BY E THAN D. MIZER
Long considered must-stock items for aquatics retailers, the market for freshwater
fish food is increasingly featuring premium items that allow
retailers the chance to upsell
customers and gain back margin
that might have been lost to big-box competitors.
“There’s a greater variety
of companies right now [in the
category],” said Greg Housley,
owner of Optimum Aquarium in
Kennesaw, Ga. “There are a few
companies that I deal with now
that I didn’t used to deal with.”
Increasingly, he’s seeing
foods with color enhancers, some
gel binders and medicated foods
appear on the market.
“Cobalt has come out with
a product line,” he added.
“They’ve got some nice new
blends of food. I like what Cobalt
is doing with the blends of mysis
and spirulina and the probiotics
and that sort of thing.”
Cobalt’s new line, labeled Ex-
treme, is shipping next month,
said Les Wilson, co-owner, mar-
keting, product development
and sourcing at Cobalt Interna-
tional Inc. in Blacksburg, Va.
The line includes three new
offerings, named Color, Spirulina and Worm Medley. These
foods are formulated to have color-enhancing properties, and the
Spirulina blend includes a higher
percentage of the algae, up to 22
percent, Wilson said.
“The No. 1 request we get
from hobbyists … is higher levels
of spirulina, even though it isn’t
too tasty to fish,” he added.
The company included a
larger percentage of oil and
higher garlic levels to help improve palatability, he noted. The
Worm Medley is a combination
of blackworms, bloodworms and
earthworms, along with extra oil,
garlic and color-enhancing ingredients, Wilson said.
Other retailers have had success with new offerings as well.
“We typically sell the Cobalt and Ocean Nutrition flake
foods,” said Chris Schultz, manager at Sho Tank Aquariums
in Mundelein, Ill. “We tend to
push toward [those products]
because [they are] high-quality foods. I carry the New Life
Customers increasingly are looking for extra benefits when buying freshwater fish foods.
“People are especially look-
ing for quality products,” said
Claus Frenken, sales manag-
er for Sera North America in
Montgomeryville, Pa. “Fish are
healthier, and the life expectan-
cy increases. Not only that, but
also tank maintenance decreas-
es. Fish can digest the food bet-
ter and, thus, there will be less
waste in the tanks.”
Sera recently introduced a line
of Stick-on Chip snacks that are
designed to stick to the aquarium
glass to induce fish to feed out in
the open. The chips are formu-
lated to be easily digestible and
feature up to 60 percent freeze-
dried small organisms such as
krill, Daphnia or bloodworms.
To help prevent the buildup
of excess waste in aquariums,
several manufacturers are adding probiotics.
“We started … putting probi-
otics into our food to help diges-
tion,” said Les Wilson, co-owner,
marketing, product development
and sourcing at Cobalt Interna-
tional Inc. in Blacksburg, Va. “We
get requests for more specialty
foods as well.”
Customers are aware of pro-
biotics from human food market-
ing trends, which is something
aquatics retailers can use to help
“It’s a selling point,” said
Greg Housley, owner of Opti-
mum Aquarium in Kennesaw,
Ga. “In this day and age, every-
one is trying to be healthy. A lot
of customers will relate to things
that are going on in their own
lives and [project] that onto their
pets … including their fish.”
Cobalt isn’t the only manu-
facturer that incorporates pro-
biotics. Others are adding these
to their foods. Ocean Nutrition’s
Formula Flake Foods have been
reformulated to be more easily
digestible, said Jason Oneppo,
research and development man-
ager for San Francisco Bay Brand
and Ocean Nutrition Americas,
both in Newark, Calif.
“We have eliminated artificial
colors and preservatives and re-
placed them with natural ones,
and increased the inclusion rate
of fresh ingredients to get closer
to what fish would eat in their
natural habitat,” he said. “We
have also added four strains of
probiotic to the flakes.”
As human food trends spill
over into the hobby, industry
sources reported that customers
are savvier in general.
“Customers are definitely more educated these days,”
Oneppo said. “Retailers should
take advantage of this by detecting market trends and offering a
variety of foods for those niches.
Most customers are looking to
offer their fish a variety of food.”
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