Quality Rules in Marine Foods
The hobby has shifted to high-end diets that help both fish and corals thrive.
BY E THAN D. MIZER
Innovation in marine foods has led to greater success in the hobby, both with fish-only and reef systems, and local pet specialty stores are
reaping the rewards of a more-dedicated customer base and competitive advantages over big-box
and online retailers.
With the introduction of frozen foods and all-in-one products, retailers now have an easier time
offering nutritional advice and effective feeding
options across the marine aquarium hobby spectrum, leading to higher levels of hobbyist success,
industry participants reported.
“On the marine side of things, frozen foods
are much more popular than with freshwater
right now,” said Arthus Frayler, lead manager of
Aquatropics in Gainesville, Fla. “Fish are reacting
well to frozen shrimp, frozen brine shrimp and
mixed foods such as Rod’s Food. They really like
With the palatability and quality of marine di-
ets increasing, frozen foods, all-in-one options and
specialty single-ingredient food offerings have
opened the hobby up to more people.
“Frozen foods and higher-quality diets in the nonfrozen food category are seeing
the most action,” said Chris Clevers, president of Hikari Sales USA in Hayward, Calif.
“Marine fish hobbyists typically have more discretionary income and are looking for the
best products for their fish.”
The availability of premium and higher-quality products has helped retailers keep
customers from dropping out of the hobby, Clevers noted, which is good for everyone.
Marine hobbyists tend to be more invested in terms of time and money, and, therefore,
have more to lose.
“The cost of failure to the consumer could be huge, as could the loss to our industry,”
The increase in food quality and the greater level of education available for hobbyists
means consumers have more options than ever before.
“As far as saltwater goes, people are really involved in some of the forums, mag-
azines and You Tube videos,” Frayler said. “Basically, what they’re looking for is
quality and variety. People really are taking it personally. People are noticing … the
smell of the food, the quality that goes into making it.”
This shift toward high-quality marine foods has been pervasive, both retailers and
“The general trend in foods has been a dramatic shift away from dry foods, either
flake or pellet,” said Jimi Casper, owner of Jimbo’s Gumbos in Virginia Beach, Va. “Pro-
fessionals and hobbyists are understanding the benefits of mixed frozen foods that meet
all the nutritional requirements of the fish eating them. … Without a doubt, this is the
biggest trend in aquarium foods and pretty much across the board in the pet industry.
Dogs, fish and all pets are now eating healthier than ever before.”
Still, although the marine hobby has seen some hobbyists move away from flake and
pelleted foods, these offerings have experienced an increase in quality as well.
“I feed exclusively frozen, personally,” said Matthew Catanese, co-owner of
California Reef Co. in Newark, Calif. “However, I’ve heard good things about the
V2O [flake and pellet] foods. I threw some [V2O food] into my display tanks. My
fish don’t even recognize pellets and flakes, and they ate it, so I was actually a little
impressed with that.”
EXPANDING OPTIONS TARGET CONVENIENCE
Many specialty offerings have appeared on the marine food market, and pet
specialty retailers have a variety of options when making recommendations
All-in-one foods are doing especially well, said Anis Jamal, owner of That
Aquarium Place in Spring, Texas.
“That’s what we’ve been carrying, and it sells really well,” he said. “Custom-
ers really like it. Nobody has time to sit there and feed 10 different things.”
Convenience is still a factor in the marine hobby, and offering a blend of
frozen, flake and pellet diets can help retailers meet customers’ needs.
“Many people have limited time each day to care for their fish,” said Jason
Oneppo, research and development manager for San Francisco Bay Brand and
Ocean Nutrition Americas, headquartered in Newark, Calif. “Convenience and
ease of use are key. The market for diets that require prep is much smaller than
for ready-to-use foods, such as frozen, flake, pellet and powders.”
Both Ocean Nutrition and San Francisco Bay Brand have new offerings in the
works, Oneppo reported, including Ocean Nutrition’s Formula Food Flat Packs:
Reef Formula One, Reef Formula Two, Fish Only Formula and Predator Formula.
They are made in the USA and are prepared by hand, he noted, adding that they
do not contain binders, artificial preservatives, added colors or terrestrial vegeta-
ble matter as a source of vitamins.
San Francisco Bay Brand also is introducing the Reef Multi-Pack, designed to
offer a single pack that contains four varieties of food, including six cubes each of
Marine Cuisine, Fish Eggs, Coral Cuisine and Reef Plankton.
Other manufacturers are introducing options in the pellet and flake catego-
ries, including Cobalt Aquatics.
“We recently launched our Ultra Spirulina flake, which is packed with 20
percent spirulina algae, prebiotics and probiotics,” said Kyle Thaman, customer
service manager for Cobalt Aquatics in Rock Hill, S.C. “We are also putting the
finishing touches on a brand-new line of 100 percent all-natural pellet foods.”
The market response to Cobalt’s probiotic offerings has been good, retailers
“Cobalt’s new probiotic foods are really nice,” Jamal said. “There’s a big
mixture of products that are going into it now, such as oyster eggs, oyster meat
and rotifers, and stuff like that.”
Other manufacturers are debuting probiotic lines and specialty foods
targeting certain types of fish. Hikari recently released two marine food lines,
Saki-Hikari Marine Carnivore and Saki-Hikari Marine Herbivore, and the company
plans to release frozen Omega Enriched Brine Shrimp in a cube format soon, not-
ed Chris Clevers, president of Hikari Sales USA in Hayward, Calif. The Saki-Hikari
Marine line offers a probiotic enhanced-nutrient profile, he added.
High-end specialty offerings are also on the rise. Jimbo’s Gumbos recently
introduced a breeder’s cut blend of Jimbo’s Reef Gumbo, said Jimi Casper, owner
of Jimbo’s Gumbos in Virginia Beach, Va. The product is targeted for aquacultured
marine fish, and it is formulated with the higher levels of amino acids, lipids and
protein levels that juvenile fish require, Casper added.
EW PRODUCTS ONSUMER EDUCATION
BE A RESOURCE
With so many new products on the market, and quality
playing such a large role in feeding marine fish and corals,
pet specialty retailers have had to amp up their focus on
“We don’t put an emphasis on pushing sales through
education,” said Arthus Frayler, lead manager of Aquatropics in
Gainesville, Fla. “We want to educate for the good of the fish,
and I think sales follow that.”
It’s helpful to approach customers and open a dialogue as
soon as possible, and also to emphasize research on the topic.
“From the time customers walk in, we explain everything
down to the last grain of sand in their tank,” said Anis Jamal,
owner of That Aquarium Place in Spring, Texas.
Jamal directs customers to research he has compiled or
research that is available from manufacturers, he added.
In general, marine customers tend to be dedicated and are
looking for expertise from local fish stores.
“Most people just know that they have to feed their fish,
and they want to be educated,” said Matthew Catanese,
co-owner of California Reef Co. in Newark, Calif. “Some of the
food companies are doing a really good job of pushing better
education in their ads.”