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Five Questions: Nulo’s Michael Landa

Glenn Polyn//February 27, 2020//

Five Questions: Nulo’s Michael Landa

Glenn Polyn //February 27, 2020//

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Michael Landa is the CEO of Nulo.

How would you describe NULO’s nutritional philosophy?
Given my long history and advocacy for feeding better foods, our approach to nutrition is simple and unwavering. In all of our recipes, we seek high-meat, low-carb, low-glycemic outcomes with functional ingredients that are viable and contribute on an as-fed basis, not simply shoved in a premix at 0.01 percent to make the label. For me, it’s all about the nutrition that ends up in the bowl, period. Pets rely on us to get this right.

In particular, two areas are of utmost importance:

First, protein—we’re industry leaders in terms of animal-based protein percentage in all of our recipes. Our dogs and cats thrive on meat, fish and poultry, and it’s the only way they can get the complete amino acid profile they require to build and repair their bodies. They simply can’t get the optimal amino acid complement from less expensive vegetable-protein sources like pea and potato protein.

Conversely, stringing together 10 “fresh” meats in a row to manage the way the bag reads is a shortsighted approach that doesn’t benefit the very dogs and cats we’re trying to feed better food to. Whether fresh meat or whole blueberries, consideration of water content and its form of the ingredient should be taken into consideration when formulating—otherwise we’re simply selling expensive water to consumers. That’s why Nulo provides the perfect balance of fresh inclusion for palatability along with high levels of dehydrated meats to deliver the most elevated levels of dry matter protein to the bowl where it’s needed most.

Second, carbohydrates—as the pendulum swings back and forth between grain-free and grain-inclusive, our conviction is that the actual conversation that needs to be occurring is about how much carbohydrates are being used in our pet’s diets. By formulating low carb, and using only low-glycemic ingredients like sweet potatoes, barley, oats and lentils, Nulo’s diets help to reduce the risk of obesity and other weight-related issues—a driving force behind why Nulo launched the brand over 10 years ago.

How have your Frontrunner and Challenger lines performed since they were launched last year?
We launched these two new grain-inclusive lines at SuperZoo and felt strongly that they would resonate given the ongoing conversations surrounding DCM. We were not wrong. Frontrunner is our value-premium grain-inclusive offering that stays true to our nutritional platform (delivers 77 percent animal-based protein), and Challenger sets a new standard for an ultra-high meat, organic-grain based diet with up to 90 percent animal-based protein. Both of these solutions complement our FreeStyle grain-free line nicely and offer different and unique solutions at different price points.

Frontrunner shipped first, starting in October, and has far exceeded our initial forecasts—in fact, by almost three times! Independent retailers have commented that they are now able to compete effectively in this segment, some commenting that many of their customers who did not previously purchase consumables in their stores have now switched to Frontrunner for their dogs and are thrilled with the results that they are seeing. Replenishment levels for Frontrunner are already at record highs.

Challenger just began shipping at the end of November, and it is being met with open arms by Independents seeking an ultra-premium alternative that’s grain-inclusive (organic grains) and with up to 90 percent animal-based protein levels. Furthermore, a free bag recycling program and a commitment not to sell this line to national or third-party e-commerce providers like Amazon or Chewy has made this lineup even more attractive to many independent retailers.

Q4 orders for Frontrunner and Challenger accelerated Nulo’s overall growth in 2019 to north of 40 percent versus prior year—an indication that 2020 is going to be a strong year for both of these product lines, for both Nulo and its supporting retail partners alike.

What can you tell us about NULO’s Mix-It Meals?
We believe that today’s consumers are seeking more engaging and exciting natural food solutions that are quick to prepare, healthy and that provide functional variety in their pet’s diet. Our Mix-It Meals Program provides solutions and DIY recipes that have been delighting consumers across the nation and providing a platform for promoting a wide assortment of super-premium products that can be used to enhance and customize a pet’s diet.

The breadth of our product portfolio provides more than 300 unique recipe combinations, such as Turkey Kibble with Freeze-Dried Lamb & Raspberries, hydrated with grass-fed beef bone broth and topped with wild mackerel, chicken and mussels. For nearly two years now, we’ve been inspiring pet parents to add variety to their pet’s diets as a way to further increase daily protein consumption, hydration and, importantly, to help them engage more with their pet at mealtime.

Retailers love Nulo’s Mix-It approach, as we’ve been able to demonstrate meaningful lifts in basket-build and productivity gains—unlike they’ve ever seen before. Now, rather than simply purchasing kibble and calling it a day, they’re reaching for the freeze-dried food, broths and meat pouches to create these special experiences for their dogs and cats.

How does NULO help drive traffic to independent retailers?
Our unique positioning and marketing activation strategy makes us one of the few brands that has the ability to authentically drive new consumers into indie doors. In fact, we’ve won several industry awards for our traffic-driving campaigns, partnerships and activities. We deploy localized, integrated marketing tactics that support retailers and that embrace our partnership together. We see measurable results in terms of traffic, trial, conversion and loyalty.

In addition, retailer education and product development collaboration have always been core values of Nulo, and with the changing market demands, we’ve taken steps to ensure we have the best tools to be able to reinforce our ability to adapt and to stay on the front lines of new trends. We’ve also implemented on-demand educational resources for retail associates to encourage continuous learning opportunities—both for industry related topics as well as Nulo-specific training to help convert the customers we’re investing to drive into the door.

What roles have your dogs played in your company?
Dogs and cats in general have played a huge part. My inspiration for Nulo stemmed from the decade I spent founding and running one of the nation’s largest at-home pet care businesses. During this period, I witnessed firsthand (with 18,000+ dogs and cats under my company’s care) the silent epidemic of pet obesity and the rapid rise of diabetes fueled by low-meat, high-carb, high-glycemic foods marketed as “premium.” These dogs and cats were the spark that led me to act, along with my then 6-month old English Labrador, Max the III.

Max the III was the most amazing wingman a CEO could ever hope for. He was with me 24/7 for 12 years, and he absolutely loved the time he would spend at the office—greeting employees, playing with the other office dogs and serving as our Chief Tasting Officer since Day 1. Max also served as a guiding force for all new product development. In fact, before any Nulo product goes to market, I always run it through the filter of “Would I feed it to Max?” When I lost him in July of 2018, it created a huge void in both my personal and work life.

Over the holidays, I welcomed Max the IV into my home—along with his brother, Yogi. They’ve been the most magnificent additions and certainly made for a super busy ending to 2019! Apart from the companions that they are, these two pups will serve as daily constant reminders to me of the awesome responsibility we all have in this industry to act as advocates for pets who have no voice about what we’re putting into their bowls each and every day. They count on us to get it right, and there’s no greater reminder than two sets of big brown eyes staring up at you to keep your integrity intact and your focus on the real issues at hand.