All fish food sales are up, according to retailers and industry experts. Theaquatics industry is doing very well in the face of the global coronaviruspandemic, and fish food sales are especially well off because of theiressential nature and ready supply.

“Customers who were usually only buying one or two packs are now buying fouror five packs to limit their visits to the store,” said Will Garnett, owner ofPalmetto Reef, a retailer in West Columbia, S.C. “Frozen foods don’t go bad aslong as you keep them frozen and keep them closed so they don’t get freezerbite. So as long as customers come in and stock up, they’re OK. They neverknow if they are going to have another lockdown or quarantine or somethinghappens again. So we’ve been advising customers to buy in bulk way more thanthey used to.”

Changing habits as a result of the pandemic mean the time is ripe forencouraging aquarists.

“People are spending more time at home,” said Chris Clevers, president ofHikari Sales USA, a manufacturer in Hayward, Calif. “They are looking for arespite from the daily stress of COVID-19. What better way than an aquarium toallow them to interact with nature in their living rooms and reduce stresslevels at the same time? There is a ton of research that proves aquariums canand do lower blood pressure and reduce stress levels. [The pandemic hascreated] a perfect storm for aquarium-related product sales.”

Clevers said there have been nationwide reports of big jumps in aquariumsales, with the only sticking point being that supply is an issue.

“If there were no supply issues, we believe retailers would be finding evenmore success,” he said.

But on a positive note, where other dry goods have experienced issues relatedwith availability and distribution, aquatic foods seem to be mostly insulatedfrom these problems, retailers reported. It’s also advantageous to carry awide selection of dietary offerings, retailers stated.

“As an independent retailer, I’m always looking for manufacturers that are notmainstream,” said Howie Berkowitz, owner of Aquaridise, a retailer in EastBrunswick, N.J. “I’m looking for higher-quality products that I can recommendto my customers. The NorthFin line has been one of the newer lines that I’vebrought in, which is doing very well. I think it’s a very-good-quality food.Sera is another really good line. But it doesn’t sell as well. However, Ithink the quality is certainly there. Frozen food has just been off the chartslately, both LRS and Hikari.”

The focus on high-quality food is common among local fish store owners.

“My favorite is NorthFin,” said Pam Nunnally, manager of Azalea Aquariums, aretailer in Richmond, Va. “I like the brand a lot. That’s a really high-quality food. Of course, Tetra and New Life Spectrum are popular choices.Hikari is popular. I’ve been picking up Sera, but it’s harder to find. I can’tget it through my normal supplier, but it is a really high-quality food.”

Many aquarists are trying frozen foods for the first time, and some arestocking up for the long-term.

“Frozen fish food sales have been steadily increasing since the start of thepandemic,” said Jason Oneppo, research and development manager for SanFrancisco Bay Brand and Ocean Nutrition Americas, manufacturers based inNewark, Calif. “All fish food sales are up, for that matter. This is mostlikely due to people being stuck at home and spending more time on theiraquariums and possibly discovering frozen food for the first time or justwanting to offer their aquatic pets more variety. Cupboarding is most likelyalso taking place, although not to the extent it is taking place with foodsfor companion animals.”

Retailers are aware of the need to stay stocked up on foods. They are alsoincreasingly considering the long-term impacts of the hobby, with an emphasison sustainability.

“The trend in the hobby is toward natural

and more sustainability,”said Claus Frenken, sales manager for Sera North America, a manufacturer inMontgomeryville, Pa. “Many of our retail partners have created naturalsections in theirs stores, or have fully committed to carrying more naturalproducts. People increasingly care more about nature and want to implementthis into their hobby. Therefore, they more often look for more sustainableproducts.”

New Products

Meeting Demand with New Dietary Options

Several manufacturers are introducing new aquatic nutrition products andlines, either as primary diets or dietary supplements.

Hikari Sales USA is releasing three new products, said Chris Clevers,president of the Hayward, Calif.-based manufacturer. To meet owner demand forsmaller feeding options, Vibra Bites Baby is formatted as a smaller option forspecies such as bettas and neon tetras. The company is also releasingSpirulina Mysis Shrimp, which is formulated to incorporate spirulina algaeinto the system of mysis shrimp to help maintain and improve fish color overtime. Additionally, it is introducing Vibra Bites XL to serve demand for alarger pellet format in the Vibra Bites line.

“We are also working on some novel marine foods that will be very differentfrom what we have offered in the past,” Clevers said. “We are hoping torelease these in early 2021. … We find consumers are generally looking formore natural-looking or -acting foods for their aquatic pets. They also tendto avoid changing foods once they find something that they feel their fishlike or they see as beneficial to their aquatic pets or tank environment.”

Sera North America, a manufacturer in Montgomeryville, Pa., is moving to meetthe demand for more natural dietary options, said sales manager Claus Frenken.

“We are currently changing our foods to a ‘Nature’ version,” he said. “Thesenew foods do not contain any dyes or preservatives. We already launched ourflake line of Sera Nature about two years ago. For the last two years, we hadboth versions of flakes available: a classic version as well as the Natureversion without dyes and preservatives. During this time, we convinced ourcustomers and partners that dyes and preservatives are not needed. For thisreason, and because we want to work to be as sustainable as possible, wedecided to change all our products to the Nature version. Thus, we will nolonger produce any foods with dyes and preservatives.”

The company also recently introduced three foods that only contain insect mealas a protein source, Frenken said. These are Insect Nature, Pond Insect Natureand Turtle Adult. They are free of dyes and preservatives.

Bio-Enhance is now available in the U.S. from Fort Walton Beach, Fla.-basedQuantum USA.

“Quantum Bio-Enhance has been the biggest breakthrough for us as far as anall-in-one amino acid, protein, vitamin, carbohydrate supplement,” said WillGarnett, owner of Palmetto Reef, a retailer in West Columbia, S.C. “They’re acompany based out of Australia. We use their full line of chemistry productsin all of our tanks. One of the things we really like about them is you canmix all of their trace elements into one bottle and dose it all at once. Itsaves you a lot on dosing.”


Calling Attention to Fish Food

Retailers are seeing success with fish diet sales by using impactfulmerchandising and selling strategies to call attention to the category.

“We use in-your-face marketing,” said Will Garnett, owner of Palmetto Reef, aretailer in West Columbia, S.C. “We put stickers everywhere. We’ve got thefreezers right out front with Rod’s Food and LRS stickers on them. We’ve gotbranding everywhere that helps keep it in your face. As soon as you see it,you have to think a lot less about what you are going to buy.”

Others rely on word-of-mouth and a positive reputation to drive fish foodsales.

“We keep our frozen diets in a regular freezer,” said Pam Nunnally, manager ofAzalea Aquariums, a retailer in Richmond, Va. “It’s not a glass-front freezer.Normally, customers ask about it and we make a recommendation.”

Multiple freezers, some with glass fronts, are popular among many retailers.

Howie Berkowitz, owner of Aquaridise, a retailer in East Brunswick, N.J., saidhe has two freezers, one of which is a glass-door model.

“That’s certainly the best way to merchandise frozen food,” Berkowitz said.“Consumers can see the product. The other freezer is for overflow. The rest ofmy foods, the dry, freeze-dried, pelleted and flake, we merchandise togetherin one area of the store by brand. Grouping by brand tends to create a betterpresentation than putting all the goldfish pellets together and all thecichlid pellets together. … I stock food containers three deep on my shelves.”

Pushing for add-on sales is also important.

“Retailers have to get really good at suggestive selling and add-on sales,”said Chris Clevers, president of Hikari Sales USA, a manufacturer in Hayward,Calif. “Frozen food is a perfect option for this. Think about the number ofconsumers who visit your store to buy fish food. If you can add a $5 packageof frozen food to each of those sales—and it is not that hard with somecreative thinking and focus—just imagine what that will do to your monthlysales. Additionally, if you do not have a glass-door freezer, really take sometime to consider it. We have been offering these units for almost 20 years andfind that a glass-door freezer significantly increases frozen food sales.”

Focusing on frozen offerings is ideal, agreed Jason Oneppo, research anddevelopment manager for San Francisco Bay Brand and Ocean Nutrition Americas,manufacturers based in Newark, Calif.

“Frozen fish food is the best way to create add-on or repeat sales,” Onepposaid. “On average, a hobbyist will return to a store 11 or more times per yearfor frozen foods. This also leads to customers making additional purchases asthey browse the aisles, whether it be a new fish, decoration or even food.Compare that to people returning to a store, on average, one to two times peryear for dry food.”

Consumer Education

Nutrition as Outreach

By providing customers with valuable education, local fish stores gain acompetitive edge when it comes to fish food and dietary product sales.

“It’s important to have knowledgeable staff that understand fish nutrition,but also understand what different foods have to offer,” said Jason Oneppo,research and development manager for San Francisco Bay Brand and OceanNutrition Americas, manufacturers based in Newark, Calif. “Different foods canentice unique feeding behaviors in some fish species that are interesting forhobbyists to observe.”

Offering consistency is also helpful.

“Being loyal to some brands means that customers know they can find and buythe same can of food at the same store each time they visit,” said ClausFrenken, sales manager for Sera North America, a manufacturer inMontgomeryville, Pa. “It confuses customers if there are new products in thestore every time they visit.”

Providing educational materials in-store is another way to inform customers,with the added benefit of helping to save sales associates’ already precioustime.

“We have literature out on our tabletops and our counters,” said Will Garnett,owner of Palmetto Reef, a retailer in West Columbia, S.C. “We have a couch inour lobby that has information packets on all the products that we have laidout so customers can sit down and read about them.”

Serious aquarists are more focused on high-quality food options. This meansstore employees have to be up to the task of sharing what’s new and makingauthoritative recommendations as needed.

“My customers are not your average 10-gallon fish tank owner,” said HowieBerkowitz, owner of Aquaridise, a retailer in East Brunswick, N.J. “They’relooking for a higher-grade food. The guy who’s coming in and buying $80 worthof cichlids realizes that feeding them a higher-quality food is a good idea.It’s advantageous both to the health of their aquarium and the health fortheir fish. My consumer is looking for better nutrition in their aquaticfoods, and that’s why our employees are here to guide them.”

Building a positive reputation and focusing on education allows retailers toestablish themselves as the go-to source for fish nutrition and aquaticproducts in general.

“That’s exactly how we built our business,” Garnett said. “We rely on word-of-mouth and one-on-one interactions. … We take a lot of time one-on-one with thecustomers. We know most of our customers by name. I know almost everythingthat’s in all of our customers’ tanks. It gets a little crazy when you’ve gota couple thousand customers, but you build that reputation and you build thatlibrary. We keep a big book with all of our customers’ names, and you can flipto information on their setup. It just helps us track.”

Trade Talk

Chris Clevers, president of Hikari Sales USA in Hayward, Calif.

What advice do you have for retailers when it comes to educating

customers about fish diets?

Stores have a tendency to carry too many brands of fish food. This makes itvery difficult to reaffirm your stature as the food expert, keeps your stafffrom being able to know intimately what they are selling and, moreimportantly, confuses the heck out of the consumer. We are big fans of thegood, better, best approach to fish foods. It is easy to train your staff onthree [and] easy to move someone up from good to better, and then later tobest as they see improvements in their fish color, activity level and aquariumparameters. Consumers want what is best for their fish; they may not always beable to afford it but will appreciate knowing about the benefits each typeoffers. Additionally, they want to enjoy their fish, not spend time doing thecleanup routine due to lower-quality foods. Retailers have to avoid prejudgingthe consumer and what they will buy and concentrate on offering advantages fora price. Then let the consumer make the choice for their situation. Spend sometime, start a conversation, ask if they are having any issues with their tank.More than likely, something they say will offer the perfect segue to a fooddiscussion or a food add-on sale.

Sampling is also a great option for getting people to try new foods. Many arereluctant to try something new because their fish eat what they are using. Asample gives them a low- or no-cost option to try something new and theretailer an easy way to upsell them on to a higher profit margin or dollarsale item.

Things are a bit different with COVID-19, so think outside the box aboutcreative ways you can start a fish food conversation. More often than not, youwill find that discussion turn to a sale. Remember, there are no consumerevents in 2020, so your store is now the local resource for new product andinformation collection. Use it to your advantage and don’t let a consumerleave your store without what they came for. You want them back!

Source: Pet Product News USA

Image: Bigstock

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