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.
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.