Kara Nielsen is a food and beverage trend expert with over a decade of experience translating trends for strategic brand growth and innovative product development. She is Vice President, Trends & Marketing at CCD Innovation, a strategic food and beverage innovation agency based in Emeryville. Kara also has experience creating and sharing consumer and culinary trend content at Innova Market Insights, Sterling-Rice Group and CEB Iconoculture Consumer Insights. Her success at placing trends in a larger societal and cultural context comes from her background in culinary arts and restaurant hospitality as well as her Master’s degree studies in Gastronomy at Boston University. Kara serves as the Secretary of the SFPSF Board and is also a member of IACP, WCR and Les Dames.

Kara Nielsen CCD Innovation F_MD

When did you first decide you wanted to make food your career?

I was a French major in college and lived abroad junior year. While I always loved baking, I gained a deep appreciation for the food history and culture I witnessed in France and found my way to food some years after graduating and spending more time living in France and traveling abroad.


How did you get where you are today in the food business?

For many years, I wasn’t sure where my various work experiences would lead, but I followed my heart and palate as I worked in restaurants, then at Sur La Table in the cooking program, then Scharffen Berger Chocolate Maker. I applied my organizational skills to food program management at Copia: The American Center for Wine, Food & the Arts, where I tapped into food culture and education in a significant way. This led to my decision to pursue a master’s degree in gastronomy at Boston University, with the intention of teaching food history and culture to culinary arts students. That job still barely exists, so I lucked out when I landed a one-of-a- kind position as a food and beverage industry market researcher for a new food product development agency in San Francisco. As the “trendologist,” I applied my culinary knowledge, my food industry connections, my graduate research and writing skills, and my interest in teaching others about cool things I learned to the world of food trends. All the threads of my professional experience were woven together in this role. It’s been nearly a dozen years now and I still love tracking and translating trends for the industry.


What is the most exciting thing going on in food right now, in your opinion?

Amazing artisan baking of all kinds of things, and doing so with local or heritage wheat.


What advice do you have for young people who want a career in food.

Spend some kind in a kitchen or culinary training program. Having a professional understanding

of food preparation offers long-standing insight to all kinds of elements of the food industry.


What condiment is always in your refrigerator.

Maille Dijon mustard for homemade vinaigrette.


What was your first cookbook?

A Betty Crocker Cookbook; I still use a few recipes from it!


What cookbook could not live without?

My own notebooks of recipes I created during seven years as a pastry chef. The pages are

splattered and tattered and some nearly indecipherable, but they are cherished and much used.


What is your go-to recipe for entertaining?

Gougères, if I’m not making a pie.


Where do you shop for food?

Berkeley Bowl, Monterey Market and Trader Joe’s.


What project are you working on today and how will it impact your


I’m getting CCD Innovation’s 2018 Food Trends That Matter ready to release…always a daunting yet fun process to think about what’s coming up and could hit in the next year, and what I want to research deeply and talk about for months.


Have you held SFPFS board positions in the past? Which ones?

I was the Event Chair in 2007-2009 and am proud of some sensational programs we created during those pre-recession years, featuring food luminaries such as Jacques Pepin, Martin Yan, and Jonathan Gold. I’m currently board Secretary.


What have I gained from being a member of the SFPFS?

I have met many talented and dedicated food professionals over the years and learned about all sorts of different food professions. I have also enjoyed learning from a host of food experts on food tours, Traveling Table meals and panels.