November 2, 2015

Most of us probably don’t give it much thought, but the invention of flaked fish food by Dr. Ulrich Baensch in the 1950s was quite possibly the single most important event in making aquarium keeping possible for home hobbyists. From those early days, technology, coupled with our understanding of the specific dietary needs of individual fish species, has resulted in dry fish foods that are state-of-the-art, convenient to use and nutritionally complete. A basic understanding of fish foods, the nutritional needs of the fish and the lifestyles of home aquarists will give independent aquatic retailers a leg up on big box stores and online vendors.

Knowledge and personal attention is what drives most consumers to shop at their local fish store versus mass merchandisers or e-vendors, so your sales staff need to ask the right questions and make sure your customers have the right foods for their fish.

“Take the time to understand the customers’ needs and application,” said Phil Bartoszek, product manager at Elive Pet Products. “Ask them about what species they are keeping, what foods they are currently feeding and what they like or don’t like about the current foods they are offering their fish. With this information you can make suggestions of new and different foods for them to try and explain why they will be better or different in a way that will resonate with them.”

With the variety of ornamental fish available in today’s hobby, retailers need to be able to accommodate a wide range of dietary needs.

“Offering a variety of foods designed to feed different types of fish ensures that all shoppers’ needs will be met at the store,” said Andy Hudson, product validation at Central Garden and Pet.

“The food should be nutritionally balanced for the type of fish that the consumer keeps and also the appropriate size,” said Scott Rabe, director of marketing at Central Garden and Pet.

An easy way to introduce new foods to your customers is to let them see them in action.

“Having some store-use samples of the range of fish foods you sell can go a long way. Not only will your employees learn more about the different foods as they feed them in store, but you can show the customer how a food feeds in person before they buy,” Bartoszek said. “When a customer is buying new fish you can send them home with the exact same food those fish are currently feeding on. This may not only get them to try a new food, but also ensures the fish will feed well for them at home and improve their success rate.”

The first flake and pelleted fish foods were ‘one-size-fits-all’ products, however, today’s product lines are tailored to not only provide the nutritional needs of specific types of fish, but also to accommodate their feeding methods in nature.

For example, Hikari offers a wide range of specially formulated pellet and wafer foods. They come in both floating and sinking formats and are available in a variety of sizes to accommodate any feeding strategy, any nutritional preference and any sized fish. Most Hikari foods are packaged in small, medium and large pouches, designed to meet the needs and budget of virtually any hobbyist.

The use of probiotics is becoming more popular as well.

“Cobalt’s flakes and pellets all include probiotic bacteria that help support a healthy digestive system,” said Les Wilson of Cobalt Aquatics.  “In addition, every flavor also features the Cobalt Blue Flake or pellet that is 20 percent of blend. The Cobalt Blue Flake and Pellets have a triple dose of vitamins and immunostimulants that support the fishes’ healthy and active immune system above and beyond regular foods.”

Another key factor in successful flake and pellet food sales is effective merchandising.

“Great merchandising can always increase sales,” Wilson said. “Consider shifting your merchandising of food from organizing by brand to by flavor or vice-versa to create new excitement in the set. Take advantage of help from manufacturers’ reps’ willingness to reset the section for you and include POP materials like headers and danglers. Keep shelves well stocked and product fronted. Highlight at chest to eye-level the brands you want to push and recommend, and put other brands that you decide to carry lower in the merchandising set.”

Deciding what flake and pellet foods to carry in your store can be a challenge.

“Buyers should consider product features that will appeal to the full range of their clientele, from the first time aquarist to the seasoned hobbyist,” Bartoszek said. “Although high-end ingredients and premium features may be important for some advanced customers, they may be unnecessary or too complicated for entry-level customers who just want something easy. By offering a range of products and price points you can guarantee you will have the right combination of performance and features for every customer’s feeding application.”

When it comes to competing with big box stores and e-vendors, Wilson had some advice.

“Stores should also think about the distribution of the brand and if the consumer will look to them as the source of the food for repeat business,” he said.

With proper understanding of fish nutrition, solid staff training, strategic product selection and effective merchandising, retailers can keep their customers coming back to them for all their fish food needs.

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