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.
For a decade, Laetitia has been pushing innovation and pet nutrition. And as the Global Innovation Program Manager for Wet Cat Food, she’s reimagining our portfolio to better connect with pet parents. Her work on WHISKAS® Nova made her an obvious choice for an R&D Award. We sat down with her to talk about how she and her team are keeping the portfolio relevant.
Question: Tell us about your role.
Answer: I’m part of the Global Innovation Team for Wet Pet Food based in Verden, Germany, where I lead the Cat Innovation Program. Innovation is a great, cross-functional business process from idea to launch. We collaborate and lead the product design and validation portion of the project then work with our colleagues in different regions to tackle the ongoing effort keeping our brands relevant and in the lead. The best way to do that? Solve a pain point for our consumers.
Q: Tell us about your award-winning project.
A: It’s called WHISKAS® Nova – as in new innovation. The focus has been to revitalize the WHISKAS® brand by creating an even better-quality product while keeping it affordable. Amid all of this, we knew we wanted to regain leadership in the cat category – all of which we did.
It was important that we consult cat parents throughout the project. We also had an excellent cross-functional global and regional R&D team identifying product sweet spots: the apex of what cats and consumers love and the right nutrition to meet cats’ needs. An even bigger challenge? Making that product affordable.
Turning the new WHISKAS® into a tangible project meant launching a brand new technological platform — one we hope to eventually see across the business. It’s a platform for enzymatic transformation of the cat food formula. We transformed the ingredients during this process to create preferred flavor compounds for cats while improving the smell for cat parents.
We also developed a new way to help our manufacturing teams with quality control. They created an application used on mobile devices to leverage artificial intelligence to compare pictures of the food with the key quality attributes. This digitalization of quality assurance is something that we will continue to drive and expect to help our factories to deliver the highest quality every day.
Q: What do you love most about your work?
A: I’m driven by passion, and I’m very passionate about what I do. Every day is different, so my work always feels fresh. I love working with diverse and cross-functional teams – I get to cross collaborate with experts across regions. I especially love working with pets and pet parents; bringing them the newest innovations drives me.
Q: What ignited your passion for R&D?
A: I’m a consumer, and I want input into what I consume. I love everything about consumer insight and how to turn that into meaningful product proposition prototyping — how to make someone’s thoughts tangible.
I often look at it like baking: baking a cake is fun, but the best part is watching your friends and family taste it. Knowing you put together something wonderful for people you care about is fulfilling. That’s how I feel about my role in R&D.
Q: Your award was in the “Stay Relevant” category. How are you working today to build a better world for pets tomorrow?
A: For the last decade, we’ve been working to improve our market share in the cat category. WHISKAS® Nova has put us back on top. It was a big win in the market, but it’s also been a big win for us as a business. We understand how to reach our audience. We’ve demonstrated we know what consumers want, how to turn that into a proposition, validate it and then take it into production. We’re seeing a lot of growth in this category, and that enables us to apply similar techniques to crack the code in other categories.
Q: Why is this award so meaningful?
A: Through the entire development journey, consumers were at the command, from the exploration up to the validation – we designed and validated not just a product, but a product experience. We created a robust learning plan, leveraging new methodologies that gave us evidence that WHISKAS® Nova delivers a new consumer experience preferred over our key competitor.
A large part of my work is to overcome challenges – I love finding the best way to do something. It’s great getting to share the wins with a team. We have a great spirit and culture, and that builds trust. That trust and partnership blossoms to allow the business to trust us, and that’s when we see true change. I think it’s all these things that make a difference in what we do every day, and that makes this award meaningful.