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UCLA

A Solution for Pudgy Pets

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By Paul Feinberg '85

Published Jan 1, 2016 8:00 AM


Entrepreneur Michael Landa M.B.A. '95 wants your pet to eat better too.

art

Illustration by Peter Arkle.

It feels like some late-night TV parody: a pet food company inspired by obese dogs.

But Nulo is no joke. Nulo Pet Food is the brainchild of Michael Landa M.B.A. ’95. Teaching pet owners new dietary tricks while getting the pet food name brands to roll over, however, was not part of his original plan.

Landa earned a degree in electrical and biomedical engineering at Boston University and then worked for Xerox, GE, Sony and Universal.

But a road trip changed his career path. Forced to cancel a flight to Colorado because his labrador retriever, Max II, was too sick to fly, Landa searched unsuccessfully for a sitter, then drove to Colorado with his dog in tow. Hours on the road gave him time to contemplate L.A.’s limited pet-sitting options, and the executive became an entrepreneur.

His first venture, a pet-sitting business, exposed him to lots of overweight and diabetic pets. Voila! Nulo Pet Food was born.

“I had witnessed dogs and cats getting diabetes from their high-carb, high-glycemic diets,” he says. “When we [created] our formula, we recognized that dogs and cats need a diet high in quality proteins. About 80 to 85 percent of Nulo’s protein is derived from poultry, fish and meat — an industry high.”

But it takes more than a healthy product to stand out in the crowded pet food space. “Five companies control 80 percent of pet food sales,” says Landa. “We needed to break through the clutter of billion-dollar companies.”

Nulo took a multipronged approach to reaching customers, distributing one product line, Nulo FreeStyle, in independent pet stores. A separate product line, Nulo MedalSeries, sold exclusively through PetSmart, helps Nulo to scale its reach without alienating its indie following. An innovative marketing approach featuring familiar faces from the sports world helps build the brand.

“A lot of people don’t know how to read labels,” Landa says. “But athletes do. They understand how to evaluate food because they do it for themselves.”

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