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Aquatic Marketplace: Freshwater Fish Food Finds

Posted: Dec. 12, 2012, 8:30 p.m. EST

Stores and customers tend to trust major brands yet still are willing to seek out new fish diets to try.
By David Lass

When it comes to freshwater fish foods, retailers—and their customers—have a variety of types to choose from: flake, gel, frozen and live; general and species-specific; color-enhancing and slow-dissolving. No matter which type stores opt to stock, what matters most is how those foods satisfy fishes’ nutritional needs.

Manufacturers offer a lot of options to meet almost any dietary requirement, said Chris Clevers, president of Hikari USA in Hayward, Calif., adding that Hikari and other companies spend a considerable amount of time working on the balance of their diets.

Retailers and manufacturers generally agree on what makes a good fish food.

Fish food
Stocking a variety of foods can encourage fishkeepers to try a new product or two. Katie Ingmire /BowTie Inc. at Tong’s Tropical Fish & Pets
“[Good food offers] palatability, digestibility and as little as possible left in the tank after the fish eat,” said Ellis London, owner of Tropic Isle Aquarium in Framingham, Mass., one of the largest and oldest local fish stores in the Boston area.

At Steve’s Wonderful World of Pets in Williamsville, N.Y., owner Steve Lane looks for foods that are as efficient as possible.

“No powder, low waste in the can and as little as possible coming out of the fish or left in the tank,” Lane said.

Most fish stores rely heavily on the reputation of, and the products from, the major manufacturers, retailers said.

“We trust the manufacturers to use quality ingredients,” stated Bethany Stockman, co-owner with Brett Varnum of Laconia Pet Center in Laconia, N.H. “We sell a wide variety of foods, depending on the type of fish being fed. All-purpose flakes, algae foods and carnivore pellets, for example.”

While fish food manufacturers stress the uniqueness of their products, they all seem to be trying for the same thing.

“In the aquarium, health, long life and beauty of the fish are the common aims,” said Nick Kornblith, senior brand manager for nutrition and water care for Blacksburg, Va.-based United Pet Group. “A food that is proven to maximize healthy growth, supports the fish with a blend of immune stimulant components and is manufactured consistently and reliably is what a consumer should look for.”

Saltwater Sales
Don't miss out on what's new in saltwater fish food.

Read the Aquatic Marketplace article, Harvest Saltwater Fish Food Sales here.

Because more than 95 percent of the freshwater fish in the hobby are raised commercially in Florida or the Far East, most aquarium fish probably have never eaten anything other than dry foods, and they will thrive on dry foods exclusively, said Steve Vernon, owner of MV Pets in Portage, Mich.

However, when stores face problem feeders, they need to know what foods the fish would eat in their natural environment, said Sean Leary, fish room manager for One Stop Country Pets in Keene, N.H.

“The better the fish look, the happier the hobbyist is with the tank,” Leary added.

Most major brands have a wide variety of foods designed specifically for different kinds of fish. For example, API Superior Fish Nutrition offers food in mini pellets, regular pellets, large pellets, flakes and wafers, reported Amy Vesey, marketing manager for Mars Fishcare in Chalfont, Pa.

“Our food is made for tropical fish, small tropical fish, vegetarian diet, bottom feeder fish, goldfish, cichlids, large cichlids, fish over 5 inches, all marine fish and betta fish,” Vesey said.

Industry Voices
Should fish be fasted for one day a week?

“It’s not a bad idea, but I don’t think it’s necessary. I understand the reasoning, and most fish are grazers so they don’t always find food.”
Steve Vernon, owner of MV Pets in Portage, Mich.

“It’s not a bad idea, and it is not always intentional. Feeding less food and less often is better; it helps keep a clean tank.”
Bethany Stockman, co-owner of Laconia Pet Center in Laconia, N.H.

“It’s a good idea for the average hobbyist, but for the more advanced ones, and especially when getting fish to breed, feeding [several] times every day is very important.”
RD Webster, sales rep for Market Strategies in Loveland, Colo.

“No. We tell hobbyists to feed one time a day every day, if possible. If they skip a day, it is fine, but we don’t encourage them to [skip].”
Seth Guyette, fish room manager at Claremont Pet in Claremont, N.H.

“I don’t think it is a problem for fish to go a day or two without eating. That better replicates nature where fish are not always finding something to eat.”
Nick Kornblith, senior brand manager of nutrition and water care at United Pet Group in Blacksburg, Va.

“We don’t generally suggest fasting their fish to people because it tends to freak them out. They feel that they need to eat multiple times a day so their fish should too.”
Sean Leary, fish room manager at One Stop Country Pets in Keene, N.H.

“Our food is 100 percent complete nutrition with fish protein sourced from Marine Stewardship Council-certified fisheries,” she continued. “We use additional unique protein sources from polychaete worms, mussels and pea protein, and our food contains algae, carotenoid and other color-enhancing ingredients.”

While retailers might find that different brands and food types sell best depending upon their clientele, most reported looking to try new foods, especially from established manufacturers.

“The new Tetra Pro Crisps do very well for us,” Lane of Steve’s Wonderful World of Pets said. “We also do well with the Hikari specialty foods, some of the new API foods and the spirulina disks Wardley has come out with.”

Brand names are what stores, and their customers, seem to have the most confidence in.

“Omega Sea is one of our best sellers, along with New Life Spectrum,” Vernon of MV Pets said. “We also have just brought in a new line of foods from Cobalt, and we are very pleased with them.”

Seth Guyette, fish room manager for Claremont Pet in Claremont, N.H., also is a fan of Hikari, API and Omega One. While 60 miles or so to the east at Laconia Pet Center, Varnum reported that the SERA line does well for his store.

“SERA is our No. 1 seller,” he said. “We also sell Hikari and New Life Spectrum, and we are bringing in some of Hagen’s foods.”

With the continued popularity of flowerhorns and red devil crosses, many hobbyists want to bring out the reds in their fish. In response, manufacturers produce fish foods designed to meet these demands.

“UltraRED is a 1mm pellet that combines the nutritional and coloration benefits of New Life Spectrum with extra beta carotene from all-natural sources,” reported Ian Teepot, operations manager for New Life International in Homestead, Fla., adding that the company is coming out with new floating pellets in the early spring of 2013.

The single biggest problem seen in the aquatic hobby, especially with new hobbyists, is overfeeding, industry participants reported. In response, retailers work to educate and remind customers about proper fish feeding habits.

“One person needs to be the one who feeds the fish,” said Vince Whitton, who with his wife, Melissa, owns Most Valuable Pets in Nicholasville, Ky. “More feeders than that can be a problem.”

For first-time hobbyists, retailers need to frequently remind them to “feed less food and feed less often.” When that advice goes unheeded, which it often does, Guyette of Claremont Pet has a unique solution.

“We have new hobbyists get a seven-day pill container with a compartment for each day of the week,” he said. “Put the amount of food for each day into each compartment, and tell them that amount is all the fish need for each day.”

Any method to keep hobbyists from overfeeding can result in healthier fish and happier hobbyists. One manufacturer that is working to help resolve this issue is Tetra. Its relatively new gel products are designed to last longer in a tank, thus reducing the problem of uneaten food.

“Tetra introduced several gel foods under the TetraNature brand,” Kornblith reported. “They come in grazing blocks and moist gel packets to better replicate the way fish might eat in nature.” 


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