It isn’t always clear to retailers any more than their customers, which koi food to stock. Retail outlets vary in size and mission, but all want to make money selling the most popular foods that generate repeat sales. So what are some of the questions a retailer needs to ask when making their choice of koi foods to stock? The following is a list of some questions that Joe Pawlak, president of Blackwater Creek Koi Farms answered.
Q. How do we make money selling fish food?
An essential ingredient for anyone seeking to profit from selling fish food over a long period of time is to offer a fresh and reasonably priced product that fish like. If the fish don’t like or eat the food they won’t grow nearly as well, which will likewise slow the growth of the food sales. Price should be commensurate with quality and we provide a competitively priced good quality food. If price goes up it is a reflection of cost, as we do not purchase ingredients based solely upon the lowest price, but maintain the same suppliers, which aids in ensuring product consistency.
Q. For us to make money is it as simple as marking up bags of food Blackwater Creek supplies?
In a way yes. We have done the research and dietary formulations over the years to get it right. Much of the advertising has already been done by Blackwater Creek. Put it on the shelf and it somewhat sells itself without much more being needed to make satisfactory repeat sales. Knowledgeable customer service staff with accurate and adequate information about the product is also important.
Q. Since Blackwater Creek is principally a koi farm is this same food fed to your farm fish?
Our main goal originally was to raise fish, which benefits from our expansion into production of economical high quality food that is fresh made every 30 days or so. Our standard food formula available for sale to retail customers is what we feed at the farm day in and day out. In peak season we may feed over a thousand pounds of this food per day to our farm fish that are in high demand nationwide.
Q. How did you adjust your food ingredients for the retail consumer?
Our standard food formula fed at the farm is the same sold to retail customers with the exception of the packaging, which for retail is a little, flashier. At the farm when we open a 40lb. bag the whole thing is used the same day, whereas a retail 40lb. bag has a resealable zip top on a five layer plastic-lined paper bag designed to keep the food fresh over a longer period of time.
Our special formulas have been modified for retail sales as with the color enhancing food, which contains spirulina and krill meal. In that formula we have added enough of these special ingredients to increase the color, but not so much so that we would call it a pump-up diet that might for example bring out red that then turned to yellow. The color enhancing food is somewhat of the icing on the cake. It will allow the fish to color up without over coloring. We also produce a medicated food formula with special ingredients to benefit in the recovery of ailing fish.
Q. Some people believe a quality koi food floats for a long time. What is the true relationship of floating to quality?
Our food floats for 20 minutes or so. Some foods float longer because they have more binders in them. Our aim is to put nutritional ingredients in our food versus binders. Some manufacturers use feather meal and puff the pellets using a higher steam temperature to float the food longer. Those techniques are good for making the food float, but bad for the nutritional value of the ingredients. The higher the cooking temperatures the more nutrients are lost especially vitamins. We use as low a cooking temperature as possible to get our product to float for a moderate amount of time and avoid fillers.
Q. Some koi food manufacturers use tricks involving fragrance and food color to sell their food. Do you believe the fish enjoy the fragrance and color? Do you use tricks to sell this food?
Fragrance is important. Garlic, krill meal, algae, and certain other ingredients are high attractants for koi. Fish like certain flavors more than others and some food manufacturers likely target the taste of the customer rather than the koi. Food color is not important to koi. They don’t care if the food is dyed green, red, or otherwise. We do not use any dyes other than what is naturally in the ingredients. Where manufacturers add color it is likely used to appeal to the eye of the customer rather than for the benefit of the fish. There is only so much space in a food pellet and our dietary formulations were developed to maximize the benefit to koi nutrition and taste. As fish farmers we focus on what works versus hype.
Q. Why shouldn’t we build our koi food business on the tricks some food producers’ use? Aren’t these things always going to work in generating customers?
We’ve generated sales over a long period of time based on what works. People try our food and like the price and how their fish enjoy it and grow. We are looking at long-term sales versus making a fast buck.
Q. If we order a shipment how old can we expect it to be upon arrival?
Food shipped out for retail sales are likely to have been manufactured within the last 30 days. This is an added benefit of purchasing Blackwater Creek Koi Farms food as we do not use a batch process or delineate between food produced for the farm and wholesale distribution. Whereas, some suppliers may provide food already aged six to 12 months our domestic supply that is fed our fish everyday is always fresh for shipment.