The Mars R&D Award is our signature, global program recognizing outstanding contributions that have delivered business impact. With more than 500 nominations, we’re introducing you to our final 12 recipients across four award categories.
What happens when a professional chef decides to leave the hospitality industry and pursue a master’s degree in food science? In Alison Smith’s case, it led to a fulfilling career at Mars where she’s making her mark in the world of product innovation.
For example, her brilliant work during the pandemic helped ensure business continuity when ingredient shortages threatened our ability to produce pantry staples. For Alison, it was critical we still deliver better food today for a better world tomorrow.
We sat down with the culinary creative to hear how she strives to bring an innovative flair to food, ensuring our products are the best they can be.
Question: Tell us about your role.
Answer: I work in product development for Mars Food. My goal is to inspire the business with what we can do in product innovation by using my culinary skills. Right now, our growth driver is rice, but we also have sauces, condiments, pot noodles, herbs and spices. I work to develop a brief description of the potential new product launches with the market and route it through to implementation.
Q: What drew you to Mars?
A: I actually have a hospitality degree and a master’s degree in culinary arts. I was working in the restaurant industry when I decided to change my career, travel and pursue a master’s degree in food science. I didn’t know much about this industry, but it seemed like a perfect fit; it was technical and creative. I’m drawn to research but loved that I’d still have an opportunity to work directly with food and keep cooking.
As a result, nearly six years ago I started as an intern here at Mars. My internship was all about tomatoes, which proved to be incredibly beneficial when the pandemic hit!
Q: Tell us why you received the award.
A: My main focus is innovation projects, and the award recognizes my contribution as a technical and culinary expert within our innovation pipeline. Products I worked to develop include DOLMIO® 7 Vegetables Pasta Sauce range, BEN’S ORIGINAL® Gut Health 10+ Variety Sides, SEEDS OF CHANGE® Supercharged Veg/ Tasty Grains, MIRACOLI® Ready to Heat Pasta and Sauce, SUZI WAN® Premium Pot Noodles and BEN’S ORIGINAL® Limited Editions.
When the pandemic hit, we started to see a lot of ingredient shortages, especially tomatoes. I quickly began working to manage different suppliers and determined how we’d optimize available ingredients in items like our DOLMIO® range of sauces. Anytime you’re reformulating, the goal is to ensure the consumer does not notice the change as they’re still getting the quality and taste they love.
My goal is to bring the culinary world into our product development program and inspire our stakeholders and customers.
Q: What do you love most about your work?
A: It truly marries my two passions, culinary arts and food science. I think a lot of times in product development, it’s easy to take insight from the consumer, work with marketing and go from there. But that’s what is so unique about our segment and my team in particular. We can bring in external influences – from our culinary partners such as the Basque Culinary Center, from restaurants, menu trends and ingredients – and we bring these to life in a more inspirational way.
Q: Why is R&D so important to Mars?
A: Our job is to make consumers’ lives better. Working in R&D, we have a huge opportunity to influence what people are cooking through our products and our brands. In turn, it guides the future of business. Our goal is to evolve with consumers’ changing needs – it’s how we stay relevant. We achieve this through research and development.