While the market isn’t being flooded with new flake fish foods, these diets constantly are being improved by manufacturers to ensure a healthy environment and offer the best nutrition for fish.
It is remarkable the extent to which a seemingly simple product such as dry flake fish food is, in fact, the result of much exhaustive research and very sophisticated manufacturing. After all, some nonfishy friends of mine say, “It’s only fish food.”
“Understanding what ornamental fish need is an ongoing process,” said Gary Jones, food project manager for Mars Fishcare in Chalfont, Pa. “Mars Fishcare and the Waltham Centre for Pet Nutrition continue their research for ornamental fish on how to provide superior nutrition that delivers a healthier aquatic environment.”
Mars’ facility in Chalfont houses a large and very sophisticated testing lab with many tanks. When I visited Gary, I asked him why each tank only held a few goldfish. Upon inspecting carefully, I noted that each tank had three goldfish of different solid colors—the same assortment, in each tank.
“We’re running some tests for color enhancement, and the best way to see the color effect of a food on fish is with goldfish,” he said.
Making a Splash in Dry
Fish store owners I spoke to for this article responded to the “What’s new?” question with “Not much.” However, while there might not be many new products being introduced, there always are improvements being made to existing foods.
“We see more specialization along with more natural ingredient mixes that are beneficial for the fish and the environment they live in,” said Chris Clevers, president of Hikari Sales USA in Hayward, Calif. “The addition of specific and beneficial probiotics we have uncovered also has provided a whole line of products that soon will include a marine carnivore and a marine herbivore diet under the Saki-Hikari brand name.”
“Fish such as botias and corys do better with a bottom pellet. As much of their nature diets rely on crustaceans, the inclusion formulation of shrimp into bottom feeding pellet is a natural attractant. Fish such as catfish and especially plecos are accustomed to grazing by scraping algae off rocks in the wild. These types of fish do best by supplying a wafer that sinks to the bottom that they can scrape at, mimicking their natural eating habits.”—Gary Jones, food project manager for Mars Fishcare in Chalfont, Pa.
“We use pellets for in-store feeding of fish that are bottom dwellers, and the pellets/wafers that are spirulina algae for any fish that need a high quantity of vegetable matter in their diet. We recommend the same to our customers.”—Steve Richmond, owner of Lovely Pets in Quincy, Mass.
“With the species-specific diets, not only can they do well, but we also have successfully bred a number of species using only our pelleted formulations with no supplementation of any kind; in many cases using wild-caught parents.”—Chris Clevers, president of Hikari Sales USA in Hayward, Calif.
“Advancement in ingredient technologies like immune stimulants that put the fish’s immune system on high alert, and probiotic bacteria that support a healthy digestive system, continue to push the boundaries in aquatic nutrition,” said Les Wilson, co-founder and marketing head at Rock Hill, S.C.-based Cobalt Aquatics.
Ingredients and words prominent in the human, cat and dog food worlds are becoming used in the world of fish foods, as well.
“Manufacturers are following the lead from the canine and feline divisions of the pet industry,” said Chris LeRose, aquatics division manager for Rolf C. Hagen (USA) Corp. in Mansfield, Mass. “We have seen a huge influx of holistic and natural pet food trending in the market over several decades, and we understand that the basis of a healthy animal is a clean diet. Therefore, we are utilizing the same concept in the aquatic field.”
Addressing the subject of ingredients, “Using quality protein ingredients like whole anchovies, whole shrimp and squid meal is crucial,” said Matt Allen, vice president of marketing for Elive in New Berlin, Wis. “Blending in proven, natural color enhancers, including red algae, spirulina, brine shrimp and astaxanthin, also is important to us.”
Elive is a fairly new company to the industry, and it is expanding into new areas of the business.
“Whether a flake, granule or pellet, we wanted to make sure the food triggered an aggressive feeding response, and quality ingredients ensure this,” Allen said.
“Absolutely. Quality formulated and produced dry foods represent complete diets for fish and are far superior to single animal live or frozen alternatives that do not contain a full array of required elements like proteins, amino acids, fatty acids, vitamins and minerals”—Les Wilson, co-founder and head of marketing for Cobalt Aquatics in Rock Hill, S.C.
“Sure—the fish food manufacturers have got the nutrition down, and there is no problem feeding only dry flake foods.”—Adam Zweig, owner of Adam’s Pet Safari in Chester, N.J.
“No. For best colors and general health a variety of dry flake foods is fine, but all fish need to be supplemented with frozen foods.”—Michael Nallen, owner of Oceans of Pets in Woonsocket, R.I.
“Yes. Any good dry flake food—the ones we sell are Cobalt, Sera, Spectrum and Omega One—provide all the nutrition for any community tank of fishes. We recommend frozen or freeze-dried foods as a treat a couple times a week.”—Steve Richmond, owner of Lovely Pets in Quincy, Mass.
“We usually recommend a variety of dry flake foods supplemented by frozen. For small tanks flake is OK, and most aquaculture marine fish will readily take and do well on just dry foods.”—Mike Ooms, owner of Franklin Aquarium and Pet in Columbia, Tenn.
While the retailers were bearish in the way of dry foods, they are the experts when it comes to what sells. One food mentioned time and again with high praise was Tetra Crisps. I tested the crisps when they were first released, and it is an excellent dry food, eagerly eaten by all fish; the crisp does not break up.
“We like the Tetra Crisps better than any flake foods,” said Adam Zweig, owner of Adam’s Pet Safari in Chester, N.J., adding that Tetra Crisps now are available in different formulas for different fish.”
“We really like the way Tetra Crisps feed in the store,” said Michael Nallen, owner of Oceans of Pets in Woonsocket, R.I. “There is virtually no waste of pieces of the food breaking up and dissolving in the water.”
Other brands retailers appreciate come from Hikari, Cobalt, Hagen/Fluval, Elive, Mars Fishcare and Omega One.
Mike Ooms, owner of Franklin Aquarium and Pet in Columbia, Tenn., is a big fan of Sera—sometimes referred to as “the other yellow can of fish food.”
“We want to be able to feature fish foods that our customers can’t buy in the local PetSmart, Petco or Walmart,” said Ooms.
Although it might be “just fish food,” there is much research and development that goes into what hobbyists drop into the glass boxes that house their fish.
“When feeding a community tank quality fish food, we all know variety is the spice of life, and supplementing live or frozen foods to community tanks can certainly be used as a treat,” said LeRose of Hagen. “Nevertheless, a quality flake or pellet fish food is recommended for daily feedings.”
This article originally appeared in the September 2015 issue of Pet Product News.