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Aquatic Marketplace: Harvest Saltwater Fish Food Sales

Posted: Oct. 19, 2012, 6:30 p.m. EDT


In-store use and customer education are just two methods aquatic shops can employ to grow repeat business.
By Cassandra Radcliff

Many hobbyists have experience with saltwater fish being finicky eaters, and subsequently seek out specialty foods to get their aquatic charges to start feeding. Luckily, saltwater fish food manufacturers are producing more balanced and natural diets, which make keeping saltwater fish in retail stores much easier, and also encourage sales.

The high quality of saltwater food encourages consumer success and offers retailers the ability to share their knowledge about new foods with customers—keeping them relevant to fish keepers, shop owners reported.

Formulated for Sales
There are so many new food products in the market that it is hard for retailers and consumers to keep up.

“It seems every week a new fish food comes out, making it very hard to really give all of the brands a shot,” said Brad Daniels, owner of The Aquarium in Salt Lake City.

Frozen fish food
Easily accessible freezer displays can help promote the sale of frozen foods. Sherri L. Collins/BowTie Inc. at Nature Pet Center
To narrow down his choices, Daniels chooses one food type that always works to keep his fish healthy and eating.

“I’ve always leaned toward a small, slow-sinking pellet food,” he said. “It works great in the types of auto feeders that I use.”

Meeting fishes’ needs—and not just appealing to aquarists’ convenience—is increasingly common in the hobby. Some of the foods for saltwater fish have been formulated to be more palatable than they have been in the past, industry professionals stated. Fish traditionally considered finicky eaters that are difficult or impossible to keep alive are now thriving for years in home aquariums, according to professional aquarists. These newer foods are formulated to feature a more natural smell, flavor, consistency and nutritional balance.

“Soft sponges, algae and live foods are [marine fishes’] normal foods,” said Chris Clevers, president of Hikari Sales USA Inc., based in Hayward, Calif. “So a pellet that becomes spongelike [in the water] is a natural for even the most finicky feeders.”

Food palatability is important, and helping customers keep their fish healthy is a great way to build loyalty, retailers noted. But this isn’t the only thing to take into account when promoting foods.

A trend is developing in the marine hobby where food is delivered to fish in a way intended to encourage natural feeding behaviors, according to industry participants.

Retailers can take advantage of this by using the trend as an in-store promotion opportunity. For example, Instant Ocean has introduced a gel diet designed to allow for this kind of feeding regimen.

“[It] allows both omnivorous and herbivorous grazing-type fish to naturally feed for a longer period,” said Tim Plafcan, senior product manager at Instant Ocean in Cincinnati, a division of United Pet Group. “This is critical with fish that eat smaller amounts of food more often.”

Old Favorites and New Trends
Frozen food is the second-most popular type of saltwater fish food, and dried seaweed is usually the top choice for feeding grazing algae-eaters, retailers and manufacturers reported.

“The frozen formula foods aimed at specific species, such as angels, triggers and reef aquariums, have always been an excellent seller,” said John Huynh, sales, of Ocean Nutrition in Newark, Calif. “Also, specialty flakes and pellets formulated for marine aquariums are increasing in popularity, and dried seaweeds are a staple for people keeping angels and tangs.

“In general, the saltwater market is hot right now, so any product for a saltwater aquarium that performs well is selling well,” he added.

Even though tried-and-true methods for feeding fish are still popular, a new trend is emerging when it comes to feeding corals. In the past few years, many new coral foods have entered the marketplace, allowing reef enthusiasts to not only have healthy fish but thriving corals as well, industry participants reported.

“Coral food for filter-feeders enables nonphotosynthetic coral to be housed successfully,” Daniels of The Aquarium noted.

The new selection of coral foods also allows for better coral growth and coloration.

“This has improved the health of many corals currently kept in aquariums, and made some of the more difficult-to-keep corals such as Goniopora species and some gorgonians less challenging,” said Michael Janes, senior aquatic biologist at AquaTouch in Phoenix.

Novel innovations in food formulation are also allowing for greater stability in aquaria, which retailers can promote to both drive sales of new foods and to keep customers’ tanks in better shape.

One issue marine aquarium keepers—and especially reefkeepers—have to deal with is the dispersal of food throughout the aquarium as fish and corals are fed.

“[One of Ocean Nutrition’s coral food products] is a powdered food for dispersing or target-feeding in coral tanks,” Huynh said. “The interesting aspect of this product is that it contains probiotics that will digest the food if it is not consumed, eliminating waste left behind by uneaten food. Basically, if it is not consumed, it eats itself.”

Reef aquariums are now more diverse, easier to care for, and are more rewarding, even for less experienced hobbyists, which means retailers can keep customers in the hobby longer, industry professionals reported.

As such, they can also plan to sell more potentially high-profit coral specimens, and the necessary equipment to support these species in aquaria.

Making Food an Easy Sale
Knowing and using the products they sell, and offering their expertise with the food to make recommendations to customers are part of a successful sales strategy.

“I use posters and I also promote my products with social marketing and my website,” said April Ross, owner and operator of Dunbar Pet Center in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. “But the best promoting is recommending and handing the product to the customer.”

Encouraging interaction is another important selling point for retailers.

“The best marketing tool is to regularly feed a wide variety of flakes, pellets and frozen foods multiple times throughout the day,” AquaTouch’s Janes said. “Not only do customers see and ask what foods are being fed, but the staff also now knows what each type of fish is eating and can direct clients toward those foods.”

A good-looking, healthy animal and the retailer’s word are enough to convince a customer that the food is of high quality, retailers reported.

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