Nulo Pet Food R&D Director finds product development inspiration at Petfood Forum


Petfood Forum recently spoke with Heather Acuff, Ph.D., director of research & development at Nulo Pet Food, to learn about her experiences building relationships and learning about the newest pet-focused research at the annual event.

Petfood Forum: When did you first attend Petfood Forum? What was your industry role or student status at that time, and what is your role now?

Acuff: My first Petfood Forum experience was in 2012. At the time, I was the customer care manager at Natural Balance Pet Foods (Burbank, CA) and working towards my master’s degree in monogastric nutrition at Cal Poly Pomona. Today, I am the Director of Research & Development at Nulo Pet Food (Austin, TX) with a Ph.D. in Grain Science & Industry from Kansas State University. The incredible journey I’ve had over the last 10 years is a testament for anyone looking to expand their academic and professional development at the same time. It may take a little longer, but it is certainly possible and can be a lot of fun when you set your mind to it.

Petfood Forum: Can you give us an update on any student research you presented at Petfood Forum?

Acuff: Over the past three years, the student research I’ve had the honor of presenting at Petfood Forum was focused on the application of probiotics in commercial pet foods. There are a lot of benefits to incorporating functional ingredients like probiotics into foods, treats and supplements for our dogs and cats, but ensuring viability of these delicate organisms is a real challenge. One of the highlights that came out of my work was the confirmation that the spore-based Bacillus coagulans strain can survive the extrusion and drying process of pet food kibble production, but the extent of survival is dependent on several operational variables of the system. This type of research is useful for the industry as we work to bring innovative products to market.

Petfood Forum: Why do you continue to attend Petfood Forum, and why should pet food industry professionals join us?

Acuff: I attend Petfood Forum for several reasons, not the least of which is a commitment to a career of continuous learning. There are no other forums that present research more relevant to the scientific progress of the pet food industry. I find it incredibly valuable to learn what, and to see the collaborative work of industry, universities and regulatory agencies that come together with the common goal of improving the lives of our companion animals while driving the health and growth of a dynamic industry.

For pet food industry professionals that haven’t attended before, Petfood Forum is a great place to network in person with industry stakeholders, ranging from ingredient suppliers, equipment manufacturers, consultants, and much, much more. For myself, I can meet with several of our company’s suppliers, reconnect with friends, learn about the newest pet-focused research, and get inspired to develop new products that will help to address market gaps.

Petfood Forum: What’s your recommendation for Kansas City fun during Petfood Forum in May?

Acuff: For first-timers visiting Kansas City, don’t miss out on Fiorella’s Jack Stack Barbecue – it’s one of my favorites. There’s a restaurant location just a short distance from the convention center with a nice outdoor patio to meet with friends and friends and colleagues while enjoying some great food and beverages.

About Petfood Forum

The 30th anniversary of Petfood Forum is scheduled for May 2-4 at the Kansas City Convention Center in Kansas City, Missouri, USA. Petfood Forum includes an agenda packed with opportunities to network and collaborate with industry professionals, learn the latest in pet food innovation and discover new tools for business success.

Register here to make history at Petfood Forum