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Frozen fish food offerings continue to gain widespread acceptance and market share within the aquatics industry, and food sales are growing alongside fish purchases. Local fish stores are especially well positioned to benefit from this increasing demand, as they are better suited to store and merchandise these dietary products in the most efficient and convenient way for customers, industry insiders assert.

While flake and pellet fish food formats are not going to disappear from retailers’ shelves anytime soon, frozen diets are the preferred format for many hobbyists, according to insiders.

“Frozen food is the primary food my clients feed,” said Anthony Vyeda, co-owner of California Reef Co., an aquarium shop in Newark, Calif. “Most of my customers provide frozen foods on a daily basis, and they use flakes and pellets for convenience, when they’re having someone watch their tank or if they need to use an auto feeder.”

Many retailers and hobbyists have noted the benefits of offering a wide variety of food types, and that’s one reason flake and pellet foods are still doing well. However, frozen options allow aquarists to provide high-quality diets that can support a wide assortment of otherwise challenging-to-keep species.

“The popularity of frozen food has really exploded because of mysis shrimp,” said Jose Garcia, owner of Living Reef Aquariums, a tropical fish store in Oakland Park, Fla. “Also, frozen foods for reef species, such as corals, are available. Formulations with oyster eggs and cyclops, and other ingredients, make feeding reef species much easier. Before frozen offerings were available, liquid foods were popular, but they often had issues with shelf life.”

Frozen foods are frequently preferred over live options, for a variety of reasons.

“There is definitely a benefit over live foods, given frozen foods typically have been thoroughly cleaned to eliminate waste,” said Chris Clevers, president of Hikari Sales USA, a supplier of fish foods based in Hayward, Calif. “Additionally, the added vitamins also offer a benefit that live foods cannot. Hobbyists have much less risk to their fish when using frozen versus live. Also, the margin for retailers is much higher, given that frozen foods require much less work, no labor to bag, no loss of material over time, among other benefits. If positioned as part of a feeding plan, frozen food can increase consumer store visits in a big way.”

Frozen diets help hobbyists achieve optimal health for their pets, but it is important to remember that other food formats are still essential and in demand.

“Frozen foods should really be sold as a treat for fish, rather than a daily diet that will provide the nutrition most fish need to live a long and health-filled life,” Clevers noted. “Consumers feel fish eat live foods in the wild, so this should be all they need in their tank. What retailers have to communicate to consumers is that fish also eat lots of other things in the wild other than live foods, and by doing so they get a wider variety of nutrition that frozen foods cannot offer in themselves.”

A benefit of offering frozen foods is that aquarists come back frequently to restock, keeping them engaged with their local retailers.

“Frozen diets are highly palatable, highly enticing, very nutritious and allow hobbyists to offer a diverse food supply,” said Steve Oberg, aquatics manager for Preuss Pets, a pet store in Lansing, Mich. “We still feed a lot of pellets, but customers want to offer variety and frozen diets offer a lot of features and high quality. … As an independent pet retailer, offering frozen food in the retail space is a wonderful way to separate ourselves and keep ourselves relevant. Customers come in and they can get what they need to be successful feeding [all types of aquatic species].”

Considering these advantages, there is very little reason for local fish stores not to offer frozen diets as part of their lineup of nutritional items for aquarium species, outside of the costs associated with storing them, insiders noted. There is demand for variety, and providing more SKUs seems to benefit both hobbyists and retailers.

“The freshness, cleanliness, feeding response and ease-of-use have made [frozen foods] a favorite of hobbyists, causing sales to increase every year,” said Larry Dupont, owner and founder of Advance, N.C.-based LRS Foods, which makes diets for aquatic species.

“LRS Foods is a little different than other food manufacturers. We are also national distributors for Piscine Energetics (PE Mysis) and Hikari USA. Both of those companies produce foods that are very popular with both fresh- and saltwater hobbyists,” Dupont said. “We initially only added bulk slabs of PE Mysis to our food blends as a supplement. However, we soon received requests from retailers who wanted to stock LRS foods and also offer packs of PE Mysis because many hobbyists like to pair both foods together.”

On the Market

Popular Dishes

Dietary variety is highly valued among fish hobbyists, industry insiders stated, and new offerings and formulations allow retailers to meet demand and help support their customers. For example, Hikari Sales USA introduced its Frozen Spirulina Mysis Shrimp, and the formulation has been a hit with consumers, retailers reported.

“Hikari products are very popular,” said Jose Garcia, owner of Living Reef Aquariums, a tropical fish store in Oakland Park, Fla. “We sell tons of their food. They came out with their Frozen Spirulina Mysis, and that has done especially well.”

The manufacturer’s other lines are also sought after, and it is expanding its Vibra Bites line of foods with two new additions in 2021. One formulation is a baby version that is great for smaller fish and bettas, and the other comes in an extra-large format for larger species, said Chris Clevers, president of the Hayward, Calif.-based company. Vibra Bites are designed to mimic how a bloodworm moves in the water, he noted.

“The texture is also similar to that of a bloodworm once hydrated,” Clevers said. “This opens new feeding options for fish that primarily eat live or frozen bloodworms, while improving the nutrient package and reducing the risk of odor or bacteria. It also offers color-enhancing capacity.”

Other brands, such as San Francisco Bay Brand, Ocean Nutrition, Piscine Energetics, Rod’s Reef Frenzy and LRS Foods, are also well received by consumers, retailers reported.

“I carry a lot of Hikari frozen foods,” said Anthony Vyeda, co-owner of California Reef Co., an aquarium shop in Newark, Calif. “I do carry some San Francisco Bay Brand, but I carry pretty much everything from Hikari and I sell a lot of their mysis shrimp, spirulina and brine shrimp.”

Retailers reported carrying a variety of offerings, adding that even when intended for niche applications, these varieties are performing well.

“Hikari and Ocean Nutrition are our two best-selling frozen food brands,” said Mike Hresko, owner of House of Tropicals, an aquarium shop in Glen Burnie, Md. “San Francisco Bay Brand also does very well for us. Probably the two biggest sellers are bloodworms and mysis. It’s definitely easier now to feed [marine species] in many cases. For some species, you used to have to get shrimp, clams and scallops separately. Now, for example, there’s Larry’s Reef [LRS], which has a bunch of different chunks of things for larger fish. The LRS foods have done well for us.”

Market Share

Sales Aren’t Frozen

Fish foods kept in independent fish store freezers continue to earn a higher percentage of market share, retailers reported.

“The frozen food segment is growing so much, I might get another freezer,” said Mike Hresko, owner of House of Tropicals, a tropical fish store in Glen Burnie, Md. “I might put another one in just because there are so many different varieties of frozen food. Customers want cubes and flat packs, and there’s just not enough room for all the stuff I carry. Everybody looks for a deal, but aquatics customers aren’t as sensitive to price point. They will spend a little extra on foods that are a little bit better value.”

As frozen offerings’ percent of the aquarium food market has climbed, variety has also increased.

“Sales of frozen foods have increased a lot relative to others types of food,” said Jose Garcia, owner of Living Reef Aquariums, an aquarium shop in Oakland Park, Fla. “In the last two years, frozen food sales have probably doubled [their market share]. Customers are doing their research, and they’re finding that frozen foods offer really good nutritional profiles. As a result, frozen foods are in demand more than ever before. The variety of frozen food really increased in the last few years. It really went crazy.”

Because frozen foods are harder to purchase online—with shipping issues presenting a barrier for many hobbyists—independent pet retailers reported that they’re increasingly selling frozen diets.

“Frozen foods make up at least 90 percent of my food sales,” said Anthony Vyeda, co-owner of California Reef Co., an aquarium shop in Newark, Calif. “Frozen foods give us something that customers can’t get anywhere else. It keeps my customers coming back to my store just because they need that type of food. Yes, they can order it online, but usually there is a minimum [volume] they have to hit just to order.”

This dynamic makes frozen food a valuable resource for independent aquatics retailers, industry insiders reported.

“Any time you can increase store visits, you open the consumer up to impulse sales from your endcaps, new fish and any other new products,” said Chris Clevers, president of Hikari Sales USA, a supplier of fish foods based in Hayward, Calif. “Marine hobbyists are way out in front of freshwater fish keepers when it comes to feeding frozen foods, but the gap is slowly closing. With the benefits to retailers, they should really devise a strategy to get more of their customers using frozen foods. There is no other product in most fish stores that provide the [same level of] benefits of return visits than does frozen food.”