Posted: December 26, 2013, 1:25 p.m. EDT
Fish hobbyists look to new types of foods that are fun to feed and improve fish vitality.
By Portia Stewart
Food counts; however, some fish owners will focus on water quality and forget the importance of the quality of the nutrition they feed their fish, according to Ian Tepoot, vice president and operations manager at New Life International, a fish food manufacturer in Homestead, Fla.
"Nutrition is one of the key factors to survivability for aquarium fish,” Tepoot said. "Fish that receive good nutrition and have many of their needs met through what they ingest can put up with a little variability in water quality.”
But if they’re malnourished, Tepoot said fish are much less tolerant of small changes in water quality, and they can become diseased or die.
"In the case of our food, it produces results, and the fish are healthy,” he said. "So we give our distributors and retailers the option of receiving tank stickers. And if you feed our food exclusively and don’t supplement it, we put on those tank stickers, because we know that will sell the food, because you will have a vibrant, healthy tank.”
"The biggest line of fish food we carry is the Tetra brand,” said Jeff Reibert, pet supplies buyer for CountryMax stores in Victor, N.Y. "Our two best-sellers are the TetraFin goldfish food and the Tetra BettaMin food. Some of the Tetra products have switched to slide-open-lid-style packaging, which makes it easier to disperse food out of the container.”
Carrie Brenner/i-5 Publishing at Pet Supply
Tetra containers are designed to keep food fresh for a long time, said Nick Kornblith, U.S. brand manager for aquatic nutrition with United Pet Group in Blacksburg, Va., the company that produces the Tetra line of fish nutrition. The company has focused on packaging to simplify container use, keep food fresh, and help pet owners easily recognize the right food for their fish.
From a consumer standpoint, knowing what to feed fish can be complicated, Kornblith said, adding that it was even more complicated 20 years ago.
"There were a lot of brands and a lot of different products, but no one had a scheme to show fish owners what to feed to specific types of fish,” Kornblith said. Tetra conducted consumer research and discovered fish hobbyists were confused about which foods to feed their fish.
Tetra developed shelf strips, dividers and signage so consumers could clearly see what foods were designed for freshwater fish, what foods were treat foods and what foods were appropriate for tropical community fish. Each category was featured on a different shelf strip. Consumers could see the delineation, and the company color-coded its packaging so hobbyists could associate colors with the appropriate foods for their fish.
Another important change in the market, said Cameo Konfrst, COO for Wet Spot Tropical Fish, a retailer in Portland, Ore., is how pet food is mimicking the trend toward more healthful and enhanced options similar to human food.
What are some turnoffs for fish hobbyists?
What are they looking for in fish food?
"Some turnoffs are the lack of fish acceptance, poor smell or poor performance. Unfortunately, to judge the performance of a food could take a number of months. Once the consumer realizes the food isn’t performing as well as the prior choice, the road back could be long and difficult. If the food does not offer a satisfaction guarantee, the consumer could be throwing money in the trash. Also, consumers are turned off by suspect advertising. As an example, ads that imply the food is made from fish filets or gourmet-quality fish simply cannot be true or the cost of the product would be prohibitive. Common sense eventually wins out over slick marketing.”—Chris Clevers, president of Hikari Sales USA Inc. in Hayward, Calif.
"Some of the turnoffs are phosphates or high copper levels for marine fish and aquaria or ingredients such as terrestrial plant materials that fish cannot digest. These are the things we look out for while formulating and preparing diets.”—Andreas Schmidt, president of San Francisco Bay Brand in Newark, Calif.
"We do consumer research, and you can see it also from the industry association, the American Pet Products Association, which conducts an excellent study every few years. Consumers want a fish food that does not cloud water; they want the food to be cleanly metabolized, and they want their fish to like it.”—Nick Kornblith, U.S. brand manager for aquatic nutrition with United Pet Group in Blacksburg, Va., manufacturer of Tetra
"In the world of fish food, Cobalt has stepped up the game and enhanced its food with probiotics, and people have taken notice,” Konfrst said. "Another popular food is Repashy’s Morning Wood. It’s fantastic for all those xylivores out there. Granted, the unique name may, in part, be a cause of its success. But the fish seem to approve. Lastly, Xtreme has put itself on the map with its well-balanced line of food, enhanced with vitamins that boost the immune systems of fish, and their fantastic labels make consumers take notice.”
A newer product that has been a crowd pleaser for D.J. Ducharme, assistant manager at Little Critter Pet Center in Exeter, N.H., are the foods that stick to the inside of the glass to demonstrate feeding at the store. Little Critter sells two such brands—the Sera O-Nip and Tetra Tank Nibblers.
"This type of food creates one isolated spot in the center of the tank, all of the fish’s attention is focused on this one pellet, and it puts the fish a little bit below the water line so they’re not all at the top. They’re right in the middle, all facing you,” Ducharme said. "That goes over really well with the kids. It’s also nice and easy, where you can just give them a single pellet, so you don’t have to worry about overfeeding. You can press it right against the glass and see the response of the fish.”
Ducharme said he’s also just brought in New Era as a premium line of food.
"It’s a new brand from the United Kingdom carried by Central Pet,” he said. "They offer Grazers, which are donut-shaped wafers that plug onto a suction cup on the glass. They basically offer all the same benefits as the other options.”
Other popular choices have been Zoo Med Banquet Blocks, Ducharme said, adding that the popularity of these types of foods seems to be picking up.
"With the Repashy gel food, you can almost just toss a wafer in,” he said. "It’s a centralized location; one chunk of food instead of dispersed throughout the tank. It creates a different sort of behavior from the fish. It’s not chaos; it’s organized to an extent, and I think that people tend to enjoy that.”
Hobbyists’ main source of information about purchases is not posters or shelf toppers, although those don’t hurt, said Tepoot.
"It’s two things: seeing the fish for themselves and knowing what got that result,” he said. "But the biggest source is the person who’s helping the customer. Customers will generally ask what they should feed.”
To educate your store employees, Tepoot said that offering them free or heavily discounted aquarium supplies so they can experience fishkeeping allows a personal edge that will make them more knowledgeable employees.
The key, he said, is that customers can tell the difference between a sales pitch and someone who has used and believes in a product. Using a product, he continued, gives you the ability to talk extemporaneously about products and relate personal experiences.
"If you use it, you believe in it,” he said. "And if you believe in it, you can sell it.
"We offer a 30-day guarantee. If consumers don’t see health and vigor and noticeable improvement in their fish after feeding New Life exclusively, they get their money back,” Tepoot said. "It’s good for the retailer to project those kinds of policies to the customer. It projects confidence and also encourages them to try it.”
Mike Bonella, owner of Manhattan Aquarium Co. in Manhattan, Kan., said he has used the approach of offering aquarium supplies at cost to employees. He said one of the benefits is that employees can afford to try more products, so they can make more effective recommendations about the new products they try.
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