Carrying frozen fish food and keeping a variety in stock allows retailers to maintain the edge in this category.
BY E THAN D. MIZER
The marine side of the hobby is doing well, according to industry experts, and, as a result, pet specialty retailers are seeing a shift to- ward frozen food offerings. This uptick in the category is certainly
helping brick-and-mortars as online competition continues to heat up.
Customers increasingly look to provide their fish with higher-quality
diets, retailers reported.
“People are so obsessed with what their dogs and cats eat,” said
Juliane Chambers, assistant manager of the Aquarium Center in Clem-
enton, N.J. “I think some people even take a little bit more care for their
pets’ diets than their own diet. The same could be said sometimes for
fish. Quality food has become much more available in the last five
years or so.”
Retailers are also seeing younger hobbyists approach the marine side
of the hobby, driving new trends in the space.
“Most of our saltwater customers are from the younger generation
these days,” Chambers said. “The older generation was really into it. But
now a lot of millennials are getting into it, and they are more specific.
They ask more questions, and they don’t like run-of-the-mill stuff. They
like to go outside of the box.”
This demographic shift is affecting what marine foods customers are
“The overall market may not be experiencing as rosy of sales growth
in flakes or pellets as we are seeing,” said Kelly J. Randall, marketing
director of Omega Sea in Painesville, Ohio. “The APPA [American Pet Products Asso-
ciation] National Pet Owners Survey shows flake purchases for freshwater fish owners
up ever so slightly year-over-year—77 percent in 2014 versus 79 percent in 2016—and
down for saltwater fish owners—75 percent versus 69 percent—so overall I would say
it’s flat to down. The APPA data also indicates that younger fish owners buy flakes less
and pellets more than their older counterparts.”
In contrast, frozen sales are growing, retailers reported.
“Customers are moving toward the frozen stuff,” said Sean Crerar, co-owner of Lil’
Shop of Reefs in Woodland, Calif. “We have more food for saltwater in our freezer than
we do in the dry goods section.”
While flake and pellet sales are still a factor, and retailers are still stocking both types
heavily in-store, increasingly, it’s a necessity to have a freezer on-site to maintain and
grow marine food sales.
“People are gravitating more towards the frozen stuff in our store in general,” said
James E. Minigh, owner of Bluewater Reef Aquatics in Holy Hill, Fla. “It’s healthier and
creates less waste.”
FRESH & FROZEN
While there have been some developments in the pellet and flake side of the marine food
segment, newer frozen and coral offerings are also appearing on the market.
Hikari recently introduced Reef Riot, a blizzard-type food for reef tank hobbyists, said Chris
Clevers, president of Hikari Sales USA in Hayward, Calif. The line includes two formulas—one
for carnivores and one for herbivores—that feature a mix of ingredients in varying sizes for
corals and fish.
Hikari also recently introduced its Lake Okanagan Canadian Freshwater Mysis Shrimp in
cube form, Clevers added.
“Our customers have been asking for [the cube form] since we introduced this line a
number of years ago,” Clevers said. “Like the Reef Riot line, [the Mysis shrimp] too have had
bio-encapsulated multivitamins added and have been through our 3-Step Sterilization process.”
Coral foods have become extremely popular, as well, and new offerings are hitting the
“Most of the new marine foods have been coral foods,” said Erin Powers, owner of All Things
Aquariums in Wilsonville, Ore. “I carry Rod’s Reef foods, Hikari and San Francisco Bay Brand. In
terms of dry foods, I carry Aquadine, which is more of a premium food. I also carry Hikari and
New coral offerings also play to the trend of customers seeking quality, especially for pricey
livestock such as corals.
“There have been a few new coral foods coming out, but nothing crazy as far as new fish
food,” said James E. Minigh, owner of Bluewater Reef Aquatics in Holy Hill, Fla. “Benepets
coral food is one of the better ones on the market. The powder they just came out with feeds
everything from bacteria to copepods, arthropods and all the microfauna, so it helps the tank all
the way around.”
Omega One has also changed up its flake line with a packaging refresh, said Kelly J. Randall,
marketing director of the Painesville, Ohio-based company.
“For the last six months, we have been hard at work on our packaging relaunch,” she said.
“All of our flakes have received a major facelift for our 20th anniversary.”
FROZEN MARKET SHARE
Price sensitivity is not something pet specialty retailers that do business in the aquatics
segment can afford to ignore, but today’s aquatic hobbyists are open to spending what it
takes to buy high-quality fish foods for their tanks, according to industry experts.
Sean Crerar, co-owner of Lil’ Shop of Reefs in Woodland, Calif., normally sees customers
spend a modest amount per visit.
“Customers are usually going to spend under $20 on food,” Crerar said. “Some will come
in and spend $80 on food every month.”
Other retailers have seen frozen offerings take up a very large percentage of their overall
marine foods sales.
“Frozen offerings take about 80 percent of sales in my store versus everything else in the
marine food segment,” said Erin Powers, owner of All Things Aquariums in Wilsonville, Ore.
“That percentage has stayed fairly steady. Most of my customers supplement with dry foods
because I recommend it, but they still prefer frozen.”
The average customer at All Things Aquariums is spending between $10 and $20 per visit
on marine foods, Powers added. The $20 mark seems to be the average amount spent per
visit, according to most retailers.
At the Aquarium Center in Clementon, N.J, the average customer spends approximately
$20 on frozen food for one purchase, but it can vary based on their tank, said Juliane
Chambers, assistant manager.
“There’s a customer that comes in and spends around $60 a month on frozen food,”
Chambers added. “In terms of my marine food sales, it’s split 50-50 between frozen and dry.”
Many customers will mix and match, as well, so offering a variety is in retailers’ best
“Frozen probably makes up 30 to 40 percent of my sales,” said James E. Minigh, owner
of Bluewater Reef Aquatics in Holy Hill, Fla. “I’m all fish and reef. Customers are spending
around $40 per visit on marine foods. Not a lot of people will buy just one pack of food.
They’ll buy a pack of food and a little bit of pellet or some coral food. There are always
multiple pieces, but usually it all starts at the $20 frozen mark and goes up from there.”