for hobbyists, especially those new to the category, to understand the proper type of nutrition that is best for their aquatic pet for overall health, as well as the proper amounts of food and frequency with which to feed,” said Pam Morisse, digital and media marketing manager for Central Aquatics, a brand of Walnut Creek, Calif.-based Central Garden & Pet Co. “Both these points will help keep them in the fish hobby longer because they’ll be more successful.”

Morisse suggests retailers achieve this by providing education to shoppers in-store as well as other continuing education options, such as reputable online sources, information about joining a local fish club, and keeping the lines of communication open between the consumer and the store.

“Other efforts for keeping shoppers coming back to the store could include in-store loyalty programs, store e-newsletters or social media posts and videos that shoppers can follow,” she added.

Education is important because of the many choices and varieties available to the consumer in this category, said Geliah Lemon, sales and marketing for San Francisco Bay Brand in Newark, Calif.

“Different fish have different nutritional requirements,” she said. “We offer in-store signage, plus several ways on our website to help hobbyists choose the appropriate food or mix of foods for the fish they have.”


It’s Got to Be Tasty

If fish are going to eat the food they are given, it has to be palatable, according to both retailers and manufacturers.

“The reason most aquarists use frozen foods is the reaction they get from their fish, and because it allows them to easily provide their fish with some variety in diet,” said Chris Clevers, president of Hikari Sales USA Inc. in Hayward, Calif. “Since most of the items sold in frozen form are live animals that are sterilized and frozen, most are quite palatable. The exceptions would be products that are not processed properly, have oxidation problems, or include ingredients or supplements that tend to make them taste less appealing.”

Palatability is crucial in this category because it reduces leftover food in the aquarium, said Christopher LeRose, aquatic division manager for Rolf C. Hagen (USA) Corp. in Mansfield, Mass.

“One main reason palatability is important is because it cuts down on the amount of uneaten food, which causes waste in the fish’s environment,” he said.

Daniel Gilboa, president of Age of Aquariums in Long Beach, Calif., agreed that taste matters.

“When introducing a new food to a customer, we always show them how well it is received by the fish in our aquarium,” he said. “No matter the benefit of the food, if a fish doesn’t eat it, you aren’t going to sell it.”

Although palatability is important, consumers will find foods on the market that might be very palatable but are not high in quality, said Claus Frenken, sales manager for Sera North America in Montgomeryville, Pa.

“It is important to find a composition that has high quality, palatability, digestibility and, most of all, sustainability,” he said.


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

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