Reefkeeping is More Convenient and Accessible Than Ever

When it comes to the increase in variety of options of reef products, from aquarium kits and easy-to-use filters and skimmers to programmable controls, it’s almost like the age-old question of what came first, the chicken or the egg. Has the growing interest in reef tanks led to the development of new products? Or have the new products that make reefkeeping easier and more convenient led to the growth of the category?

Whichever way you look at it, exciting things are happening, thanks in part to innovative new products and technologies that make reefkeeping more convenient and accessible for beginners.

“Now that things are easier, it seems almost everyone wants corals in their tank, and then they’re looking for fish that will live with corals,” said Moses Alcala, manager of Ocean View Aquariums in Miami, Florida. “The way things have advanced with technology, it has made the hobby a lot simpler.”

Getting Started

One way to help ease people into the reefkeeping arena is via aquarium kits. Getting the right equipment is one way to help ensure success, and successful fish and reefkeepers turn into regular and loyal customers. Coralife is one manufacturer that offers consumers a turnkey introduction to reef keeping, with its 16- or 32-gallon LED BioCubes. Each glass aquarium comes equipped with LED lighting and customizable filtration systems.

“Our BioCubes are suitable for low to medium light corals, and are perfect for entry level to reefkeepers,” said Andy Hudson, R&D tech at Central Garden & Pet.

Biota Aquariums takes things a step further by including fish and corals with its reef kits.

“The idea behind our product is to get beginners started in marine aquariums with a complete setup,” said Kevin Gaines, owner of Biota Aquariums.

The customer purchases a saltwater kit in the pet shop. The kit will include a Fluval Evo aquarium with LED lighting, a filtration system, live sand, water conditioner, a thermometer, live rock and a month’s supply of food. Once the tank is up and running, the customer contacts Biota to have the liCoralife BioCube16_vestock shipped directly to their house.

“What we’re trying to achieve is healthy fish, which helps the entire industry,” Gaines said.

The fish and corals that are shipped to customers come from a conditioning warehouse, where they’re transitioned to Biota’s food and checked to make sure they’re healthy before getting shipped to the customer.

“By shipping directly to the customer, we’re eliminating one of the transition points in the livestock’s life, helping improve the condition of the product the customer has at home,” Gaines said.

Shipping directly to the customer might seem unusual to retailers at first. After all, in essence it’s taking away a sale. But the purchase of the kit is just the initial investment. With the goal of establishing a healthy tank, Biota envisions creating long-time hobbyists, which means these customers will be in stores on a regular basis for months and years to come, purchasing food and accessories, and maybe even upgrading the aquarium.

Maintaining Control

Making things more convenient in reefkeeping isn’t all about getting beginners interested in the hobby. There are a lot of new technological advances that have improved control and convenience that appeal to everyone, from first-time reefkeepers to long-time hobbyists.

One of these is the growth of inter-networking of devices, also referred to as the Internet of Things.

You can turn on your home’s security system when you’re at work and monitor what goes on at your house through cameras that transmit to your smartphone. You can figure out what you need to buy at the grocery store by checking in with your refrigerator. And you can make sure everyone in the family knows to meet up for dinner by putting appointments on cloud-based calendars. And for reef aquarium hobbyists, the benefits this type of technology brings are added convenience and control to reefkeeping.

Hydor’s brand Aqamai has even made its tagline “The Internet of Tanks” to emphasize the connectivity of the company’s products. The line includes two circulation pumps, the KPS and the new KPM, which is a larger pump designed to circulate up to 2,700 gallons per minute. The company is also introducing the LRM LED light in a slim, ¾-inchthick design. All of these products are wirelessly controlled through the Aqamai app, where you can adjust the settings, create customized programs or use preset features to control what’s going on in your aquarium from anywhere.

Neptune Systems also offers an easy-to-use app with its Apex system. You can plug in up to eight devices, including lights and pumps, and use the app to control the features. Th rough the app, you can set up routines that will run in case of a power outage or a change in temperature. The app also monitors temperature, pH, ORP and salinity. Just this fall the company announced a new device, the Trident, which connects to the Apex system to test alkalinity, magnesium and calcium levels.

“The Trident takes away the need for manual tests and manual dosing, adjusting the dosing based on the feedback loop,” said Terence Fugazzi, vice president of sales and marketing for Neptune Systems. “Our motto is, less hassle equals more success. The easier you can make it for people to have healthy aquariums, the longer they’ll stay in the hobby.”

Whether it’s an app to control accessories or a kit for easy setup, the goal of many new reef products is to make it easier for people to enjoy their reef tanks.

“Having a saltwater tank takes dedication, but by making it a little simpler to monitor the system and maybe more fun with the programmable accessories, I think we’ll see people staying with it longer,” Alcala said. “And the longer you stay on top of things with your reef aquarium, the more established it becomes, and the prettier it will be.”

The New Face on Fish Food

“All-natural,” “no artificial colors,” “fresh ingredients,” “Omega-3” and “probiotics.”

When you see these terms in the context of fish food, you might assume you’re talking about frozen or live food. But the past few years have seen a revitalization of sorts in the flake food category, helping this popular staple continue to earn its place as one of the most purchased types of fish food. According to the 2016 survey by the American Pet Products Association, almost 80 percent of freshwater fish owners and almost 70 percent of saltwater fish owners purchase flake food, levels that have remained pretty consistent over the past 10 years.

Flake foods are popular for their convenience and the fact that they provide a balanced diet for the fish. But today’s foods go beyond a one-size-fits-all type of product, with many different formulations and types of food to appeal not only to many different types of fish, but also to more discriminating customers.

“Today’s fishkeepers are usually well-educated about their fish and want what’s best for them,” said Stacy Davis, purchasing director for That Fish Place, a pet store that specializes in fish and aquatic supplies in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. “While they may have favorite brands, they look for continued improvement in ingredients and formulas so they in turn can keep their fish healthier and hopefully have more success.”

Focus on Ingredients

Fresh, whole ingredients are one of the things that stand out in today’s flake fish food diets.

“When you feed your fish flakes from Ocean Nutrition’s line, you’ll see pieces of whole plankton or brine shrimp right there in the flake,” said Jason Oneppo, research and development manager at Ocean Nutrition Americas. “There’s a lot of texture to it and people can see there’s something there, which makes them feel better about what they’re feeding their fish.”

Other ingredients, such as cold water seafood to enhance levels of Omega-6 fatty acids in Omega Sea’s Freshwater Flakes and antioxidants and prebiotics in TetraMin’s new Active Life Formula, help provide the nutrients fish need to stay healthy for everything from building strong immune systems to better digestion.

It’s not just what’s in the new formulas that makes a difference to customers—it’s also what’s left out. Ocean Nutrition did an overhaul of its entire line of flake foods, making use of healthier alternatives for preserving freshness and creating color that were relatively unknown to the industry just a few years ago. The new formulas have replaced all artificial colorants with natural colors and use only natural preservatives.

Less Waste, Cleaner Water

Today’s hobbyist is well aware that feeding a proper diet isn’t the only key to keeping healthy fish and livestock. Healthy water is just as important, as fish, unlike other animals, live and breathe in the same water where they excrete waste. In a survey conducted by Mars API Fish Care, 67 percent of respondents ranked water quality as their top priority in selecting fish food.

“This came in above selecting for color and growth, I think because people understand that a dirty environment is unhealthy for fish,” said Gary Jones, research and development manager at Mars API Fish Care.

With that in mind, API introduced a new formula for its line of fish nutrition in 2014 that delivers up to 30 percent less ammonia than other competitors.

“Most fish owners don’t relate ammonia in the tank as a result of feeding, but when fish are fed more amino acids than they can utilize, the excess waste produced is excreted as ammonia, which is a major source of pollution in aquariums and the number one killer of fish,” Jones said.

The API formulas bind the amino acids fish need to a protein source fish can utilize, which means the amino acids are absorbed into their system rather than secreted as waste.

Other products are focusing on waste as well. Ocean Nutrition’s flake foods have a low phosphate level, which leads to less waste. TetraMin’s Active Life formula includes prebiotics, which help with digestion and increase nutrient absorption to reduce fish waste.

Branching Out

“One of the latest trends we’ve seen is the shift toward nutrition specific to species,” said John Fox, division vice president of aquatic marketing at Spectrum Brands, Inc., Pet, Home & Garden Division.

Now, in addition to the traditional freshwater and goldfish flakes, retailers and hobbyists will see products for chichlids and bettas, formulas designed for omnivores or herbivores, and even reef-specific foods.

“The goal is to provide a more natural and appropriate diet for each type of fish,” Oneppo said.

For example, in Ocean Nutrition’s Prime Reef flake, the product contains a high concentration of plankton, since fish out on the reef would be eating zooplankton. On the other side of the spectrum is the brand’s Spirulina flake that keeps animal proteins at a minimum for the herbivorous fish.

Tetra expands its offering of species-specific formulas this fall with the introduction of Tetra Betta Worm Shaped Bites in September.

“This daily staple is highly digestible, rich in proteins and color enhancers and, most importantly, mimics real bloodworms that bettas would seek out as a food source in their natural habitat,” Fox said.

Building Sales

For retailers, promoting all of these new innovations can be somewhat of a double-edged sword.

On the one hand, customers are looking for products that provide fresh, whole ingredients and produce less waste. On the other hand, brand loyalty to many of these products is high, and people are sometimes averse to change. As with many other aspects of fishkeeping, the key is having associates who are educated about the products available and their different benefits and who can educate the customer on what’s best for their fish.

At That Fish Place, staff are provided with samples of food to use in their own tanks.

“This gives staff an opportunity to see the results of the products on the fish, in turn making them more comfortable making food recommendations to the customers,” Davis said.

It’s also important to keep in mind that bigger isn’t always better.

“I recommend selling the size of food container the hobbyist will use in 30 to 60 days,” Jones said.

The reason for this is because the integrity of the food starts to degrade as soon as the container is opened. Vitamins and minerals will oxidize as soon as they’re exposed to heat and humidity.

“We go to painstaking efforts to make sure a container is sealed for food to stay as fresh as possible while on the shelf, but once it’s opened, and usually stored over a humid fish tank, things start to degrade,” Jones said.

Not only does a smaller container help customers feed their fish food that’s fresh and healthy, but it also ensures they’re coming back to the store to restock, providing an opportunity to grab some incremental sales with each visit while continuing to build the all-important customer relationship.

Bringing the Reefs to Life for Marine Fishkeepers

When it comes to reef systems, fishkeepers are looking for color, vibrancy and life. As the category continues to grow and evolve, hobbyists are building more balanced systems with a variety of livestock, rather than the coral-only tanks of the past. And thanks to the result of years of research and advances in captive breeding and aquaculture, these customer demands are able to be met in a way that is affordable and successful.

“What we’re seeing more is people moving away from large coral show tanks to something with more live rock, smaller fish and a variety of invertebrates,” said Kevin Gaines, owner of Biota Aquariums. “This creates a more balanced, healthier reef environment.”

The changing focus of reefkeeping is translating to growth on the retail side of things. This fall, Triad Reef Critters, a full-service aquarium store in Greensboro, North Carolina, which opened in 2012, plans to move to a new facility, expanding from its current size of 2,600 square feet to 5,000 square feet.

“We want to be able to provide our customers with more choices and variety when they come to our store,” owner Dexter Hill said.

Triad Reef Critters is just one example of the growth seen in the saltwater category. According to the latest survey by the American Pet Products Association, ownership of saltwater fish is at 2.5 million households, the highest ever noted. That growth can be attributed to more sources, types of farming and a greater awareness regarding sustainable practices go.

In the case of corals, the rule is, “the more color, the better.”

“What seems to be most popular right now are the Acan corals,” said Michael Griffith, marketing manager at Segrest Farms. “They have a bigger polyp which some people find interesting, and we’re offering a variety of colors in those. We’re also constantly offering new colors and varieties in the Montipora genus.”

Birds nest, hammer and staghorn corals are popular, and with bright colors such as green, purple, turquoise and even rainbow varieties, there are plenty of options from which to choose.

In addition to color, corals that provide movement are also popular, specifically frogspawn and torch varieties.

“I tend to find women prefer the more flowy corals, where men will choose the stick varieties,” Hill said.

The biggest changes in the fish category are being seen in how they’re brought to market. After years of research, great progress is being made in captive breeding of saltwater fish, a process that has proved more challenging than with freshwater species, which means more species are available in greater numbers to the retail market.

Biota Marine Life Nursery offers captive bred Mandarin goby and coral beauty angel fish, both of which have been very popular.

“In order to meet the demand, we are expanding our Mandarin fish production,” Gaines said. One of the advantages of Biota’s fish is they are able to be grown out for six to eight months at the farm in Palau where they are weaned on prepared food, which helps ensure a successful transition into the home aquarium.

Other varieties of gobies are also popular, including Segrest Farms’ greenbanded goby.

“These are aquacultured now, which makes them easier to find,” Griffith said. With an adult size of about two inches, they’re good for reefs because they won’t bother the corals. Fairy wrasses are another popular reef-safe fish, and they come in a variety of bright colors including reds, blues and greens.

Whether captive bred, sustainably caught or aquacultured, it’s important to look for suppliers that use responsible practices. All three forms of production have their benefits and provide a good supply of fish to the end user. Wild caught fish still play an important role in the aquarium hobby, and fishing provides a viable career for people in remote areas of the equatorial region.

“There are many responsible fishers in developing countries that need this high-value marine product for survival,” Gaines said.

On the other hand, the growth of aquaculture and captive breeding provides a sustainable way to meet customer demands with fish that are already adapted to captivity and more likely to be disease free.

Rounding out the livestock are the invertebrates, and two of the more popular types are clams and shrimp. Fire shrimp are a popular mainstay, thanks to their bright colors. Biota Marine Life is adding to its offerings with five species of giant clams, including derasa, spermosa and maxima. As filter feeders, clams don’t require additional food, making them relatively easy to care for, and they’re also helpful in cleaning the water in the tank.

Building Relationships
Having the right variety of livestock in your store to be ready for any customer’s needs can be challenging. Rather than trying to satisfy every person, form good relationships with your distributors so that you’re not limited by space or facilities.

“We really take time to talk with customers and get to know what they’re looking for,” Hill said. “Rather than trying to sell you something we’ve got in stock that you don’t really want, we will try to sell you what you’re looking for, even if it’s not in our store. With good contacts and shipping, we can usually get things in within a week.”

Communication is key to building relationships with your customers, and helping them find success with their aquariums. Make sure all staff are well trained and knowledgeable about reef keeping, so they can help customers at any level, from beginner to advanced.

Communicating through email and social media is also important with growing livestock sales. Facebook or Instagram are great places to announce new additions to your store, and email blasts or newsletters are another way to keep customers up to date on what’s new.

Whatever steps you take with livestock, the primary goal is to help your customers find success with each and every animal they place in their tank. It’s easy to earn the reputation of being the go-to place for healthy, unique specimens by buying from reputable sources and staying on top of the trends.

Crustacean Craving

Walk along the shops at a beach town this time of year, and you’re sure to come across a sign saying, “Free Hermit Crabs! (with purchase of kit).” Hermit crabs are popular items in beach town souvenir shops, in part because these prolific creatures conjure up images of the seashore, and people see them as a great way to take a little bit of their vacation back home. Unfortunately, a lot of times these hermit crabs don’t survive the stresses of the trip back home, leading these creatures to garner a reputation of being a sort of throwaway animal or a novelty.

The fact is, that reputation couldn’t be further from the truth. There isn’t a lot of research published on hermit crabs, but a crab’s life expectancies when in its natural habitat or when cared for properly can range between 15 to 50 years. They also make good pets, especially as a starter pet for young children or for people who are allergic to other animals, due to the fact they’re relatively easy to care for and don’t suffer from many diseases. Some hermit crab owners even report that their pets learn to recognize the sound of their owner’s voice or even come when called by name.

Hermit crabs and various supplies have been on the market for decades, but just in the past few years, more offerings have come to the category, giving the opportunity for increased growth and sales. The hermit crab category is one that remains relatively steady, but new products and a wider variety of options not only helps attract new hermit crab owners, but also satisfies the needs of long-time hobbyists looking for good quality supplies.

The Hermit Habitat

When it comes to hermit crabs, getting the right habitat set up is a top priority. It is common to see hermit crabs sold with small, plastic habitats, when in fact these creatures need to have some space to crawl around and explore. A 10-gallon aquarium at minimum is recommended, and Zoo Med has a brand-new Glow-in-the-Dark hermit crab kit that fits these specifications. The kit includes a glow-in-the-dark climbing branch, sand scooper, two shells, food and water dish and dual thermometer/humidity gauge. In addition to the glow-in-the-dark items, the kit also includes soil, mineral blocks, Midnight Black Hermit Crab Sand, food, water and salt conditioner and a book about care and maintenance.

“Starter kits allow customers to go home with everything they need to provide care for a new pet, and our products are designed to help people be as successful as possible,” said Ashley Rademacher, animal care and education coordinator, Zoo Med Lab. “We know the more successful consumers are with their pets, the more likely they are to continue keeping those animals, or get more.”

Even though 10-gallon tanks are recommended, many smaller hermit crab habitats remain on the market. In an eff ort to encourage customers to purchase the bigger habitats, Florida Marine Research has introduced some new, bigger accessories, including a beach chair, a hammock and a bridge.

“I’m a big proponent of the theory, the bigger the home, the happier the animal,” said Paul Manger, owner of Florida Marine Research. “We are concentrating our eff orts on encouraging the pet owner to expand the habitat itself, so we created these items designed for bigger tanks with that goal in mind.”

In addition to spacious living quarters, hermit crabs also need the proper substrate to burrow. Some hermit crab owners prefer to mix their own substrate by combining soil and sand, but Fluker Farms introduced proprietary substrate that replicates what hermit crabs would have access to in their natural environment. Fluker’s Hermit Headquarters Beach Sand Substrate is a mix of silica sand and cocoa peat, with salt added as well as a probiotic to serve as an odor reducer.

Liven Things Up

Like many other types of animals, hermit crabs respond well to treats. It not only provides a little variety to their diet, but also gives a way for the pet owner to interact with the hermit crab. The FMR Hermit Crab Treat is a fruit-based food developed internally by testing it on the company’s own hermit crabs.

“We carry about 300,000 crabs to distribute to retailers, which provides a good way for us to monitor the animals and see what they like,” Manger said. For the Hermit Crab Treat, the company introduced new fruits and monitored what they ate. The product is in a new package that includes a clip for re-sealing to maintain freshness.

Fluker’s Hermit Headquarters line includes a treat that has interaction included in its name. The Instant Fruit Treat with Interactive Feeding Kit is a powder that pet owners can mix with water and feed to the hermit crabs. It comes in blueberry, strawberry and banana flavors.

The hermit crab shells are another area where customers can find some excitement to add to the habitat. Painted or natural, shells come in all sizes, shapes and varieties. Florida Marine Research has introduced a 3D design to appeal to the younger demographic. Retailers should encourage customers to buy a few shells of different sizes, because when the hermit crab molts, he may be somewhat picky about which new shell he wants to move into.

Grow the Category

Hermit crabs fall into their own niche when it comes to marketing—not a reptile, not a fish, but their own species. For this reason it might be challenging to figure out where to devote the space to these creatures and their line of products. Luckily, the manufacturers realize this and have made things easier by creating end caps, special signage and other sales vehicles. Fluker Farms, which created an entire line of hermit crab products under its Hermit Headquarters line, has a sales rack that includes all of the products in one convenient place.

“When we decided to start creating products for hermit crabs, we wanted to do a whole line to outfit the hermit crab set up the way it’s supposed to be,” said Sam Furby, vice president of sales and marketing at Fluker Farms. “This rack is a nice way to display our whole line, showing hobbyists that our products are comprehensive and meet their needs.”

Florida Marine Research has a spinner rack which holds its products to help introduce them easily to customers. The company is also introducing an end cap this month at SuperZoo.

“We had one in the ’90s that was popular,” Manger said. “People asked for it back so we’re creating one to meet the demand.”

It’s also important for stores to have the hermit crabs themselves.

“Many people will purchase one on vacation, but they do well in colonies, so we recommend getting a few more once they’ve been brought home,” said Stacy Davis, purchasing director at That Fish Place/That Pet Place in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. “We believe hermit crabs do better with a few friends.”

At That Fish Place, the hermit crabs are kept in large habitats with plenty of space for climbing, with plexi glass sides to help hold in the humidity.

“Our display of crabs, simply because of its size, is a real eye catcher for our customers,” Davis said.

Whether your store is in a coastal town or in the middle of the country, hermit crabs make a good addition to your offerings—for new pet owners or longtime hobbyists.

Taking advantage of the growing interest in nano tanks, the Evo 12 from Fluval brings the nano world to saltwater fishkeeping. At 13½ gallons, the small size is easily manageable for people starting out with saltwater. It is also appealing for long-time hobbyists who might want an additional aquarium for a specialized type of set up.

“There’s a misconception that it’s expensive to get into saltwater fishkeeping, and we’re defying that with this kit,” said Chris LeRose, aquatics division manager at Rolf C. Hagen USA Corp. “Our kit retails at $199 or less, which makes it good for the customer who wants to get into saltwater but doesn’t want to go huge.” The Evo 12 kit includes LED lighting and a filter with a pump. “We’ve also come out with a mini-protein skimmer for the smaller size aquarium,” LeRose said.

The PS2 Mini Protein Skimmer is designed for aquariums of five to 20 gallons and has a modular design for easy access and cleaning. Coralife LED BioCubes also offer an all-in-one option. The line was recently improved by adding two inches to the two available sizes, bringing them up to 16 and 32 gallons. This kit includes an LED light with a 24-hour timer, a filter and a submersible pump.

“We have found that products that allow marine aquarists to successfully and conveniently manage their aquariums are popular, which is what helped lead us to develop the BioCube kit,” said Andy Hudson, R&D product designer for Central Garden & Pet.

Broaden the Base

The tide is turning in favor of saltwater fish. As many retailers know, the saltwater fish category as a whole often suffers from an image problem. Getting into the marine side of things has the reputation of being expensive, too much work and too hard to find success. But thanks to new aquarium kits, heartier fish and other innovations, the saltwater category is shaking its somewhat undeserved reputation, and more people are finding out first-hand the rewards of keeping saltwater fish.

All-in-One Convenience
One way to make it easy for customers to get started on the saltwater side of things is to offer aquarium kits, taking some of the guess work out of what equipment to buy. Another fear that often keeps beginners from embarking on saltwater fishkeeping is the initial start-up cost. The reality is that, whether you’re keeping freshwater or saltwater fish, you can spend hundreds of dollars on equipment if you choose to go with high-end purchases. But all-in-one kits help group the necessary tools together in a relatively affordable package.

Taking advantage of the growing interest in nano tanks, the Evo 12 from Fluval brings the nano world to saltwater fishkeeping. At 13½ gallons, the small size is easily manageable for people starting out with saltwater. It is also appealing for longtime hobbyists who might want an additional aquarium for a specialized type of set up.

“There’s a misconception that it’s expensive to get into saltwater fishkeeping, and we’re defying that with this kit,” said Chris LeRose, aquatics division manager at Rolf C. Hagen USA Corp. “Our kit retails at $199 or less, which makes it good for the customer who wants to get into saltwater but doesn’t want to go huge.”

The Evo 12 kit includes LED lighting and a filter with a pump.

“We’ve also come out with a mini-protein skimmer for the smaller size aquarium,” LeRose said.

The PS2 Mini Protein Skimmer is designed for aquariums of five to 20 gallons and has a modular design for easy access and cleaning.

Coralife LED BioCubes also offer an all-in-one option. The line was recently improved by adding two inches to the two available sizes, bringing them up to 16 and 32 gallons. This kit includes an LED light with a 24-hour timer, a filter and a submersible pump.

“We have found that products that allow marine aquarists to successfully and conveniently manage their aquariums are popular, which is what helped lead us to develop the BioCube kit,” said Andy Hudson, R&D product designer for Central Garden & Pet.

Feeding Made Easy
Another misconception being shattered is that feeding saltwater fish is complicated and messy. New packaging options means there’s no more messy thawing to endure—it’s as easy as popping open a packet and putting it in the aquarium. Omega Sea has introduced a line of stand-up pouches, each containing 30 individual pods, in four varieties: mysis shrimp, super or premium brine shrimp and blood worms. These were designed to provide perfect portion control in a fast, clean package.

Flat packs are another convenient packaging option for frozen foods, offered by both Omega Sea and Ocean Nutrition. New options in flat packs from Ocean Nutrition include Reef Formula One and Two, Fish Only Formula and Predator Formula, introduced in response to the changing landscape of the marine hobby.

“We’ve seen more people having large mixed-reef aquariums, large fish-only aquariums or large predatory marine fish, and these products will help people provide the proper nutrition for their specific aquarium,” said Jason Oneppo, research and development manager at San Francisco Bay Brand and Ocean Nutrition Americas.

Making things easy on the customer is one improvement, but manufacturers of fish food are also introducing new products to help entice finicky fish to eat, helping ensure success with the aquarium. Ocean Nutrition has launched a new fish eggs product this year that is excellent at enticing finicky fish to feed. The eggs are obtained before dyes, flavors or preservatives are added, and the product contains high levels of protein and Omega-3 fatty acids, making a good addition to a varied diet.

The Main Attraction
Of course, the aquarium, accessories and food are all just support for the real attraction: the fish.

“Damsels and clownfish are always popular, and they’re good species to recommend to beginners, since they’re pretty hardy and relatively inexpensive,” said John Stewart, sales associate at House of Tropicals in Glen Burnie, Maryland, which offers an assortment of varieties, including Amphiprion ocellaris and Amphiprion percula clownfish. “For the damsels, we have a wide assortment, but I like the yellowtail blue damselfish because they’re not as aggressive and territorial as the others.”

More advanced hobbyists often look for something unique to add to their tank, and House of Tropicals has found Mandarin dragonets, flame angelfish and tangs to be among the most popular.

“We have a gem tang right now that is beautiful, all black with blueishwhite spots, that is brand new,” Stewart said.

According to Stewart, education is very important for customers looking to get into the saltwater category.

“We will walk around with people to talk about each species, which ones work well with one another and different things they’ll need to start up a tank,” he said.

How livestock is sourced is also important to many marine hobbyists. Unlike the freshwater market, which relies mostly on fish raised in captivity, the challenges of captive-breeding marine fish has contributed to slower growth in the market. Saltwater species tend to spawn smaller, less robust larvae that makes it harder to rear to maturity.

However, through research and sharing of information, more captive- bred marine fish are being introduced to the market. Captive-bred fish are more used to the water quality found in home aquariums, which allows them to acclimate better. They’re also more willing to accept prepared foods, making feeding easier and enabling hobbyists to keep healthier livestock. Segrest Farms and Sustainable Aquatics offer a variety of tank-raised and captive bred marine fish for retailers, including gobies, bennies and clownfish.

Segrest Farms is also making an effort to help fund further research. The company recently announced a program to donate 1 percent of sales from tank-raised marine fish to Rising Tide Conservation, a non-profit organization that helps fund research into captive breeding marine fish and then shares the results of the research with commercial breeders.

While advances are being made in captive breeding, a raising consciousness has also helped support sustainable practices in collecting fish. It is important for retailers to be informed of how fish are collected and be able to pass on to their customers with confidence that sustainable methods were used. But going through trusted sources such as Segrest retailers can help support sustainable collection practices.

It’s time for retailers to expand their marketing efforts of saltwater fish beyond long-time hobbyists. Smaller aquariums, convenient food and hearty fish are opening up this colorful and interesting marine world to a whole new set of customers.

Water Care Made Easy

It’s a simple fact that fish thrive in clean water. Keeping the right pH balance and “bad” bacteria at bay helps keep oxygen levels high and infections low. While the basic science of properly balanced water doesn’t change, there are some new innovations and trends in the water treatment category that help improve customer satisfaction, both in their purchases and in their success with their pets.

Easy-to-dispense products, customer-friendly instructions on packaging, apps for tablets to bring more interaction on the part of the consumer and a greater number of natural options are all helping grow this category.

Eliminate the Guess Work
For many fish owners, especially those new to the hobby, worrying about nitrates, ammonia or sludge can be time consuming and even complicated. Today’s water treatment manufacturers know that ease of use and convenience are top priorities for customers, and they’re coming out with products and apps to help make it easy for everyone to have clean water for their fish.

Product packaging is one way to improve ease of use for the consumer. Clear, concise directions printed on the package of most water treatment products go a long way in helping customers know what they need to purchase. Aqueon’s line of water treatment products include a calibrated dosing cap to make it easy to apply the correct amount every time. API Fishcare has combined products in a Perfect Start pack and a Monthly Care pack that include the different products needed for healthy water. Both contain Stress Zyme, Quick Start, Accu-Clear and Stress Coat, while the Perfect Start also has Ammo-Lock.

Tetra is going a step further by creating a new merchandising display for independent retailers.

“We’ve found that the majority of fishkeeping customers don’t understand water care products at a glance, including why the products are important or when to use them,” said John Fox, division vice president of Aquatic Marketing for Spectrum Brands, Inc., Pet, Home & Garden Division. “This new display gives education on water care so customers can be more successful. We are also organizing the products by species, making it easier for customers to quickly and easily find what they need.”

In-store education isn’t the only place seeing innovation. Tetra recently launched a new My Aquarium app, giving on-the-go consumers in today’s digital world the ability to track their tank’s needs on their tablet or smartphone. The app lets customers create a profile page—allowing for multiple aquariums—that will provide the ability to manage water tests and obtain instant recommendations; set custom notifications for things such as food dispensing, water testing and water changes; and track supply inventory. API Fishcare also has a water care app that allows fishkeepers to analyze water test results and receive recommendations.

Going Natural
Just because customers want water treatment to be easy, doesn’t mean they aren’t paying attention to the contents of what they’re putting into their aquariums.
“We’ve seen a number of trends in the past few years, including an interest in more natural water treatment options,” said Rachel Torrence, a tech support agent for Seachem. That company’s Remediation, part of its Aquavitro line, continues to be a popular product, using bacteria to break down excess food, sludge and waste while naturally cleaning the aquarium’s substrate.

Fluval also maintains an emphasis on remaining chemical-free.

“For us, the best thing you can do to keep a tank clean is to make it a complete eco-system, using beneficial bacteria, herbs and minerals,” said Chris LeRose, aquatic division manager, Hagen Group.

Fluval’s popular Aqua Plus water conditioner uses valerium root as a natural de-stressor. Its other popular product, Cycle, combines two types of beneficial bacteria, lipotropic and heterotrophic, to break down solid waste and control ammonia levels. Tetra’s Safe Start also uses live bacteria to create a healthy environment for fish by jump-starting the natural bio filter, while also reducing the amount of ammonia and nitrate in the water.

It isn’t just treatments that are poured into water that help maintain a healthy aquarium. New innovations in filter media are using natural minerals to bind with bacteria and create a cleaner environment. Seachem has a new line of Tidal Power Filters with an assortment of accessories and filter media. This includes the Zeolite ammonia binder for both marine and freshwater, using the naturally occurring zeolite mineral to maintain healthy water for the fish.

Another choice, the Water Polishing Unit for Aqueon’s QuietFlow canister filters, uses a carbon cartridge for a final filtration step.

“This filter makes maintenance easier, less time consuming and more cost effective,” said Lenitra Friend, brand manager for Central Garden & Pet. “It quietly returns water to the aquarium while at the same time breaking the water surface and enhancing oxygenation.”

The Personal Touch
While manufacturers work hard to make the product packaging speak for itself and introduce merchandising displays to help organize and sell products, the true key to success in the water treatment category comes from taking time to talk with customers and make sure they fully understand the workings of their aquarium and how to keep bacteria at bay and maintain proper pH.

“We encourage retailers to be aware of what the water treatments they use actually do, and to be critical of any new claims that aren’t backed by true research,” Torrence said.

Being able to answer customers’ questions and lead them to products that will work well for them will help build a good relationship and encourage customer loyalty. After all, the end goal for everyone is healthy fish and happy customers!

Filter Features

Having a clean aquarium with healthy water is the most important element for success in fishkeeping. And as anyone who has had an aquarium knows, having the right filter for the tank is a key component to a clean aquarium. Of course, filters don’t eliminate the need for water changes and regular tank maintenance, but they go a long way toward improving water clarity and maintaining a healthy tank.

While the basic job a filter performs hasn’t changed much over the years, there have been plenty of advances in the category to improve the products. From UV filtration to quieter motors and easy-to-change cartridges, today’s filters are more user-friendly and better for the tank than ever before.

Smaller is Better
From nano tanks to betta bowls, the trend of smaller, desk-top fishkeeping seems to be growing. In these cases, even the smallest of traditional filters end up taking up too much real estate in the bowl or seem too large or bulky hanging on the side.

In order to give these customers better options, Cobalt Aquatics launched a new line of Clearvue internal filters, joining Penn-Plax’s existing line of Smallworld filters to do the job of keeping even the smallest tank clean. The Smallworld filters run on an air pump, which removes the motor and helps save space. The Clearvue filters have a bottom-mounted motor, which allows it to work at a very low water level. This makes it useful for terrariums as well as fish tanks. With a 20-gallon size perfect for nano tanks, the Clearvue line also has 30- and 45-gallon sizes.

Both the Clearvue and the Smallworld are internal filters, which means they are also ideal for planted tanks.

“In the United States market, external filters have traditionally been more popular, but as planted tanks are gaining popularity, people are seeking out internal filters more,” said Les Wilson, marketing and product development for Cobalt Aquatics. “An internal filter doesn’t agitate the surface as much, which can cause gas exchange and make it easier for carbon dioxide to leave the aquarium, and that gas is an important element in plant growth.”

A New Layer
For years, most filters have included mechanical, biological and chemical filtration layers within the system as a whole. Now more filters are adding a new level of UV filtration, which helps get rid of unwanted micro-organisms.

“When you incorporate UV with your regular maintenance of weekly water changing and replacing filter cartridges, the result is crystal clear water and a healthy environment for your aquatic creatures,” said Eugene Lee, project manager at Aquatop.

Two lines currently on the market with UV filtration include Aquatop’s Forza canister filters and the new Cascade Marlin series from Penn-Plax.

“We’re really excited about the addition of UV filtration,” said Michael Acerra, digital marketing manager at Penn-Plax. “With the ability to kill algae and other unwanted bacteria, it will help people have a clean tank without having to dig deeper into what might be causing the algae problems.”

New features and added abilities are also improving the filtration category as a whole. Here are a few that help make things easier for new customers and might even get longtime hobbyists to consider a filter update.

LED Indicators
The new Aqueon LED PRO Power Filters are equipped with an LED cartridge change indicator that flashes when it’s time to replace the cartridge. As the cartridge becomes clogged with waste and debris, the water level rises in the filter, triggering the LED light to flash.

“Knowing when it’s time to replace filter cartridges can be a challenge for new or even experienced fishkeepers,” said Lenitra Friend, brand manager of Central Garden & Pet. “Aqueon has put the thought and work into making it easier to know when to make that change.”

These Aqueon LED PRO Power Filters are available in a range of sizes that are appropriate for 10-, 20-, 30-, 50- and 75-gallon tanks.

Two-in-One Properties
Fluval has updated its FX series with two appealing features. One is the smart pump technology, which turns off the filter and purges out excess air once every 24 hours. The other is a valve that allows the filter to be hooked up to a hose for water changes, using the filter to transfer the water for gravel and tank cleaning.

Making cartridge changes easy is another goal for manufacturers. Cobalt’s Clearvue series not only has a clear chamber to make it easy to see when a change is necessary, but also the top easily comes off to allow the person to just take the sponge out and throw it away or clean it.

“This product was designed with the beginner fish keeper in mind, but it has a performance level the hobbyist will appreciate,” Wilson said.

Aquatop’s Forza canister filters also boast easy cartridge changes with its removable media tray.

A Loyalty Maker
Filters might not seem like the most glamorous aspect of the aquarium category, but they’re definitely a strong component of building customer loyalty. While you might only sell one particular customer a filter once or maybe twice, they will continually need replacement cartridges and sponges.

One way to start that relationship is by selling kits with an aquarium, filter, light and other products a first-time fish owner will need. Many manufacturers have kits already put together, or retailers can create their own from the brands they carry in the store.

Above all, the most important element to building customer loyalty is service. Make sure your staff is educated about the newest products and can help beginners know exactly what they need for a successful tank while alerting long-time hobbyists to some of the newest updates in the category.

“Keeping a customer coming to your store to shop for replacements will help them become more loyal, but overall what they’re really looking for is a good experience, both in your store and with their fish,” Wilson said.

An Aquatic Adventure

Bright colors, new characters and an interactive experience—this might sound like a description of the latest smartphone app, but it’s actually what retailers and consumers can look forward to from the world of GloFish. When these bright-colored fish hit the market a little over 10 years ago, they immediately started making waves, adding something new to the market that appealed to a wide range of customers, and the category continues to grow in popularity and in sales.

“GloFish is a significant and growing portion of the market in both hard goods and fish sold in the United States,” said Sean Raines, director of marketing, aquarium environments and equipment for Spectrum Brands, Pet, Home and Garden division.

Part of the reason for this growth is the very fact that the category’s description could easily be mistaken for a smartphone app or even a theme park, showing the excitement and innovation of the category that appeals to kids and young families looking for new experiences. But the appeal of GloFish casts a wide net extending even to long-time hobbyists. The colorful fish make a fun addition to existing aquariums, and the fact that there are constantly new fish and products coming out on the market means consumers find something new to enhance their experience when they come back into the store.

A Growing Lineup

One thing helping GloFish to remain popular with hobbyists is the addition of new colors and species. Last year saw the introduction of three new lines of GloFish—two longfin tetras, green and orange, and a red barb—bringing the total lines available to consumers up to 15. The red barb brings a second color of GloFish to the barb line, which is a helpful addition since it’s usually recommended to have a group of at least five barbs living together.

“Having that second color makes the barb a more attractive choice now that consumers can have more than one color in their group,” said Alan Blake, CEO of Yorktown Technologies, the company behind GloFish.

And of course, the three new fish add more color and choice to the category overall.

New fish are introduced to the public through research and development as well as traditional selective breeding of existing lines.

“Sometimes we find a really beautiful fish that comes about through natural variation in the fish or through making different crosses, and we just want to share it with the public,” Blake said. “It’s exciting to be able to continue to add variety and build the category, giving people more options and choices.”

Researchers at Yorktown Technologies are continuously working to add new dimensions to the GloFish experience, and new additions are plGloFish_ProductGroupanned for 2017 as well.

Interactive Habitats

In addition to the fish themselves, innovations in lights and décor help add to the growth and excitement in the GloFish category. While the fish themselves are brilliant on their own, adding different lights changes the way they fluoresce, making them more vibrant or more florescent depending on the color. The lights can also create an interactive experience for the aquarium. New Cycle Lights from Tetra add a new dimension to GloFish aquariums through the addition of a black light to the white and blue light experience. The black light is found in the midnight mode of the cycle light, and when used in conjunction with Color-Changing Plants and Color-Changing Décor, this light actually makes the décor change colors.

Other modes of the Cycle Lights include sunlight, which makes the vivid colors of the fish even more vibrant; moonlight, which makes the décor and fish fluoresce; and twilight, which cycles between moonlight and midnight modes.

“The Cycle Lights really tie the fish and the ornaments together, creating something unique and allowing people to have a multitude of experiences with the aquarium,” Raines said.

The Cycle Lights and Color-Changing Plants and Ornaments expand the line-up of GloFish products available from Tetra that includes ornaments and plants that stand out under blue LED lights, aquarium backgrounds and aquarium kits.

Introducing Gloria

In 2017, Gloria GloFish joins the ranks of Nemo, Dory, SpongeBob and other characters who help bring the world under water to life. Created by Yorktown Technologies, this green tetra will be used for marketing, starting with a cling that retailers can use to help educate their customers on the origins of GloFish.

“Through our research, we found that half of all freshwater fish owners would be more likely to buy GloFish if they knew the fish were not dyed, injected or otherwise harmed,” Blake said. “There are still certain misconceptions among the public about GloFish, and Gloria provides a great way to communicate with customers and helps build a personal connection to GloFish.”

In addition to the clings, Gloria will have her own storybook, “Gloria and the Aquarium of Smiles,” as a promotional item given away in Tetra’s GloFish aquarium kits.

“GloFish is an area where I feel we are able to go beyond the purchase and enrich the life of the consumer, and Gloria and her book helps us do that even more,” Raines said.

These books also provide a great marketing opportunity for stores. Retailers can hold a story time on weekend afternoons, inviting families to come to the store for a reading of Gloria’s book and light refreshments. In addition to creating a community event, the story time is a great way to bring in new people to browse through the store and have an introduction to the exciting world of aquariums.

All of the innovation around GloFish helps make it a significant segment in the aquarium category.

“GloFish speaks to the people who are seeking a connection with animal life and family, as well,” Raines said. “We’re closing the gap between just having an aquarium in the house and having it be part of the family.”

Getting the Light Right

Recently published research in a journal on “Environment and Behavior” confirmed something we have long thought to be true: that watching fish helps people relax. The study found that participants not only were in a better mood, but also had reduced heart rate and blood pressure.

This is great news for aquarium lovers, but it only holds true if people can actually see what’s inside the aquarium. For that reason, and many more, lighting plays a crucial role in aquariums. It not only illuminates the subject matter so people can enjoy watching the activity inside, but it also provides the light necessary to sustain life and promote growth.

The introduction of LED lights led to quite a revolution in the aquarium lighting industry, with the new, more energy efficient options emitting less heat. Luckily, though, manufacturers didn’t rest on their laurels after introducing LED lights.

“Significant improvements have been made in the lenses on the LED fixtures, giving the ability to spread light out more evenly,” said Karina Esquivel, senior brand manager at Central Garden & Pet. “We’re seeing other innovations in aquarium lighting as well, from wireless control to interactive abilities, bringing more versatility to the category.”

Options Abound
There are a lot of exciting trends in the aquarium category right now, and you’ll find a lighting option to fit each one. Capitalizing on the nano tank trend, Fluval has introduced lights specifically for these tanks with the Nano Aqualife & Plant Performance LED and the Nano Fresh & Saltwater LED. Designed for 5- to 10-gallon tanks, these lights are smaller and a little less bright than their counterparts designed for bigger tanks.

GloFish are another popular trend in the aquarium category, and Tetra has introduced a new GloFish Cycle Light to help highlight the colors of these bright fish. The light has four modes—sunlight, twilight, moonlight and midnight—all made up of blue, white and black LEDs. The sunlight mode makes the fish look even more vibrant, while moonlight makes the fish fluoresce.

“Lighting remains a critical component in the ability to transform the mood and look of an aquarium, which we have found to be especially true when we look at the terrific response we’ve experienced with the existing GloFish décor line,” said John Fox, division vice president of aquatic marketing for the Pet, Home & Garden Division of Spectrum Brands, Inc.

It’s not just fish that need light. Planted tanks are becoming more prevalent due to the introduction of more tissue-cultured plants, which puts lights that promote growth in high demand. The new Vivd+ fixture from Finnex combines features of two popular lines, the Stingray and the MonsterRay line, to create a fixture that supports plant growth while highlighting fish at the same time. This complements the Planted+ 24/7 SE LED fixture from Finnex that is equipped with two rows of intensive daylight and true red LEDs surrounded by a blend of red, green and blue to promote plant growth. Fluval also has lights designed specifically for planted tanks, with its Aqualife & Plant and Fresh & Plant 2.0 options.

Shining the Spotlight
Even as lenses improve, some aquariums still suffer from dead spots where light just doesn’t reach, especially in bigger tanks. Spotlights provide a great way to illuminate these areas, or just bring attention to a specific coral, pant or décor that begs for special attention. To combat these dead spots, Fluval recently introduced its Prism Underwater Spotlight. With a light that is completely sealed in ceramic housing to make it fully submersible, it comes with 80 color options and special effects, as well as a remote control to start up a lightning storm or switch colors with ease.

“I have found that on the coral side, a lot of LEDs have a lot of blue and white, so this provides a way to add color in one area to really make a show piece in a reef tank pop,” said Chris LeRose, aquatic division manager at Rolf C. Hagen USA Corp. Another spotlight, the H2Show low-voltage LED spotlight from Hydor, is available in six different colors to provide an energy-efficient way to shine a light on your favorite coral or decorative piece.

Getting Interactive
Today’s lights do more than just brighten up the tank and promote healthy growth in plants and corals.

They also provide a new way for fishkeepers to interact with their aquariums, whether making them appear more lifelike with sunrise and sunset features or adding a wide variety of colors.

“Overall we’re seeing more programmability in LED fixtures and easier user interfaces,” Esquivel said.

Central Garden & Pet has integrated these features in its two newest additions, the Aqueon OptiBright+ LED lights and the Coralife LED Aqualight-S lights, both of which come with a remote control to adjust color intensity, change color and set the timer.

Fluval’s Wi-Fi module takes away the need for a remote control completely, allowing people to control up to two different lights through an app downloaded to a smartphone or tablet. Currently the device works with its 2.0 line of lighting.

“I think we’ll see a lot more of this in the future, as people look at the functionality of products as well as the light output,” LeRose said.

While lightning storm features, submersible spotlights and wireless controls are exciting, what is probably even better news for retailers and consumers alike is that all of these features are coming out on products at affordable price points.

“Lately we’ve been seeing a general improvement in quality, particularly at the lower price range,” Esquivel said.

This makes lighting more than just a necessity, and instead something customers will look to when upgrading or sprucing up their home aquariums.

From Source to Store

When you examine what is popular in the world of freshwater fish, at first glance the category might look a lot like it did 10, or even 30, years ago. But dive a little deeper beneath the surface, and you find there are a lot of new and exciting things going on in this large and popular segment of fish keeping. From sustainable practices in fish collecting to innovations in food that help keep fish healthier and water cleaner, the new things going on are helping to not only liven things up for long-time hobbyists but also attract some new people to the fold.

One thing that has been changing over the past few years is the level of awareness on the part of customers.

Keyword: Sustainable
“We’re seeing hobbyists becoming more educated and more informed about specific varieties of fish and where they come from,” said Michael Griffith, marketing specialist for Segrest Farms.

For some customers, an emphasis is placed on obtaining wild-caught fish that they know are genetically pure. However, it also means customers are paying attention to how and where these fish are caught, focusing on sustainable practices to ensure the survival of the species and the environmental protection of the fish’s habitat.

This is where groups like Project Piaba come into play. Project Piaba is a non-profit organization researching the home aquarium fishery of the Rio Negro in the Amazon. Trade in home aquarium fish accounts for about 60 percent of the income for people in Barcelos, Brazil.

When asked what they would do if they could not sell fish, many people answered that they would sell timber or raise cattle, options that would drastically change the environment of this area of the Amazon. Project Piaba provides research, education and other resources to local fisheries to promote home aquarium fisheries at commercially and ecologically sustainable levels.

“Project Piaba helps give the people of the Rio Negro an incentive to protect their own environment, rather than farming it out or logging it, without farming the fish to extinction,” Griffith said.

Segrest Farms has partnered with Project Piaba in its quest to make ethical sourcing decisions to provide high-quality fish for sustainably-minded aquarium owners. Other groups are working on promoting sustainable practices as well, including Project Amazonas and the Sustainable Fisheries Group working in Indonesia.

In addition to the wild-caught trade, advances in breeding and fish-keeping are leading to increases in the variety and availability of tank- and farm-raised freshwater fish.

“For example, Altum is one angelfish that hobbyists really like, and it is available either wild-caught or tank-raised, from both Peru and Brazil,” Griffith said.

Benefits of tank- or farm-raised fish include the species being hardier and less stressed, which helps them adjust to the home aquarium quickly and makes them less prone to disease.

Communicating to your customers exactly from where their fish have come is very important in helping build a relationship with your customers as well as making sure they know how to care for the fish. Social media is a great tool for this type of marketing; use it to alert customers of any new species or variety of fish you have available, and also to link to educational material highlighting the importance of sustainable fishing practices and benefits of tank- and farm-raised fish.

You can also design signage for your tanks that gives information about each fish, including its country of origin, how it was procured and specifics for care. The more information you can provide customers upfront, the better off they are when making purchases. Most importantly, be sure your staff is educated on the necessary background information of the fish you have available for sale. Helpful staff who can answer questions are your best ambassadors and key to creating long-lasting customer relationships.

Beyond the Store
While sustainable farming practices and environmental concerns are highly important, ensuring the health and well-being of home aquarium fish goes beyond getting these creatures to retail locations safely. It also means providing customers with the tools necessary to keep fish healthy and happy in the home environment, and the right foods are an important part of that.

“I always tell people, when choosing fish food, turn that can around and look at the ingredients,” said Kelly Randall, marketing director at OmegaSea. “Obviously we’re concerned about the health and beauty of the fish, but we’re also concerned about how food impacts the entire ecosystem you’re trying to maintain.”

OmegaSea has a wide variety of flake foods available for freshwater fish customers, all made with a unique, patented process using fresh, whole proteins that are only cooked once. This ensures the food retains more of the natural fats and oils essential for fish, without added carbohydrates to bind the protein together that fish can’t digest.

“Our mission, from the very beginning, was to offer solutions that weren’t just innovative, but that really worked and helped people find success in fish keeping,” Randall said.

There are also new varieties of flake food on the market to entice customers. Cobalt Aquatics’ new Ultra line includes three products: Ultra Color, which has added carotenoids for making reds, oranges and yellows really pop, with extra garlic for appetite stimulation; Ultra Spirulina, which answers customers’ requests for a higher percentage of spirulina augmented with appetite stimulants and a higher fat content for better palatability; and Worm Medley, which contains earthworm, black worm and bloodworm flakes all in one can, for the bottom feeders that need a lot of proteins.

Frozen foods, which have traditionally been more popular with people keeping marine aquariums, are also finding a place in freshwater homes. New varieties and packaging are making it easier to feed frozen, such as OmegaSea’s Pod Pouches and Cobalt’s frozen cubes now in a tropical variety.

While the end goal for retailers is having satisfied customers, it’s clear that the work going on in the freshwater fish category to reach that goal is helping create a better world for everyone—from the fisheries in Brazil to the home aquariums here in the U.S.

Tiny is Trendy

Television today is filled with shows about tiny houses, restaurants have meals made up of tiny sandwiches called sliders and even fairy gardens exist to serve as miniature worlds within bigger gardens. People have become fascinated with small-scale things, and that trend extends to the aquarium category.

Nano tanks have become popular over the past few years for a number of reasons. Like tiny houses, they are less expensive and easier to maintain than a larger aquarium. And like the fairy gardens, a nano tank can be a conversation piece, or even a piece of living art work within your home. For children or people just starting out with fish, the price point and size make an easy entry point. More advanced hobbyists enjoy the size of the nano tank to create small habitats, often experimenting with more than one type.

Kits are Key
Whether your customer is new to fish or using nano tanks as a way to expand their hobby, one of the appeals of this category is that most of these small tanks are sold as kits. They contain a filter or a light and sometimes both, making it easy to get started right away.

The look of the tank is also important to customers. For people who will have these aquariums sitting on desk tops or as focal points of a room, high-quality glass and seamless designs are important. For kids, the licensed kits with popular characters, including SpongeBob and Dory, are more appealing.

Penn-Plax, well known for its licensed products, reports Dory products have sold well since the “Finding Dory” movie was released in June, with another bump expected with the release of the DVD just in time for the holiday season. Small aquariums with Dory décor are part of that line.

“Our kits serve as many kids’ introduction to keeping a pet, and they certainly contribute to the popularity of nano aquariums,” said Michael Acerra, digital marketing manager of Penn-Plax.

With kits ranging in size from half a gallon to four gallons, and containing LED light and décor, you can appeal to a wide audience with characters including Dory, Nemo, SpongeBob, the Little Mermaid and, new this fall, Moana from Disney’s latest animated movie.

For the adult customer, super-clear glass with elegant designs helps make nano tanks appealing. The Simplicity aquariums from Penn-Plax and the Fluval Edge both provide clear viewing on all sides, while Fluval Vista’s seamless, panoramic design gives the aquarium an open feel. These are available in 5.5 to 12 gallon sizes, and include LED lighting and filters.

On the bigger side of the nano category is the new Recife Aquarium systems from Aquatop. These systems, ranging in size from 24 to 48 gallons, include lighting, filtration, a protein skimmer, heater and pumps.

“These systems have everything you need to get started, allowing more time for customers to focus on décor and livestock choices,” said Eugene Lee, project manager at Aquatop.

Adding to the Mix
Another growing trend in the fish category is aquaponics. More customers are interested in using live plants to serve as filters, letting the waste from the fish fertilize the plants and help them grow, while the healthy plants help clean the water. Nano tanks are a great place to start with aquaponics.

The AquaDuo 3 is a three-gallon aquarium from Elive Pet that comes with a filter that can be used either as a traditional filter or as a planter for people wanting to try aquaponics. Penn-Plax has also introduced a new AquaTerrium line which includes the AquaTerrium Planting Tank. This kit, just under two gallons in size, includes a rockscape waterfall with planting pods for live plants. For customers that like the look of plants but may not have a green thumb, the kit comes with specially-designed artificial plants.

It’s not just plants getting the spotlight. The AquaTerrium line also includes the Lagoon Tank, which features two separate sections, allowing people to keep fish in one and aquatic wildlife such as shrimp, crabs or crayfish in the other.

“Our goal was to create interest among consumers and provide aquariums that were both beautiful and multi-functional,” Acerra said.

Accessories that Fit
With demand rising for nano tanks, there is also a greater demand for accessories designed for these smaller tanks.

“There’s a void of accessories for these smaller aquariums, so we’ve taken notice and spent some time researching and developing products specifically for these customers,” said Matt Allen, marketing director of Elive Pet.

The company just introduced a five-watt micro heater designed for aquariums sized 1.5 gallons or smaller. This is in addition to its LED Mini Track Light, which clips on with a mounting bracket and is designed for aquariums up to 10 gallons. Aquatop also has a line of heaters designed specifically for nano tanks, ranging from 15 to 50-watt output.

Take advantage of the interest in nano tanks by creating an impressive display to show customers just how beautiful these aquariums can be.

“I recommend having at least one freshwater and one marine/reef nano system so customers can appreciate the full beauty the nano systems can offer,” said Eugene Lee, project manager of Aquatop. “Placing it near or on the checkout helps draw attention and interest, as well as giving customers a positive final impression of the store.”

Get in the Green

Whether adding a few plants to a freshwater aquarium, trying out aquaponics or going for full-out aquascaping, the public is discovering that it’s never been easier to have a tank containing healthy, thriving plants. The simplicity of keeping plants is due, in part, to advancements in the category, including improved lighting, supplements and water treatments designed to enhance plant development.

The growth of the planted-tank category is also benefitted by a new trend in tissue-cultured specimens, creating a wider variety of plant species on the market.
“The benefits of these plants is they are grown in sterile conditions so there isn’t unwanted algae, snails or duckweed,” said Daniel Griffin, a sales support and education specialist for Seachem. “And they have a long shelf life in the store.”

Creating the Environment
Offering a variety of plants is essential in attracting customers, but it’s just as important to provide the necessary materials to create a successful habitat for the plants to survive and thrive. Similar to plants in an outdoor environment, aquarium plants require proper lighting and substrate to grow.

“Advances in technology have allowed users the ability to fine-tune and quantify the amount of light a fixture is producing, further encouraging photosynthesis and maximizing growth,” said Bryan Lowe, an account executive at Finnex. The company’s Planted+ line incorporates the TRUE 660nm intensive photosynthesis RED LED light to promote plant growth.

Another key to a premium set up is the medium in which plants are placed. The well-known substrates on the market include Seachem’s Flourite and Caribsea’s Eco-Complete and Floramax. Another option is Elive’s AquaDuo Hydrocorn Bio Media, which is comprised of kiln-fired clay pellets that promote healthy root systems. Used in an aquaponics filter, it aids the removal of toxins from the water and keeps the environment clean for plants as well as other tank inhabitants.

The use of soil-type substrates has also become popular with people who grow plants in their aquariums.

“In addition to the minerals found in traditional substrates, the ‘aquatic soils’ contain nutrients like nitrate and phosphate that can feed the plants and boost growth,” said Griffin, adding that Seachem’s new Aquasolum, a lightweight, porous substrate derived from humate, is the company’s version of pelletized aquatic soil in its AquaVitro line.

Substrates are crucial in growing healthy root systems, but pellets of any size are still susceptible to movement within the aquarium, leading to the dreaded “floaters.” To combat this problem, CaribSea has launched a new product called Rhyzomat, an all-natural fiber mat that sits under the substrate and helps anchor plants. It also increases the area for biological filtration.

A Healthy Habitat
As with all living things in an aquarium, plants need nutrients and proper water balance in order to thrive.

“When nutrients are imbalanced, it can limit plant growth and encourage nuisance algae,” Griffin said. Seachem’s Flourish products have been serving this need since the 1990s, with new products constantly being added to the line. The newest is Flourish Advance, a blend of phytohormones, minerals and nutrients that stimulate the growth of both roots and shoots.

Having seen a growing trend in planted tanks, CaribSea has launched a new line of products designed specifically for planted aquariums.

“The focus of our new products was to bring together some of the latest trends in horticulture, including hydroponics, while also taking into consideration the hobbyist’s desire to go more ‘natural,’” said Betsey Moore, vice president of CaribSea.

The lineup includes Flora-Spore Mycorrhizal Symbionts, a fungi that acts as an intermediary between roots and minerals, forming a symbiotic relationship with the vascular plants. The fungi help “dissolve” minerals out of the aquarium gravel to help plants grow.

Two additional new products are Jungle Leaves and Betta Leaves, two sizes of Indian almond leaves. The leaves not only create an attractive, natural cover for fish, but they also slowly release tannins that condition the water.

These products join the company’s Aquabiotic Botanical, which has recently been tweaked to improve its benefits of maintaining a healthy balance and clarity in the water. Aquabiotic Botanical is a unique combination of liquid barley extract and beneficial waste-reducing bacteria and enzymes for aquarium maintenance.

Making it Easy
While keeping planted aquariums attracts traditional hobbyists who enjoy the challenge of creating their own ecosystem, it’s also enticing to people who generally love all kinds of plants.

“With our aquaponics kits, we’ve seen some overlap outside the pet-specialty area,” said Phil Bartoszek, research and development and product manager at Elive Pet. “It’s appealing to people who find plants beautiful and are looking for something new to try.”

Whether it’s a garden lover looking to experiment with hydroponics or a fish hobbyist interested in introducing live plants to his/her tank, ready-made kits are a great way to get new people on-board with planted aquariums. Elive’s aquaponics kits come in three sizes, and include the aquarium and the filter. The company runs a promotion on these kits in the fall, through November, to help boost holiday sales.

Seachem’s Plant Packs are another great product for people new to the hobby. The Fundamentals pack includes Flourish, Flourish Excel and Flourish Iron, for people new to dosing these products, while the Enhancer pack include Flourish Nitrogen, Flourish Phosphorus and Flourish Potassium, taking things up to the next level to remedy deficiencies and boost plant growth.

Ready-made kits and advances in lighting and supplements are a way to increase sales in the planted aquarium category. As with almost everything else in a store, a great display and a dedication to customer education are the most important sales tools.

“A personal and targeted pitch will not only lead to better sales but to a better off and more well-informed hobbyist as well,” Lowe concluded.

All About Color

Green, orange, red, purple, pink and gold—with corals available in such a variety of colors, it’s no wonder the popularity of reef keeping continues to grow.

“The reef aquarium category has seen incredible growth in the last decade, and it’s still growing,” said Daniel Griffin, a sales support and education specialist at Seachem. “One of the obvious reasons for this is just how beautiful a well-maintained reef tank can be.”

The sight of a beautiful reef tank makes customers want to replicate something similar in their own home or office. That’s one reason why having a nice in-store reef display is an important part of growing sales in the reef category.

“People like to be able to see what a reef tank might look like before making an investment for themselves,” said Adam Moroz, owner of The Reef Gallery in Zelienople, Pennsylvania. “It’s also a great tool for us to use to educate customers on everything from the fish and corals to the equipment and how it is used and maintained.”

Alive with Color
Displays are a great way to showcase the color and variety available in reef keeping. As the category continues to grow in popularity, the variety of corals available to hobbyists grows as well.

“At the end of the day, when it comes to keeping corals, it’s all about color,” said Michael Griffith, a marketing manager of Segrest Farms. “Coral frags provide a sustainable and environmentally friendly resource that, once the initial colonies are acquired, doesn’t require removing anything from the ocean.”

There are a rainbow of colors available, and the growth of coral frags has made it easier for customers to buy a variety without spending a fortune.

In addition to corals, exciting breakthroughs in captive breeding are making some species of fish more available to hobbyists. Griffith reports that after working out a few kinks, captive-bred yellow tangs are now available, and the University of Florida’s Tropical Aquaculture Lab saw success breeding blue tangs just this summer.

“It was a small batch, but I believe a handful will be making their way into the hobby,” Griffith said.

Keeping it Healthy
In addition to the colorful livestock, products available to help corals and other reef animals not thinkstockphotos-516429828only survive, but thrive, have helped advance the popularity of reef keeping. Foods designed specifically for the needs of reef animals help promote color and enhance growth, and there are a variety of options available. The Coral Food powder from Cobalt Aquatics is easy to feed, and its broad spectrum formula includes squid, salmon, krill, plankton, mussels, oysters and brine shrimp proteins, along with fish oil and spirulina algae, a mixture designed to stimulate growth and color. Another option comes from Reef Nutrition, with its unique Phyto Feast formula, which provides the nutritional power punch of algae rendered in a non-viable form that makes it more shelf stable and convenient. The company also has other foods in its product line, including Oyster Feast and Beta Brine, providing a full range of nutrition for feeding multiple species.

While nutrition is important, so is maintaining balance in a reef aquarium, and Seachem has two new products to help maintain healthy tanks. Reef Reactor is a high-purity aragonite calcium reactor media.

“This product is excellent at increasing and stabilizing alkalinity, which also supports a stable pH and encourages the rapid formation of coral skeletal material,” Griffin said.

The other new product, Biogen, is a carbon-based biopolymer designed to reduce nitrate and phosphate, which can enhance coral coloration and reduce nuisance coatings of rock and decorations.

Making it Easy
Other advances in the products targeted for reef keeping are making it easier for people new to the hobby to get involved and be successful. All-in-one kits that include lighting and filters are one way to encourage people to get started with reef keeping. Instant Ocean makes it easy to get your water ready for corals and other animals with its Reef Crystals Reef Salt, a formula with essential elements in concentrations greater than what is found in natural sea water with extra vitamins, calcium and trace elements to promote the growth of corals, anemones and other invertebrates. Kent Marine offers a Reef Starter Kit that pulls together three products that are important supplements for marine invertebrates: Kent Marine Liquid Calcium, Kent Marine Strontium & Molybdenum and Kent Marine Iodide.

You can also set up your own reef kits, making a display next to the reef aquariums in your store. Putting a filter, a pump, a marine LED light and some water treatment products in a tank makes a one-stop shopping opportunity for people interested in starting with reef keeping. And with reef keeping, as with all other categories of the aquarium hobby, customer education is key.

“We are lucky to have so many great aquarium stores around the country where people can go see corals and reef fish in real life, as well as get advice on how to set up and maintain a reef tank,” Griffin said. “It’s the people who patiently explain how to set up an aquarium and walk customers through the process that keep the hobby growing.”

Good and Simple

Fish food in flake form has been on shelves of retail establishments for more than 60 years. The thin wafers filled with nutritious elements fish need provide the ultimate in convenience for fish owners.

“Flakes and pellets can be manufactured in a variety of sizes, densities and formulations so that fish of all sizes and swimming levels can feed in ways natural to their needs,” said John Fox, division vice president of aquatic marketing at Spectrum Brands, Pet, Home & Garden Division. “Flakes are synonymous with consumers’ overall recognition of what fish food should look like, as this form has been accessible to fish keepers since the 1950s when Tetra brought the first manufactured fish food to market.”

The ease and convenience of flake food help make it one of the most popular types of food sold. The American Pet Products Association’s 2015-2016 National Pet Owners Survey found 77 percent of fish owners reported purchasing flake food, a number that has remained relatively stable in the previous three surveys. But just because the flake fish food category is already popular with customers, doesn’t mean manufacturers are resting on their laurels. This category still sees plenty of innovation, from additions of probiotics, vitamins and immune stimulants to new forms such as wafers and crisps, and even new packaging to make the products more attractive and informative for customers.

A Nutritional Boost
From yogurt to dog food, probiotics are making an impact on nutrition, and now these beneficial bacteria are making their way into fish food. Cobalt Aquatics was the first to add probiotics to its line of flake food, and now Seachem has also incorporated probiotics into its flake food varieties.

“Probiotics increase the efficiency of the digestive system by helping digestive enzymes break down the food into nutrients fish can absorb,” said Les Wilson, co-founder of Cobalt Aquatics. “Our research found this can lead to an increase in growth rate of up to 12 percent thanks to better use of the food’s nutrition.”

In addition to probiotics, Tetra has enriched some of its product lines with prebiotics, which act as a nutrient source to the beneficial bacteria already present in the gut. Unlike probiotics, prebiotics are not heat sensitive, which helps maintain the nutritional benefit through the manufacturing process and solves the issue of a limited shelf life of foods with probiotics.

Better digestion leads to another benefit: less waste in the tank. This provides a cleaner environment for fish, and also helps fish owners by cutting down on maintenance.

Probiotics aren’t the only healthy additions found in flake foods. Cobalt Aquatics is also well-known for its signature blue flake, which contains additional water-soluble vitamins and immune stimulants to help replace what is leached out as fish breathe through their gills. And Seachem’s NutriDiet flake food contains baseline ingredients including garlic, vitamin C and chlorella, which is an ingredient unique to Seachem. Chlorella is an algae that is high in protein and other essential nutrients, and also contains an ingredient called chlorella growth factor (CGF), which promotes faster-than-normal growth with a natural protein conversion.

Varieties Abound
While many customers are attracted to flake food because it is convenient and a good source of overall nutrition, it is still important to match the food to each species’ needs. Therefore, shelves are filled with different varieties of flake food rather than a one-type-fits-all food. Goldfish and betta foods are common, but you also find foods formulated for cichlids, discus and angel fish.

Cobalt Aquatics is taking nutrition a step further, reaching out to high-end customers with its new Ultimate Flakes. The line consists of two products: Ultimate Color and Ultimate Spirulina. These products were developed based on customer requests. The color enhancer adds more attractants to make the food appealing to the fish, as well as garlic to serve as an appetite stimulant. The spirulina formula will contain 21 percent spirulina, with an increased amount of fish oil and garlic for a high level of palatability.

“We realize these are attractive to a niche market, but by targeting hobbyists as our key customers and keeping them happy, we feel more people are exposed to the hobby and it keeps things growing,” Wilson said.

More than Flakes
These days, convenience food for fish comes in many forms, not just the traditional flake. Pellets are another popular form in this category—about 44 percent of fish owners bought pellets in the previous year, according to the 2015-2016 APPA survey. You’ll also find crisps, wafers, tablets, granules and medleys.

“There are many fish types, mouth types, species sizes and feeding levels within the water column,” Fox said. “Because of this, different fish have different feeding needs.”

The newest of these from Tetra are the crisps. These are sturdier than a traditional flake, which reduces particles in the aquarium at feeding time.

Another new product from Tetra is the Pro CoryWafers for loaches and catfish. This sinking food complements the already popular PlecoWafers, extending the line for the increasingly popular bottom feeders.

Seachem is also planning to expand beyond flakes, adding pellets to its line of NutriDiet foods in the coming year.

“Some people prefer pellets because they can float on top for surface feeders and sink for middle and bottom dwellers,” said Amanda Neese, supervisor of sales, support and education at Seachem Laboratories. “We want to be able to provide a variety of options for consumers.”

Liven Things Up
Food is a necessity, and something that brings customers into the store on a routine basis. But just because it’s something people have to get doesn’t mean the category should be taken for granted. Educate your staff about what’s new and the different nutritional benefits found in different types of food. With a little extra time and effort, you can help your customers optimize their feeding programs, ultimately ending up with healthier fish and happier customers.

Brushing Up

Combs and brushes provide the foundation for the at-home groomer’s kit. Although there is tremendous variety among consumers and the demands they place on the tools, there are a few basics that all combs and brushes need to hit: ease of use, comfort for both the dog and the owner, and affordability.

The right set of products in the grooming aisle can hit on all three of those main points. When it comes to the product mix, offering a variety is the solution to customer satisfaction. A solid assortment of traditional styles, new releases and fashion-forward products make up a successful mix.

Two-in-one brushes, like the flexible options from ActiVet, are perennial customer favorites and round out a well-curated product offering.

“ActiVet is the original flexible head, German grooming brush that will cut your brushing time in half,” said Chuck Simons, founder of Groomers Helper, distributor of ActiVet products. “With 40 percent of your non-bathing time spent undercoating, finish brushing or de-matting, the ActiVet brushes will give you back hours every single day that you can use to groom more dogs.”

Tammy Siert is an Andis Educator with more than 23 years of professional grooming experience. Siert began her competitive grooming career in 1994 and has competed around the United States and has represented GroomTeam USA. According to Siert, one of the most important sales tools for retailers is education: helping customers understand what each product is made to do.

Andis products are made to be used on any breed, plus there’s a variety of products to help every consumer have a choice.

“As a retailer, it’s important to understand the needs of the consumer,” Siert said. “Are they looking for a brush for a single or double coated breed? Do they want to remove dead undercoat? Or are they looking to remove matts? There are specific brushes and combs for each of those tasks, so you have to be cognizant of those priorities.”

“Many consumers believe that they only need to brush out their pets, but that’s not necessarily the case,” she added. “Combing is also just as important; they need to comb all the way to the skin. In order to meet the needs of consumers, retailers should be selling the consumer a comb to go along with the brush.”

That level of customer service—providing an education about each product for each customer’s specific pet—helps drive confidence among consumers. Since combs and brushes comprise a basic grooming kit that hopefully lasts, it’s important for the customer to understand how to use what they’re purchasing and ensure that they’ve made the right selection for their dog’s coat.

In addition, unique solutions appeal to customers who are looking for new, on-trend products.
According to Jay Michaelson, founder and CEO of HandsOn Gloves, there are three main factors that drive consumers to choose his product: convenience, time savings and sensitivity to natural care.

“We have [convenience and time saving] wrapped up with simply having a glove on each hand,” Michaelson said. “Grooming and bathing with two hands makes for a more efficient and thorough session. You can even handle shampoo bottles, lead ropes, leashes, control and support your animal all with your gloves on and not have to stop the process removing and picking up current-day tools. With the flexibility of the gloves and having nodules on the fingers, you can easily massage down to the skin coat all over your animals, releasing the natural essential oils all the way through to the surface coat. People are amazed at how shiny their furry friends get all over their bodies with just a few sessions.”

Michaelson said that a benefit of HandsOn Gloves is that they work for all breeds and other species, like cats.

“Some added benefits to the gloves we are hearing about range from double-coated breeds to long-haired cats,” he said. “On double-coated breeds, having our nodules on the fingers allows you to finally, easily reach through that second coat all the way to the skin, wet or dry. People are amazed how much dirt, dander and dead hair they are able to finally remove with the gloves.”

Whether your customers are looking for traditional products like those from ActiVet and Andis, or unique solutions like HandsOn Gloves, don’t forget the niche consumer—those shoppers who are interested in fashion-forward grooming trends. Currently, decorative cuts and artistic styles are rising in popularity.

“In the overall grooming industry, Asian-style grooming is a new trend, and Andis has some great combs that have a curved edge that are great for achieving the round face look that is so popular,” Siert said. “Consider merchandizing these products with your fashion apparel and accessories to offer the complete package to style-conscious customers.”

At the end of the day, it’s all about having the tools to keep pets primped.

“For at-home grooming specifically, the name of the game is maintenance,” Siert said. “Pet parents are looking for tools that will keep their pet looking and feeling great between visits to the groomer, and having the right brushes and combs are a critical piece of that pie.”


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