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The Frozen Advantage

With little competition and the potential for repeat sales, frozen food offerings can help retailers grow their customer base.


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An assortment of quality frozen fish food stimulates repeat business and provides consumers with access to superior nutrition for various aquarium fish species, according aquatic specialists in the pet industry.

On average, customers return to the store to purchase frozen foods 11 times per year, said Jason Oneppo, research and development manager for San Francisco Bay Brand and Ocean Nutrition Americas, headquartered in Newark, Calif. In contrast, customers feeding only dry foods will return only two to three times per year, he added.

While the benefits of offering frozen food products are clear, there are some challenges pet specialty stores face in the aquatic segment. Compared to other pet-related hobbies, aquariumkeeping is often considered harder on the wallet. For that reason, retailers reported, shoppers can be price-conscious. 

“[Customers] weren’t willing to pay extra [for certain expensive frozen foods],” said Frank Schmidt Sr., owner of Coral Reef Pet Center in Norridge, Ill. “We carry the Hikari and San Francisco Bay Brand [lines], and they work well for us.” 

Saltwater aquariums are increasingly popular, retailers note, and more novices are willing to try their hand at keeping more-elaborate marine setups. With many saltwater species benefiting from frozen offerings, Tom Newman, manager at Waterbury Aquarium in Waterbury, Conn., said he’s seen some modest sales growth in the category.

“We see a lot more people trying to step up to saltwater,” said Newman, adding that the Hikari and Omega One lines perform well for the store.

Frozen Favorites

Frozen foods have been a staple offering in fish stores for years. Sales remain steady for most of the popular items, retailers reported, with a few standouts. 

“Nutramar Ova is back ,” said Fritz Grimm, owner of Saltwater Empire in Bloomington, Minn. “That’s been a hot seller.” 

Hikari brand frozen foods have done the best in-store, Grimm added. 

Several retailers reported success with multiple lines of frozen foods. 

“We sell a lot of Hikari frozen fish food,” said Sam Mintz, aquarist at Aquaridise in East Brunswick, N.J. “Piscine Energetics and San Francisco Bay Brand also do well for us. We do pretty good numbers on all three of those. Hikari is probably our best-seller.”

Cobalt International recently released a line of food that is performing strongly in-store, said Nick Gianakos, manager at Fish Nook Pet Center in Acton, Mass. 

“We just recently brought in the Larry’s LRS Frenzy,” Gianakos added. “I’ve only had the Larry’s brand for about a month now, and it’s been selling very well. I get asked a lot more for the Larry’s than I did [other brands].”

San Francisco Bay Brand has introduced fish eggs and Coral Cuisine cubes, said Jason Oneppo, research and development manager for San Francisco Bay Brand and Ocean Nutrition Americas, headquartered in Newark, Calif. 

“Coral Cuisine is a mixture of phytoplankton, zooplankton and macroalgae,” he said, adding that the food is formulated to stimulate corals’ natural feeding behavior. 

Ocean Nutrition has introduced its Formula Food Flat Packs, including Reef Formula One, Reef Formula Two, Fish Only Formula and Predator Formula.

The foods are manufactured in the USA and do not contain any binders, artificial preservatives, added colors or terrestrial vegetable matter as a source of vitamins, he said. 

Worth the Investment

There’s no getting around the need for a relatively more sophisticated—and often more expensive—freezer display when it comes to offering frozen fish food. The price is offset by the extra foot traffic that frozen foods bring in-store, retailers note. 

“Freezers are expensive, so it can be an issue to display [frozen foods] properly,” said Fritz Grimm, owner of Saltwater Empire in Bloomington, Minn. 

Ultimately, though, the benefits outweigh the costs, retailers reported. 

“Having frozen food in-store is a good thing,” said Nick Gianakos, manager at Fish Nook Pet Center in Acton, Mass.

By carrying a variety of product, he’s able to increase traffic and earn additional sales. 

“I sell to a wide variety of marine and freshwater hobbyists,” he said. 

A Competitive Edge?

The difficulties brick-and-mortar retailers face from online competition are well documented these days. However, the frozen fish food category could prove to be a notable exception.

Because of frozen products’ temperature requirements and price points, most retailers reported actually having an advantage over online and other competitors. 

“There’s probably a competitive advantage over online [retailers],” said Nick Gianakos, manager at Fish Nook Pet Center in Acton, Mass. “Most of the time, if you’re buying frozen stuff online, the shipping is expensive. You’re probably paying two to four times the cost of the actual food to get it shipped to your door. So having [those products] in-store is a good thing.”  

Also, the higher entry costs involving freezer displays might be a hidden benefit for retailers. Stores not primarily concerned with serving the aquarium hobby may forgo the added expense, leaving little local competition for retailers that offer products in the category. 

This is a win-win for retailers and manufacturers, because brick-and-mortar retailers reported being able to offer a wider variety of frozen foods, driving repeat business. 

“Frozen fish food is not available from mass retail stores, and online purchasing is either unavailable or has a high shipping cost,” said Jason Oneppo, research and development manager for San Francisco Bay Brand and Ocean Nutrition Americas, headquartered in Newark, Calif. “This all leads to customers returning to your store.”

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