FoodGrads Podcast Ep 16: Building a food industry career by putting yourself out there with Karen Cardona, Founder & Owner at True Leaves Consulting

Welcome to episode 16 of the FoodGrads Podcast. The podcast where we explore careers in the food, beverage and hospitality industries. I’m your host Veronica Hislop, a molecular science graduate student and career partner with FoodGrads.

On this week’s podcast I interviewed Karen Cardona, Founder and Owner of True Leaves Consulting. True Leaves Consulting is a consulting agency with the goal of helping bring food and beverage products to the masses. Whether it’s finding reliable suppliers, crafting the perfect recipe or developing compliant product labels. True Leaves Consulting is there to help.

In this episode, Karen and I talked about her career journey starting with her co-op program at Fanshaw College all the way to starting her own consulting business. In between Karen shares her experiences working at Kraft Heinz, Nestle and the vegan cheese company Nuts for Cheese. In this episode, we also discuss what a consultant does, the Food Venture Program, Karen’s passion for empowering women and women of visible minorities.

Overall, Karen was inspiring to chat with and it so exciting to learn that she has started her own consultancy business. With Karen’s journey you really can see how important it is to put yourself out there. It’s only by doing that new doors start to open.

Show Notes

[4:27] How has your path led you into the food industry? You started at Fanshaw for the Chemical Laboratory Technology Program?

  • Originally Karen had no idea what product development was. She had just applied for a co-op position at Nestle because it had posted on the website program
  • She originally wanted to work in a medical lab
  • However, she soon fell in love with the product development side after helping with the pilot plant. The co-op also allowed her to work with the business department. After graduation she worked with Nestle for 4 years. During that time she went to France for one year at their global development research centre
  • After Karen became the Research and Development at a chocolate division
  • Eventually, Karen worked with Heinz creating sauces for the big guys like Starbucks, McDonalds and Subway.
  • After taking a break to take care of her two newborn twins Karen went back into the industry and worked as a consultant for Nuts for Cheese when they were just starting out. Eventually, this role turned into Manager of Product Development & Quality Assurance.
  • As hard as it was leaving that position Karen felt that it was time to move on go back into consulting because it is what she loves to do

[10:57] Was it difficult to leave a job you love to start a consultancy?

  • Karen knows that consulting is what she loves to do.
  • It allows her to work on a lot of products without getting wrapped in the business/operations side. Something that became a focus at Nuts for Cheese

[11:52] For those who might not be aware. Could you give more details as to what a consultant uses and the skills necessary.

  • It is basically project management, scaling a product up to large scale. It really takes a team effort. For small entrepreneurs, this can be difficult. Karen can help them out by helping with things like creating the right packaging for shelf life.

[13:27] How do you help companies who do not have facilities?

  • If it is a small business working in a commercial kitchen Karen might go there. But if their business already has a small kitchen Karen would go there and help them scale up
  • A lot things can be done remotely like changing a recipe

[12:22] Why did you name your business true leaves consulting?

  • When a plant is a seedling everything looks similar. So you can’t really tell the difference between them. The first set of leaves that look like what the plant is growing you would call them the true leaves.
  • This is an expression for Karen to say that she can help seedlings become what they want to be.

[14:49] Does your consulting break out into many different aspects like ready to eat foods?

  • Yes, Karen is always open to trying new products
  • If she doesn’t know something she can talk to her extensive network and ask them for some help
  • Knowing the project management is the hardest part in development as opposed to the learning about the product. A lot of small entrepreneurs are unsure how to do something like that

[17:45] If you were to help you with preservatives for example would you just call someone up for help?

  • Karen knows so many suppliers she has worked with so many than she would just go to the sales rep
  • A lot of people are willing to help because they go way back
  • Not as many people jump around and instead because experts in a field

[19:10] It seems as though you work in the Food Venture Program. Can you tell me more about it?

  • Food Venture Program is a group of people the two co-founders Kiran Bains, MSc., RD and Sima Gandhi (she/her) and they are amazing women who are connected in the industry. They found a need for small entrepreneurs to gain the insights on how to grow their businesses.
  • The whole basis of the program is to help people move through the industry
  • Karen helps with the product development courses
  • You can sign-up for boot-camps and you can pick what fits your needs.
  • Karen can help the graduates through the consultancy with the more technical aspects

[22:40] You said that Food Ventures was a women-led. You have mentioned to me that for people in the product development space there is a lack of visibility of Latina and visible minorities. Can you tell me more about why you are passionate about this subject?

  • Karen believes it is important to empower women and possible women of minority because they may not necessarily be exposed as other groups. They need more encouragement to put themselves out there
  • As Karen was going into the industry her mentors did not look like her but this is changing as times are moving on.
  • It is important to have representation in roles like in Food Venture Program where these women are doing so many great things. It is important to give people hope that they could one day do it.
  • It is about giving people hope to other people that look like Karen that you can do it tools. Don’t let it hold you back

[25:17] The two of us talking about potlucks, how food unites everyone and vegan food

[30:27] What advice would give to new graduates going into the industry?

  • Absorb everything that you can
  • When launching a product there is so many things that relate to what you are doing. Even sitting in a meeting can be important down the line. You have to deal with production and sales
  • Sometimes just being around other people will get you far

[32:07] Do you have any ways that you remember things for later down the line?

  • Write things down
  • Always have a notebook with you. You can rely on and go back into your notebook
  • Note-taking is super important

[33:27] How do you stay organized?

  • Notion
  • A project management tool. It basically takes all thought and organizes them all
  • It is a computer programmers dream. It can be everything you want it to be

[36:37] Why is a great place to work?

  • There is constant innovation happening
  • Packaging, ingredients all these things are getting innovated
  • It is dynamic and a small industry where you keep bumping into people

[38:12] Where can people find you

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