Retailers have the chance to cater to long-term hobbyists with nutritional offerings.
By LaRue Palmer
Interest in pond fish among hobbyists remains strong even in recent trying economic times. Their appeal is timeless, as is evidenced by their long presence in world culture and aquaculture. Because of this perennial appeal, fish store retailers have the opportunity to earn repeat sales by providing for the care and proper feeding of these aquatic charges.
Koi and goldfish are the species of choice in the majority of ponds, but a wide variety of fish and some new strains of koi and goldfish are now trending, industry participants reported. Other species, such as frogs and turtles, are also popular. Concurrently, healthy and nutritious food offerings are available from manufacturers that are helping to grow more colorful, robust fish as well as keep ponds cleaner.
For retailers, a main consideration in feeding is to adjust suggestions for climate and weather. Water temperature is a key factor in determining a proper feeding regimen, in addition to age and size of the fish. Once the water temperature drops below 68 degrees and is not likely to go above this point, consumers should be looking for something that is higher in vegetable matter (and thus fiber), amino acids and vitamin content.
“Fish need this type of diet so that they can start storing energy reserves, because as the water gets colder they won’t be eating at all,” said Chris Clevers, president of Hikari Sales USA in Hayward, Calif. “They should also be very cautious because if they feed their fish food that has an ingredient mix that’s not easily digested, food can lodge in the fish’s digestive tract and essentially begin to rot, causing some serious health issues just prior to and coming out of hibernation.”
Stores should carry different foods for different seasons, said Ben Plonski, owner of Laguna Koi Ponds in Laguna Beach, Calif.
“You don’t want a color-enhancing food on your shelves in the winter,“ he added. “Koi can’t eat a high-protein, color-enhancing food in the winter time, so you want to give them a lower protein food with wheat germ for easier digestion.” .
“As the weather warms up, gradually go to a higher digestible protein food,” he continued. “Then in the summer, you can change to a color-enhancing, higher digestible protein food.”
Retailers would be wise to advise their customers to supplement their purpose-made food with a variety of fresh fruit and vegetables. The basic adage is “if it’s healthy for you, it’s healthy for the fish,” those in the industry reported.
Nutritional and ingredient labels used to be written in Japanese years ago, said Carolyn Weise, consumer relations manager-ponds at Ecological Laboratories Inc. in Cape Coral, Fla. Fortunately, because of consumer interest in nutrition information labels, labels are appearing on more fish foods, and in English.
“I tell people the primary thing they have to look at is the vitamin and nutrient balance because these fish have specific needs,” she said. “Koi are omnivores, so they don’t need a strict fish diet like other fish; these fish eat everything.”
“We’ve added two forms of bacillus [bacteria] designed to increase the amount of healthy bacteria in the fish’s gut which increases their digestive rate, and improves the overall health of the fish,” Weise added. “As a result, more of the food is actually used, and less waste goes back into the pond.”
Weise noted that foods with high protein content tend to pass right through the digestive tract and hobbyists end up feeding the pond and not the fish.
But not all pond foods are manufactured in the same way, so retailers need to be aware of certain factors. Digestibility is a big consideration when it comes to fish health, and making customers aware of the difference this can make can improve retailers’ bottom lines.
“The better the fish are able to metabolize their food, the cleaner the pond is going to be and a more healthy growth rate for the fish,” said Nick Kornblith, senior brand manager for Tetra Pond in Blacksburg, Va.
Increasingly, more manufacturers are turning to probiotics as a means of getting healthy bacteria into the diet of pond fish.
Industry participants stated that retail stores should consider carrying products that protect the pond food from light and moisture. Light and moisture can quickly deteriorate the quality of the food and in some cases cause it to spoil, making pond fish sick.
“One thing that most people don’t realize is that pond fish food that comes in a clear container is exposed to UV rays that actually degrade the quality of the food, so you only want to stock a fish food that’s in a sealed bag or container where UV rays can’t degrade the quality,” said Jeff Duggins, president of H2O Designs in Nicholasville, Ky.
In several cases, retailers reported a preference for stocking specific brands.
“We stock and sell only Aquascape pond food, which comes in attractive packaging, and offers a good quality product in three formulas at a price range that gives our customers a choice based on their need and affordability,” said Tyler Dawson, owner of Pet Advantage in South Burlington, Vt. “It’s best to carry at least enough variety to give your customers at least three choices, ideally within the same brand; one for maintenance, one for growth and color, and a seasonal blend.”
The Long Haul
One thing to keep in mind as it relates to pond fish, and especially koi, is that pond fish have a considerably long life span, so even during an economic slowdown where fewer fish ponds might be built, life goes on for those healthy fish that continue to thrive.
Some fish are considered cherished pets, and hand feeding of special treats and fresh fruits and vegetables add to the pond owner’s enjoyment, Duggins noted.
“We carry something called a Koi Cookie,” he added. “That’s a little treat that the koi will come and eat right out of your hand. Plus it’s loaded with color-enhancing vitamins. But you can actually do the same thing with fresh foods like watermelon, lettuce and other vegetables. People seem to enjoy this a lot, and all of these treats add variety to a balanced diet. <HOME>
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