The first specialist Koi foods were imported into the UK from Japan in late 1974 by the late Malcolm Hardy who had an ornamental and tropical fish outlet in London named Aquatic Nurseries. I believe his son Neil is still involved in very rare tropical species of fish today.
Before then some avid UK Koi keepers fed goldfish flake foods and small pellets made by members and breeders of the Goldfish Society of Great Britain. However, the vast majority of UK Koi enthusiasts used all kinds of feed ranging from processed peas; boiled pearl barley (still an excellent winter choice); worms; maggots; bread; prawns and assorted table scraps.
Malcolm, after his first visit to Japan, introduced ’Hikari Specialist Koi Foods’ into the UK to a real minority of Koi fanatics, myself included. The market in those days was tiny so Malcolm filled the remainder of his container space with other rare items such as Japanese Koi nets; Zeolite; granite lanterns; Silkworm Pupae; Masoten; Koi books and other items previously unobtainable here.
It was word of mouth that told us in advance when new shipments of Koi food would be arriving and a telephone call with a cheque in the post secured our orders. There were three choices on offer namely ‘Hikari Staple’ – the cheapest; ‘Hikari Wheatgerm’ and ‘Hikari Gold’. In later years we discovered that the ‘Staple’ was a recipe for all kinds of pond fish whilst ‘Wheatgerm’ was made specially for Koi as was ‘Gold’ – the first attempt at a colour enhancing recipe which included ‘carotin’ said to improve pigmentation. Real enthusiasts in those early years used ‘Wheatgerm’ for winter and ‘Gold’ for warmer periods. (One of the sales staff employed by Malcolm back then was Val Frost who later, along with Roland Seal, Peter Reynolds and myself, formed the Judging and Standards team of the British Koi Keeper’s Society.)
My first visit to Japan in 1977 took us to Himeji City where we paid a visit to Mr. Kamihata’s first pet shop in a lovely arcade before being taken to see his home, his Koi ponds and the Koi auction site nearby. The Koi hobby in Japan was at fever pitch in those days and demand for his Koi foods was staggering. A few years later, Mr. Kamihata opened a state-of-the-art breeding facility at Yamazaki where he went on to produce many Koi over the next decade or so.
As an aside here and as far as I know today, Kamihata is, by far, the largest importer and distributor of ornamental fish into Japan.
I opened Infiltration to the public in May 1982 with shelves piled high with Kamihata Koi foods I had imported from Japan before the days when there were no official overseas distributors for these products. In 1983 Kamihata added ‘Excel’ Koi food to his range but only available in medium pellet size.
It was later I learned that ‘Excel’ was the only Kamihata product not manufactured by his factory (Kyorin) and was instead made under license and owned by the Yeaster Company of Japan. The name of ‘Excel’ was owned by Kamihata but not the recipe. This recipe was the first to use very expensive, dried ‘spirulina seaweed’ from Mexico in its production as a natural form of colour enhancer that did not deteriorate in the manufacturing process as did carotin. The very expensive ‘Excel’ soon became the very best Koi food money could buy and was used exclusively by all the leading collectors of the day despite the high price.
It was in 1984 when Kamihata Fish Industries Ltd. appointed their distributors on a ‘One Distributor to One Country’ basis which has been rigorously upheld since then. Pedigree Wholesale in Nottingham became the UK distributor and has held that position in the market since then. In that same year after realising my direct supply of Kamihata Foods would be no more; I visited the Yeaster factory in Japan to try a possible new avenue in which to get a supply of a very good specialist Koi food from Japan to the UK.
(Before then, I had exhausted my patience in contacting and visiting ‘food makers’ in the UK. Without exception they all advised me that they could manufacture the very best Koi foods possible for my Koi and at incredibly low prices to boot. They could make it in any colour; any shape; any size; floating; sinking etc. etc. etc. They could make food for trout; salmon; dogs; cats; sheep; pigs; horses and just about anything that needed to eat. When I asked if they had ever made foods for Koi they said ‘They could adapt to anything’. After that off-the-cuff reply I then decided Japan was my only way to proceed.)
My two day visit to Yeaster was an eye-opener for me and, like Kyorin, the specialised in fish feeds only which ranged from their cheapest ‘Koi’ foods namely ‘Green’ and ‘Gold’ sold in 500gram plastic packs right through to very expensive recipes indeed. Their well-equipped laboratories were incredibly spotless with white-uniformed technicians all going about their business and this vital cleanliness went right through to all stages of preparation and production. It was then that the UK ‘manufacturers’ and their grubby wooden sheds brought an immediate awareness to me that my decision to seek Japanese-made foods had been correct. After the first morning there I was taken to lunch by an English-speaking member of the sales team when I casually mentioned that I was looking for the very best Koi food possible that I could buy and import to the UK. He looked back at me with eyes wide open and then asked if I was serious.
It was right then that my ‘Koi Food learning curve began’!