Posted: April 29, 2014, 1:30 p.m. EDT
Understanding aquatic livestock needs and the benefits of new fish foods can simplify choices in an ever-expanding segment and earn you loyal, repeat sales.
By David A. Lass
"Not all fish foods are created equal,” said Francis Yupangco, aquatics development manager for Rolf C. Hagen (USA) Corp. in Mansfield, Mass. "Providing fish with a highly nutritious and varied diet will not only keep them healthy and active, but it also helps to promote breeding and other natural behaviors.”
There are vast quantities of new food products available for aquatic livestock to provide the nutrition they need to thrive, retailers reported.
"Everybody has a new fish food,” said Ned Bowers, owner of Uncle Ned’s Fish Factory in Millis, Mass. "Many customers insist on Tetra, and we carry the whole line. The other lines that sell well for us include Cobalt, Extreme Aquatics and Seachem.”
Retailers also reported that they try to feed the brand(s) they sell.
"I feature for sale what is fed in the store, which is primarily Omega One, Spectrum and some Sera,” said Jeff Nethers, owner of Winchester Aquarium & Pet Center in Winchester, Va.
Foods that make mealtime fun to watch are popular with hobbyists.
"The most interesting new food I’ve seen is the New Era Algae Grazer Rings,” said Sean Fitzgerald, owner of The Fish Nook in Acton, Mass. "We use them in the store; the fish thrive on them and customers buy them when they see our fish feeding on them.”
Another store touts positive results from a new discus food.
"Discus have always been somewhat difficult to feed,” said Steve Oberg, aquatics manager for Preuss Pets in Lansing, Mich. "Cobalt’s new Discus Hans flake is one of the best new foods we have seen lately. It is incredible how discus thrive on this food.”
What makes the foods currently offered from manufacturers new has to do with ingredients, formulations and/or packaging.
"All of the Fluval foods provide an excellent daily source of healthy nutrition and provide a rich supply of proteins, trace elements and antioxidants,” said Hagen’s Yupangco. "The foods also contain highly nutritious kelp, a rich source of omega 3, polyunsaturated fatty acids, proteins and complex carbohydrates.”
Other manufacturers also offer new and improved formulations and ingredients.
"The special vitamin and mineral compounds used in our new diets prevent formation of free radicals,” said Dr. Yana Dutt-Singkh, M.D., director of research and development for San Francisco Bay Brands in Newark, Calif. "This allows them to also work as antioxidants to prevent premature cell death (apoptosis) by stabilizing the immunity of the fish against various stress factors in the aquatic system.”
Other innovations in fish foods include new packaging.
"We’ve seen a growth trend with our Tetra Select-A-Food containers,” said Nick Kornblith, senior brand manager, nutrition and water care for United Pet Group in Blacksburg, Va., which offers the Tetra brand.
"These unique four-chambered Tetra containers allow the combination of multiple yet separate foods in one container. For a bit more than the cost of a typical can of flake food, consumers can purchase their flakes along with a treat. In the case of our TetraMin Select-A-Food, they get a chamber of sinking mini-granules as well.”
Marketing and Display
While many manufacturers offer new packaging, POP displays and other marketing tools, retailers and manufacturers agreed that the best marketing tactic is to feed in-store fish the brands sold in-store.
"Many companies give me their foods to feed in the store,” said The Fish Nook’s Fitzgerald. "That’s the best way to ‘display’ foods to customers—see the fish in our store going for it.”
In addition, the sales staff should understand the differences among the foods sold.
"Education is key for marketing specialty fish foods,” said Ashley Rademacher, animal care and education coordinator for Zoo Med Laboratories Inc. in San Luis Obispo, Calif. "If fishkeepers understand the needs of their fish, the benefits that foods provide become very clear. This also can serve as a reminder to employees to send the correct food home with fish when they are purchased.”
As with other aquatics products, debate exists about whether fish foods sell best grouped by manufacturer/brand or by specific fish.
"Both methods have been proven to work,” said Les Wilson, co-founder of Cobalt Aquatics in Rock Hill, S.C. "But the trap that most retailers fall into is that they do a little of both, which results in confusion for customers trying to shop your shelves. Pick one merchandising strategy and stick with it.”
"Everything goes on the shelves by brand,” said Nethers of Winchester Aquarium & Pet. "This is why packaging is so important on the part of the manufacturer.”
While it is impossible for a store to carry every brand of fish food, Chris Clevers, president of Hikari Sales USA in Hayward, Calif., offers a solution.
"The store owners who seem to find the most success have identified specific brands that meet the profile of their customers and, as a result, have limited their offering to a smaller brand selection with broader coverage within those brands,” said Clevers.
The sheer number of new fish foods on the market can be overwhelming for a store.
"As an aquatic retailer, stores should take a deep look at their specific consumers and the type of tanks they keep,” said Wilson. "Fishkeepers tend to be incredibly brand loyal to their preferred food but will try a new food with a store recommendation. Once you have them on a food only you or a select few might carry, the chances of them buying food at another outlet diminish and repeat visits to your store increase.”
What are the most important features of a good fish food?
"The most important features of fish food are the results that you see in the health, growth and color in your fish as a result of feeding specific feeds. A great-quality food will give incredible color, good consistent growth, with the least amount of waste, and the food will not cloud or discolor the water.”—Les Wilson, co-founder of Cobalt Aquatics in Rock Hill, S.C.
"Freshness of the food is the most important feature; therefore, you need to buy food made by a manufacturer who makes a lot of food. The best foods will also have a ‘Best By’ date on each can.”—Ned Bowers, owner of Uncle Ned’s Fish Factory in Millis, Mass.
"A good daily staple food that provides aquarium fish with the fundamental nutritional requirements they need to thrive. Flake or pellet foods are formulated to deliver complete nutrition including added vitamins and minerals.”—Francis Yupangco, aquatics development manager for Rolf C. Hagen (USA) Corp. in Mansfield, Mass.
"Measurable performance, which can be measured in terms of acceptance (how readily fish take to the food), food conversion ratio (the amount of food per gram of healthy growth) and turbidity (the impact that feeding has on water clarity).”—Nick Kornblith, senior brand manager, nutrition and water care for United Pet Group, maker of Tetra, in Blacksburg, Va.
"How good it is—palatability first, long term health of the fish, low phosphorous and low waste. How good it sells—price point is the biggest factor. We have found that average family hobbyists will not go for expensive fish foods.”—Sean Fitzgerald, owner of The Fish Nook in Acton, Mass.
"Providing superior color enhancement—the dietary carotenoids and the gene profile provide fish the colors they show. Carotenoids are nutrients that result in orange, red or yellow and even the black pigmentation seen in fish. Even though the genetic lineage plays the greatest role in what colors can develop, only through proper nutrition and carotenoid inclusion will the depth and intensity of the colors actually develop.”—Gary Jones, corporate and scientific affairs manager for Mars Fishcare in Chalfont, Pa.
"The balance of the nutrients, the quality of the ingredients chosen and their ability to use those nutrients in the most efficient way. This can also translate to less waste, which has a dramatic impact on improving water quality.”—Chris Clevers, president of Hikari Sales USA in Hayward, Calif.
"Make sure that the main ingredients are not carbohydrates. The first ingredients of a good fish food should be protein. We like to feed and sell a lot of Hikari frozen foods, because what fish eat in the wild makes sense to feed them in aquariums.”—Jeff Nethers, owner of Winchester Aquarium & Pet Center in Winchester, Va.
"Fish foods have to be appropriate for the species being fed. Good staple food is fine for most community tanks, but it is also very important that species that require more specific foods—protein vs. vegetable, for example—be provided with what they need.”—Steve Oberg, aquatics manager for Preuss Pets in Lansing, Mich.
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