As advancements are being made in the aquarium hobby, quality fish foods coupled with a varied assortment of options are driving repeat sales for pet specialty retailers, industry experts report.
"The hobby’s in a better spot than it’s ever been before," said Asher Getzoff, inventory product specialist for Wet Spot Tropical Fish in Portland, Ore. "Realistically, our knowledge and available tools for the trade have ramped up exponentially."
This growth is helping to fuel fish food sales.
"Across the board, the overall trend in sales of all foods is increasing for us," said Patrick Donston, owner of Absolutely Fish in Clifton, N.J. "It goes without saying that with more fish tanks and aquariums in houses, more people need food."
Customers increasingly are seeking variety in retail offerings, as well, which is helping to spark sales.
"Sales are strong and growing," said Kelly J. Randall, marketing director of Omega Sea in Painesville, Ohio. "Hobbyists who feed flakes are recognizing the benefits of higher-quality ingredients. … I also think hobbyists are starting to feed a larger variety for foods, including flakes."
Health-focused fish keepers are taking more care when choosing foods for their fish, experts report.
"We live in a very health-conscientious world now in terms of what people are feeding themselves, as well as their dogs and cats," Getzoff said. "It makes sense that people would start paying more attention to what’s going on with their fish, too."
In fact, customers are increasingly seeking natural foods made with quality ingredients that not only preserve fish health, but also help maintain overall aquarium environment quality.
"The trends we are seeing in foods are all about the ingredients," said Damian Hall, senior marketing manager for the Hagen Group in Mansfield, Mass. "Consumers are looking for natural ingredients and sustainable processes. Fish hobbyists understand the importance of a proper diet and how that helps the entire ecosystem within an aquarium environment, from healthy fish to clean and clear water."
Yet while many aquatics customers are well educated on the hobby, specialty retailers continue to focus on offering customers effective information to help them succeed.
"We want to make sure that these animals go beyond just surviving and flourish," said Rick Preuss, owner of Preuss Pets in Lansing, Mich. "A majority of customers will simply accept what we put in their hand, but we’re only going to put in their hand what we think is best for their fish."
Perhaps more so than in other segments of pet retail, customers trust local fish store employees’ recommendations, retailers reported.
"Honestly, consumers are looking for a food to keep their fish healthy," Donston said. "It’s the shop’s job or the manager’s job to bring the staff up-to-date on the benefits of the specialty flakes and pellets, because they’ll pass that knowledge on to the consumer. If you can get that conversation opened up, sales happen."
Price point isn’t as big an issue, Donston added.
"I don’t worry about the price point," he said. "I try to get the margin I want, and I’ve learned over the years that it’s shocking what people will pay. If the cost to me is $5, I have to get my proper margin. You have to get at least double the markup on fish foods. That’s a money maker."
Overall, sales are strong, and dry options such as flake and pellet foods still dominate.
"Dry food sales are probably close to 80 percent of food sales, with a good 50 percent being flakes and probably 30 percent being pellets," Preuss said. "We sell a lot of flake."
Several new dry food have been introduced to the market recently. Hagen’s Fluval Bug Bites, which debuted earlier this year, are selling well, according to retailers.
"The big thing that’s coming up in sales for us is the Hagen Fluval Bug Bites," said Asher Getzoff, inventory product specialist for Wet Spot Tropical Fish in Portland, Ore. "They make a solid product. It’s really inexpensive, and it works well."
The novel protein source is attracting attention, according to independent fish store owners.
"The Fluval Bug Bites … focus on using insect protein as opposed to a fish meal as the first and primary ingredient," said Rick Preuss, owner of Preuss Pets in Lansing, Mich. "Somehow, it seems to raise fish cooperation to an even higher level. Not that other brands aren’t highly palatable foods, but [fish] just seem to be that much more enticed by the insect protein base."
The Fluval brand has been refining and expanding its Bug Bites line since it launched, said Damian Hall, senior marketing manager for the Hagen Group in Mansfield, Mass.
"We have introduced Color Enhancing and Turtle diets as well as expanded our size offering for our Tropical formulas," he said. "There is a lot of room to grow this segment and expand diet and sizing offerings."
Other manufacturers, including Cobalt, Omega Sea and Tetra, among others, have introduced new products or have updated product lines.
Omega Sea has been busy working on its packaging relaunch for the past several months, said Kelly J. Randall, marketing director for the Painesville, Ohio-based manufacturer.
"All of our flakes have received a major facelift for our 20th anniversary," she said. "Our flakes are made directly from fresh Alaskan seafood, which make them insoluble to water."
Tetra has also made packaging changes, said John Pailthorp, vice president of marketing for Spectrum Brands Pet, a subsidiary of Spectrum Brands Holdings, headquartered in St. Louis. Most recently, the company updated the look of the packaging for its TetraMin, Tetra Goldfish, BettaMin and TetraColor products.
"Our flake food packaging now identifies the type of fish each food product is made for," Pailthorp said. "It’s based on where the fish feeds in the aquarium—top, middle or bottom. It also details how Active Life Formula supports the immune systems of fish, based on long-term university studies."
Surveying the Competition
Brick-and-Mortars Versus Big Box
The repeat sales that fish foods can bring to a brick-and-mortar store are a big part of retail success, helping counter tough competition in the market, industry experts reported.
"Foods and consumables products play a vital role to retailers," said Damian Hall, senior marketing manager for the Hagen Group in Mansfield, Mass. "Repeat sales products really drive consumers in store."
Online competition, of course, has been a big factor in aquarium retail for a while now.
"Dry foods are being purchased online," said Rick Preuss, owner of Preuss Pets in Lansing, Mich. "The fact that they have good shelf life and can be shipped without any concern is a big factor. I’m sure a large percentage of that sector is supplied by online vendors."
The stiffest online competition is in the dry flake and pellet segments, specifically, according to industry insiders.
"When it comes to dry foods, customers definitely buy online," said Patrick Donston, owner of Absolutely Fish in Clifton, N.J. "There’s no doubt. When my maintenance department employees go out to do a service, all of a sudden they’ll see customers have dry foods they ordered from Marine Depot or Live Aquaria."
However, retailers reported that food is still seeing robust in-store sales growth, as customers continue to place their trust in brick-and-mortars.
"Our most persuasive market position is the fact that we have a robust selection and a stronger understanding of why customers should get what they’re getting," Preuss said.
In general, customers still want to have the option to come in-store and learn from employees.
"We’re keeping as busy as ever," said Asher Getzoff, inventory product specialist for Wet Spot Tropical Fish in Portland, Ore. "I really wouldn’t know how often people are buying online because I don’t see those metrics. But the people who are coming in are still interacting with people in the store. Ultimately, I’m sure some people are buying some kinds of fish food online. But it’s not a gigantic concern because people still want to come in for everything else."