Aquatic hobbyists are growing more discerning about what they feed their fish, and thus are driving sales of higher-quality, premium and species-specific fish diets, no matter the format.
There’s no question that flakes and pellets are staples in aquatic foods, and they remain steady sellers, specialty retailers said. While these diets make up about half of all fish food sales at Wet Spot Tropical Fish in Portland, Ore., Cameron Laufman, store manager, reported seeing more prevalence of frozen foods.
"Flake and pellets still definitely have a stronghold overall," he said, but "frozen sales are bumping up quite a bit in the market."
Industry insiders attribute the change to hobbyist education as well as an influx of new options, adding variety to retailers’ dietary assortments.
"A lot of the top-tier, experienced fish keepers also recommend mixing up diets, adding in high-quality frozen food," Laufman said.
Consumers now better understand the nutritional needs of fish and are willing to spend more for premium options, insiders said.
"Overall sales have been good with consumers transitioning to species-specific diets from general flake food feeding," said Chris Clevers, president of Hikari Sales USA, a manufacturer in Hayward, Calif., adding that he’s getting "lots of great questions from consumers about alternative diets for their fish and the benefits they can expect to see."
Mark Schneider, co-owner of Fish n’ Chirps Pet Center, a pet store in Denton, Texas, said many of his aquatic customers are willing to spend more for a higher-quality food, and are reading labels too.
Other retailers agreed.
"It used to be that customers would just grab a can of generic flakes that says ‘goldfish’ on the front and go," said Valerie Quinn, manager of Aquarium Center, a pet store in Clementon, N.J. "Now, they’re reading labels and looking for healthier options."
These tendencies reflect the trends seen in human, dog and cat food markets. People are connecting natural foods, whole ingredients and ingredient quality with overall health.
"We see more and more consumers becoming aware that better-quality diets can help improve fish health through immune system support, reduce water quality problems, which also translates to healthier fish, and reduce aquarium maintenance, which offers them more time to enjoy their aquarium," Clevers said. "Additionally, these higher-quality diets can actually offer a lower feeding cost through more efficient use of the food and less overfeeding."
Nutritional quality is important to customers and drives sales, retailers said. They find shoppers are also looking for functional ingredients.
"Higher-quality ingredients and transparency have been trending, and it helps the consumer make better choices for their fish population," said Heidi Buratti, store manager at Extreme Marine, a pet store in Ventura, Calif. "In frozen food we are seeing a demand for less-processed foods. Ocean Nutrition Predator formula, Hikari Reef Riot line and PE Mysis by Piscine are probably our biggest sellers right now. Customers are also using additives more consistently to help combat disease, malnutrition and vitamin deficiencies."
Looking ahead in aquatic foods, Clevers said he expects interest in the aquatics hobby to grow as more millennials enter home ownership.
"Their desire to stay connected with nature and to spend time on short trips with friends make an aquarium the perfect pet," he said. "Fish are the lowest-cost pet to keep overall, offer proven
stress relief from the hectic daily life, are easy to care for during short times away from home without having to inconvenience neighbors and friends, and offer a great nature experience in
the home. [It’s] the perfect millennial pet!"