BY E THAN D. MIZER
Once a staple of the aquari- um hobby, live foods have been increasingly pushed
out of their traditional niche
in recent years in favor of new
frozen and freeze-dried offerings. However, with growing
interest in reef setups and difficult-to-keep species, live copepod cultures have grabbed market share and expanded options
“[Live foods] are not as pop-
ular as they could be,” said Tra-
vis Cooper, manager at The Wet
Spot Tropical Fish in Portland,
Ore. “People do still try it for
certain kinds of fish that need
live food, but, for the most part,
people try to go toward frozen
or prepared foods just because
of the ease of use.”
Frozen and freeze-dried fish
food offerings, not to mention
all the specialty flake options
that are now available, have
captured market share that
traditionally belonged to live
foods, Cooper added.
When it comes to coral reef
aquariums, however, consumer
interest in live cultures has never
“What’s really taken off is the
coral [live foods],” said Jason Col-
linsworth, livestock manager for
Dallas North Aquarium in Dal-
las. “People really seem to have
bought into it, and it does do
wonders for the corals when you
feed all these varied foods.”
However, there is still a mar-
ket for both fresh and saltwater
hobbyists seeking brine shrimp.
“We typically bag up brine
shrimp for sale, and they’re on
the counter in a basket waiting for
customers to pick them up,” said
Tom Hansen, sales associate for
Delaware’s Premium Aquatics in
Other types of live freshwater foods are harder to sell these
“I have a few customers who
Live Food Goes High-End
on a regular basis come in for
live foods,” said Armand Ghioni,
owner of Big Fish Little Fish in
Somerville, Mass. “I order them a
couple of ounces of black worms
and stuff like that. ”
In general, though, Ghioni
said most customers don’t go for
these types of live foods.
Though retailers are carrying fewer
freshwater live food offerings, the category
has grown on the saltwater side.
NEW TO THE CATEGORY
For hard-core reef addicts, copepods and related live offerings have changed the hobby.
“I use a lot of live pods, copepods, Tisbe pods, Tig-
ger-Pods, stuff like that,” said Mike Tonemah, owner of The
Fish Shop in Las Vegas. “I’ll dump about a gallon of pods in
my tank every four months or so.”
Tonemah has a 500-gallon in-store display tank where
he’s been able to maintain difficult-to-keep species, such as
mandarin gobies, wrasses and other notoriously hard-to-
feed fish. To provide the live cultures, Tonemah said he relies
on a local service that cultures copepods.
“I get all my pods from a local vendor called Todd’s
Pods,” Tonemah said.
The variety of live foods for coral aquariums has exploded as demand has increased.
“There’s just more of a selection than there ever has
been,” said Jason Collinsworth, livestock manager for Dallas
North Aquarium in Dallas. “Ten years ago it was just phy-
toplankton. Now you’ve got Tigger-Pods, Phyto Feast and
more. People are getting more involved in feeding a varied
diet of food, especially when it comes to coral foods.”
There are benefits for retailers who carry the newer live
offerings, as well.
“This is a category that requires lots of effort by the
retailer to maintain animals that are nutritionally sound
and not spoiled,” said Chris Clevers, president of Hikari
Sales USA in Hayward, Calif. “It allows retailers to separate
themselves from the big-box stores, superstores, discount
chains and online sellers. The major benefit to retailers is
that consumers who use live foods tend to visit the retail
store to buy these up to 52 times per year.”
It can be a challenge to maintain stocks of live cultures,
as it can be resource-intensive and requires dedicated
equipment, Clevers added.
“Stores like to carry live food for reef aquariums, things
like copepods and rotifers,” said Jason Oneppo, research
and development manager for San Francisco Bay Brand
and Ocean Nutrition Americas in Newark, Calif. “Also, with
[some] states imposing stricter regulations, some live foods
cannot be transported across state lines or require special
permits, which is a hassle, thus the reason frozen foods are
so popular these days.”
Because fewer retailers reported carrying live brine
shrimp, there might be demand from hobbyists seeking to
produce their own live brine shrimp.
“Some stores also sell freshly hatched and enriched
baby brine shrimp,” Oneppo said. “However, adult live brine
shrimp are not as commonly available as they once were.”
San Francisco Bay Brand offers the Shrimpery, a
self-contained hatching kit, and The Hatchery Kit, which
comes with a base, three packs of hatch mix and airline
tubing, Oneppo added.
Ultimately, it’s beneficial for hobbyists to feed live foods for the health of their
“We try to get people to feed more live foods just because we know that
they’re better for fish,” said Travis Cooper, manager at The Wet Spot Tropical Fish
in Portland, Ore. “We explain to people the dietary benefit of feeding live foods
When it comes to high-end reef aquariums, however, the stakes are higher,
and it’s in retailers’ best interest to help hobbyists succeed.
“Every time we sell a coral, we always ask what [customers] are feeding and
what supplements they’re using,” said Jason Collinsworth, livestock manager for
Dallas North Aquarium in Dallas. “That’s always a sales opportunity. If you … don’t
ask those questions and interact with the customer, then you’re not going to
make a sale and the coral will suffer a little bit.”
Live copepods also have helped retailers expand the variety of fish they can
safely offer to customers, garnering an ethical livestock sale and a repeat sales
opportunity at the same time.
“Shop owners are a lot more competent in selling [difficult-to-feed species]
now,” said Mike Tonemah, owner of The Fish Shop in Las Vegas. “We’re seeing a
lot of scooter dragonets, scooter bloodies, and red and green mandarins.”
As customers are able to keep more types of fish, retailers can educate them
about proper feeding requirements and gain a long-time customer in the process.
“People are buying a lot of those [hard-to-feed marine species], and we’re
definitely selling the food with them,” Collinsworth said.