Her Career: Chef Consultant and Food Trend Expert Dana McCauley

We chatted with Dana McCauley – Food Trend Expert, Founder of Food Trend TV, and Executive Director of Food Starter. Dana’s position is such a mindblower because of how incredibly specific and timely it is. She started out in a kitchen after going to chef school, and then went into publishing with a focus on food. Today she runs her own consumer consulting company and helps food brands determine what to put on grocery shelves. Here she speaks to how she landed in her unique job setting and gives us some food trends to watch out for.

SDTC: Tell us about your career path. How is where you ended up different from where you expected to be?

DM: I am doing things today that in my twenties I had never even heard of. I went to chef school to get my cooking credentials up to market quality and from there worked at Pronto, a very influential restaurant in Toronto at the time. Although it was a great experience, I realized quickly that the path to being a top chef was a difficult one. So, when an opportunity arose to work at Canadian Living Magazine in the Test Kitchen, I seized it! There, I learned about recipe writing, photography and so much more, which led to me becoming a freelance food writer.

As a freelancer, I hated the idea of selling myself – so to soften the process of selling my ideas to editors, I created an e-newsletter (maybe one of the first in Canada since it was the mid-nineties) called Topline Trends. This took off and changed my career; I began to get TV gigs and was interviewed by many publications. Realizing I was on to something that had appeal and wasn’t being addressed by anyone else, I used that platform to write cookbooks and magazine articles.

Eventually I built a consulting company, which focused on providing consumer insight to food companies for their recipe programs and product development. Today I divide my time between being Food Starter’s executive director and running my own innovation company.

What are some emerging food trends?

Foods that are convenient, deliver authentic taste experiences and feature local ingredients are proving to be big hits with Canadians in almost all age groups. The emergence of new flavours that have a link to health, such as matcha or turmeric, is interesting and growing as well. I’m also heartened to see increasing emphasis on choosing foods and restaurants where food waste is avoided.

While talking about what people are eating is great fun, I’m equally fascinated in how flavours and foods go from a novelty purchase to a shopping list stand-by. That’s why I took notice of the roster of international flavours that recently won the Lay’s Do Us a Flavour contest. The three winners (Canadian Bacon Poutine, Cheese & Onion from the UK, and Thai Sweet Chili) offer insight on Canada’s immigration patterns, both past and present.

How much of what you do is based in science? How much is anthropological?

I’d love to say that what I do requires a vast amount of technical knowledge, intellect, high tech equipment and scientific method, but it’s much more about being an omnivorous reader, a tireless researcher and a puzzle solver.

I do look at economic data and read studies written by scientists and academics, but that is usually to validate insights that I have gathered through scavenging. That’s where my English degree comes in: I see patterns in behaviour, form a thesis and then buttress the thesis with real-life examples and data.

Beyond having a love for food, which steps could someone who hopes to be in your shoes one day take?

This is a field for someone who loves to learn, hates routine and is naturally inclined to solve crossword and jigsaw puzzles. Feature or creative writing is a good training ground for being a front-end marketer since being able to spot patterns and envision what could be next lead to interesting questions. Taking marketing courses that teach positioning and competitive analysis skills and becoming a kick-butt project manager are all skills that one needs to do my job.

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