Courting Repeat Sales

Pellet food options are increasingly popular with customers and have slowly begun to take up market share over flake foods, industry experts report.

"Every manufacturer that originally just had flakes now also has a pellet option," said Katie Velie, manager for Nahacky’s Aquarium in Melbourne, Fla. "We push pellets because it makes it easier on the customer."

Customers are looking for variety, and manufacturers are working to help retailers provide hobbyists with choices when it comes to formulations and feeding options.

"Pellets have always been a distant second to flake, but they are getting more popular as fish keepers look to mix up their selection of foods," said Chris Clevers, president of Hikari Sales USA in Hayward, Calif. "The various textures and pellet shapes and forms we offer allow consumers to interact with their fish more readily during feeding, and this is always something hobbyists are interested in doing." 

Velie sees more demand on the freshwater side of the hobby for pelleted foods, and she noted that a dichotomy exists between how freshwater hobbyists use pellets compared to marine hobbyists. While freshwater customers offer pellets for variety and to target specific species, marine hobbyists are more interested in convenience. 

Marine hobbyists who shop at Aquaridise in East Brunswick, N.J., are favoring frozen and pelleted offerings for their fish, according to owner Howie Berkowitz.

"I find the pellet is a better food [over flake options]," Berkowitz said. "It doesn’t get sucked into the overflow box or into your filter. For my customers on the marine side, it’s about our recommendations, and we’re turning people away from flakes onto pellets or frozen."

Kelly Parsons, manager for Denny’s Pet World in Kirkland, Wash., noted that the saltwater hobbyists who shop at his store lean mostly toward frozen food and are far lest likely to buy pellets. However, he still sees demand for these products. 

"Our pelleted food sales are 95 percent freshwater," Parsons said.  

New Products

Innovations Abound

Several new pelleted options have appeared on the market recently, as manufacturers focus efforts on meeting demand for innovative products in the category. 

"Fish food has been around for a long time," said Chris Clevers, president of Hikari Sales USA in Hayward, Calif. "Coming up with new formulations and novel ingredients with a true benefit is not an easy task."

Hikari’s newest offerings include Vibra-Bites, which are designed to mimic the shape and movement of frozen bloodworms in the aquarium. The intent is to help stimulate feeding behavior, he added. 

Probiotics also are popular, and several manufacturers are looking to provide options for retailers that address the growing demand. At SuperZoo in Las Vegas in June, Cobalt Aquatics released its Ultra Fresh Pellets natural fish food line, said Les Wilson, co-founder/marketing of Cobalt International in Rock Hill, S.C.

"Our new Ultra Fresh Pellets are 100 percent natural with whole ingredients and pre- and probiotics," he said. 

New protein sources and other tweaks to existing formulations are appearing on the market as well.

"We released our new Naturox Series pellets, which include changes to the formulation," said Ian M. Tepoot, president of New Life International in Homestead, Fla. "We added squid as a secondary protein source, in addition to the whole Antarctic krill we always have used as our prime protein, along with bentonite clay as a mineral-rich binder, and ginger along with the garlic that has been a mainstay in our formulas."

The line features ingredients that are preserved via vacuum packing or with Naturox, which is an all-natural, plant-based preservative, Tepoot added. The company also introduced its Probiotix medium-sized pellet food at Global Pet Expo in Orlando, Fla., in March. It is formulated to include 3 million viable probiotic cultures per gram, Tepoot noted. 

"It is common knowledge that probiotic bacteria cannot withstand temperature beyond [158 deagrees Fahrenheit]," said Pablo Tepoot, founder of New Life International. "We came up with a cold re-extrusion technology that extrudes at a temperature lower than [122 degrees Fahrenheit] using algae gel as a binding agent."

Product Selection

Variety Is Key

The two big selling points for pelleted offerings are convenience and variety.

"Fish should be fed a variety of foods," said Howie Berkowitz, owner of Aquaridise in East Brunswick, N.J. "By offering the variety on the shelf, it’s easy to say to the customer who’s got a marine aquarium and doesn’t want to feed frozen because it’s inconvenient that not all of his fish are going to like this one food. By having the variety, you’re allowing the customer to take two or three different foods and offer a larger selection to their fish." 

While flake foods are still popular, the ease of use that pelleted offerings provide can be a big selling point. 

"A lot of people will buy both pellets and flake foods," said Kelly Parsons, manager for Denny’s Pet World in Kirkland, Wash. "Pellets are cleaner and a little easier to feed if your fish are getting a little bigger, because they’re less messy. A lot of people buy both to give variety."

In choosing between the myriad offerings from manufacturers, she focuses on listening to her customers. 

"We do definitely have a limited amount of space, and every manufacturer always has something new," she said. "We try to look at the benefits [of products], and if they’re substantially different or if it’s something customers are requesting, we’ll look at adding it. We try to fulfill customers’ desires, and if there’s something different and new that’s really good, then we would go for that."

Price Point

Cost Considerations

Pelleted offerings are increasingly popular across the board and continue to capture market share from other food options, according to industry participants. 

"Given that pellets are now used by more than 40 percent of freshwater fish keepers and 60 percent of marine fish keepers—based on the most recent American Pet Products Association (APPA) pet owners survey—there is a huge audience of users out there that retailers need to be sure they are targeting and providing the offering they are looking for," said Chris Clevers, president of Hikari Sales USA in Hayward, Calif. "Gone are the days when pellets were a distant thought in the minds of aquarium keepers."

Pelleted foods are taking a larger share of the market. Still, there is a ceiling to how much many customers will spend on these products.

"The sweet spot is around $10 for a 2.5-ounce can of food," said Katie Velie, manager for Nahacky’s Aquarium in Melbourne, Fla. "There are a lot of people that have large tanks, but there are even more people who have smaller tanks, and they’re not as willing to buy a large container. Anything under $10 is an easy sell."

On the other hand, many customers focus less on price and more on meeting their fish’s needs.

"Honestly, people don’t even really look at price when they’re looking at food," said Kelly Parsons, manager for Denny’s Pet World in Kirkland, Wash., about her customers. "They just assume they need it, and they purchase it. Price point doesn’t seem to really affect their buying decisions." 

Well-educated staff who know the benefits of different dietary options will help set the tone and keep customers coming back to the store for repeat sales opportunities.

"Being in retail for 34 years, I firmly know that what sells well is what your employees get behind and recommend," said Howie Berkowitz, owner of Aquaridise in East Brunswick, N.J. "My staff seems to be behind New Life Spectrum. It’s my No. 1 selling pelleted food by far. If you get behind it and you recommend it, eventually it will become a staple, and you’ll have the repeat sales."