Posted: Jan. 25, 2012, 2:15 p.m. EST
Sticking with old favorites while capturing new market share with innovative products mean retailers can grow business.
By David A. Lass
There is a tradition in the aquarium hobby of feeding fish flake food, and leaving it at that. But as the hobby has grown in ability and intricacy, and as hobbyists succeed at keeping an ever-increasing variety of fish, food offerings have grown to match new demand.
For freshwater fish, this often means that, while retailers still suggest using a quality flake food, they also encourage customers to offer fish variety in their diets.
|Flake food still dominates the freshwater market, but other types of fish food, such as frozen, are making inroads into the aquarium industry.
“The first thing we tell customers is to use a couple of good, basic flake foods, and to also offer some other varieties of food,” said Keith Langley, freshwater fish manager for Fintastic in Charlotte, N.C. “After all, just like us, fish get bored with the same food every day.”
Manufacturers have responded by developing a wide variety of foods, both in traditional forms and as specialty foods.
“The staple flake food is important,” said Sean Fitzgerald, manager of The Fish Nook in Acton, Mass. “But the fish also need a monotony breaker, so we offer special dry foods for fish such as plecos and cory cats.
“As hobbyists add more fish, we suggest frozen foods to them,” he stated.
Best Sellers List
Flake foods are still the most popular type of fish food. However, there is a market for frozen foods for freshwater fish, and specialty foods are gaining ground.
“Our best-selling dry foods tend to be Omega One flakes and New Life Spectrum,” said Jeff Nethers, owner of Winchester Aquarium and Pet Center in Winchester, Va. “For frozen foods, Hikari is the one we have found to be the best.”
Other retailers concurred.
“We sell lots of Omega One,” Fitzgerald said. “I like that it is made in the USA, and they are very easy to do business with.”
Succeed With the Feed
Since feeding fish is the primary way in which most hobbyists interact with their charges, it is important that they feed them the proper foods, in the proper manner. And for retailers, the issue takes on greater importance, because properly educated hobbyists who succeed at keeping fish alive and healthy are more likely to stick with the hobby.
“Everybody overfeeds their fish,” said David Enedy who, along with his wife Stephanie, owns Oddball Pets and Aquarium in Pittsburgh, Pa. “We try to explain to folks that healthy fish will always look like they are hungry, and that overfeeding is bad for their fish.”
Offering small amounts a couple times a day is what most stores recommended.
“We tell customers that a fish’s stomach is the size of its eyeball,” said Fintastic’s Keith Langley. “We tell them that all food should be gone in 30 seconds.”
Feeding less is better than feeding too much.
“We recommend that in addition to frequent small feedings, hobbyists not feed one day a week or so,” reported Joe Glotzer, Manager of West Hartford Puppy Center and Aquarium in West Hartford, Conn. “It is also fine to go away for a weekend without feeding your fish—much better than having someone come in to feed them.”
Part of flake’s lasting appeal has to do with the ubiquity of beginner aquarium kits that include it as standard.
“Our best-selling freshwater fish foods continue to be Nutrafin Max Tropical and Goldfish Flake foods,” said Tom Sarac, manager—foods and lighting for Rolf C. Hagen in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. “They are the foods introduced in large volume kit offerings, and in North America they are still a generally accepted base food for most tropical fish.”
Beyond traditional best sellers, new product features are offering retailers and their clientele greater variety. Hobbyists mostly use these new foods for specialty applications, but some in the industry see a benefit for average fishkeepers’ pets, as well.
“We sell a lot of Omega flake foods, and for pellets we carry Hikari,” said Patrick Donston, owner of Absolutely Fish in Clifton, N.J. “We like the addition of probiotics, and we especially like the Hikari line of foods for large cichlids.”
In supplementing with an alternative type of food, hobbyists have the option of adding to their fishes’ base diet. For retailers, this means they have the opportunity for not just one, but two repeat sales items with a single customer.
“Different species require varying amounts of raw materials, vitamins, minerals and specific additives to flourish,” said Chris Clevers, president of Hikari Sales USA in Hayward, Calif. “Our approach is to provide each as required by that species.”
“With the diets being so highly tuned to the specific species, we recommend use of that primary daily diet as a base, with frozen [or freeze-dried] as a treat of supplemental food,” he continued. “According to the recent APPA survey, flake is still the first choice with 71 percent of freshwater fishkeepers. [However,] Pellet foods are now being used by almost 40 percent of the users.
“We only make pellets, freeze-dried and frozen foods, so we’re always looking for ways to enlighten consumers on the benefits of those items, and retailers on the benefits of offering them to their customers,” Chris added.
Offering Feeder Fish
Feeder fish, such as comets, guppies and rosy reds, are often a frustration for retail stores; most retailers complained that they don’t make any money on them. But what are the alternatives for stores who serve customers seeking to purchase live feeder fish?
“We sell feeder comets, but I try to get customers to use prepared sticks [for their fish],” said Sean Fitzgerald of The Fish Nook. “Seventy five percent of our comet sales are for turtles. The bacteria and parasites that feeder comets can harbor are bad for fish, but they have no effect on turtles.”
Some stores simply don’t sell feeder comets.
“We recommend and sell Hikari or New Life Spectrum, both of which have dry foods that will do the job,” said Adam Smith, owner of Adam’s Aquatics in Des Moines, Iowa.
“We sell comets, but we try to convince customers to replace them with feeder ghost shrimp or crayfish,” said David Enedy, co-owner of Oddball Pets and Aquariums in Pittsburgh.
Live feeder fish tanks were once a very common sight in local fish stores. However, due to problems with potential disease transmission, maintenance costs, and improvements in various fish food offerings, many in the industry suggested switching customers to alternatives.
“The inherent problems associated with providing feeder fish is something that must be considered,” stated Benjamin Lachaud, global brand manager for Aquarium Pharmaceuticals in Chalfont, Pa. “Feeding fish with prepared pellet, flake or wafer [foods] in a balanced diet that is formulated with a wide range of natural ingredients can provide a complete diet to meet the nutritional requirements of all fish.”
“Feeder fish are not needed,” he added.
Ultimately, it’s up to retailers to meet market demand. With the additions of new food types to the mix, they now have the tools to do just that. From basic staple flakes or pellets, to frozen and freeze-dried foods, there are plenty of options for retailers to provide for hobbyists to help their fish avoid piscine boredom.
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