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Velissariou Joins Mars As Global Corporate R&D VP, Chief Science Officer

Velissariou Mars

Mars has hired Dr. Maria Velissariou as the new VP of global corporate research and development (R&D) and chief science officer. She joins Mars on Sept. 13 and will lead its enterprise-wide approach to quality and food safety, scientific and regulatory affairs and deliver Mars’ R&D strategy in partnership with its business segments. Velissariou will report to Jean-Christophe Flatin, president of innovation, science, technology and Mars Edge and will partner with David Crean, the existing Mars chief science officer and VP of corporate R&D as a transition to his retirement in April 2021.

Most recently, Velissariou was the chief science and technology officer at the Institute of Food Technologists, where she oversaw science, technology and policy strategies, advocated for the science of food and partnered with stakeholders across industry, academia, government and non-profits to advance the food system. She is a long-time advocate for science, technology, engineering and math programs, as well as initiatives to enhance diversity in business. Velissariou currently serves on the board of directors of the Chicago Council for Science and Technology and is a member of the Women Business Collaborative leaders’ circle.

“On behalf of the Mars community, we’re excited to welcome Maria and look forward to her leadership in continuing to invest in our R&D and science agenda,” said Flatin. “Given her past experiences, Maria is well-positioned to ensure we continue to evaluate and apply external provocation, learn from and expand our specialized network of expert peers while attracting world-class talent. At the same time, I want to recognize the 34 years of stellar contributions by David Crean. I’d like to personally express my deepest gratitude to David on behalf of the entire Mars Leadership Team for decades of friendship, caring leadership and his ability to embody Mars’ Five Principles in how he championed quality and food safety within Mars and across the industry.”

“With global population growth and increase of supply chain complexities, I’m motivated by the legacy of resource, reach and commitment of Mars to make a meaningful impact on the food industry,” said Velissariou. “As such, I’m honored and excited to join Mars and its dynamic community of associates to build upon their momentum of positively disrupting the industry to stay relevant with consumers while ensuring the best-in-class quality and food safety practices.”

Before IFT, Velissariou served in global corporate roles spanning industries and functions. As VP for nutrition R&D at PepsiCo, she was responsible for global grains, dairy and cohort platforms. Earlier in her career, she held various R&D positions at Kraft Foods in coffee, refreshment beverages, cheese and dairy, and ingredient research. She also has led supplier relationship management in procurement, worked as a manufacturing engineer and holds three patents. Velissariou earned a Ph.D. and master’s degree in biochemical engineering from the University of Birmingham and a B.Eng. in chemical engineering from the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki.

Crean’s impact at Mars and on the R&D community

During his career at Mars,  Crean has become a globally recognized expert in R&D with particular expertise in food safety. He joined Mars from the UK Public Health Laboratory service, working as a shift microbiologist in Slough, UK. From there, Crean took on leadership positions in developing markets and newly acquired businesses, rising through the ranks and working in several of Mars’ business segments.

Crean’s many contributions to the company include developing novel analytical techniques, establishing global technology and research platforms, and many product and business innovations. More recently, he was the leader behind the further enhancement of Mars’ approach to food safety and quality. Crean led the development of Mars’ Quality Management Process. His vision and passion supported the creation of Mars’ Global Food Safety Center, a center of research excellence focusing on groundbreaking technology breakthroughs and external collaboration. He also established many of the fundamental policies helping to guide and shape Mars’ highly principled approach to science. 

“It has been a real privilege to work at Mars for the past 34 years, as well as a fantastic journey,” said Crean. “I have witnessed first-hand the positive societal impact Mars brings to the communities it operates in, and I feel proud to have made my own contribution to that. I will always have an emotional connection to this truly special company.”

Crean’s impact also has been felt outside the company at organizations including the World Food Program, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Health Organization, where he has been an active contributor on quality and food safety, as well as driving the connection between food safety and food security.

Based in McLean, Virginia, Mars produces brands such as Dove, Extra, M&M’s, Milky Way, Snickers, Twix, Orbit, Pedigree, Royal Canin, Skittles, Uncle Ben’s, Whiskas, Cocoavia and 5 gum. It also takes care of half the world’s pets through its nutrition, health and services businesses, including AniCura, Banfield Pet Hospitals, BluePearl, Linnaeus and VCA.

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