When it comes to fancy popcorn, sisters Bailey and Harper Galloway believe that butter, caramel and cheese don’t go far enough.
Along with their mom, Ebony McCallister, these Baton Rouge entrepreneurs created a new company called Posh Pop, a boutique popcorn venture that blends popcorn with a mash-up of flavors and textures, including cereal, pretzels, marshmallows and candies.
The Posh Pop team prepares their new product line at the LSU AgCenter Incubator, currently home to 39 food start-up tenants. Since it opened in 2013, the incubator has helped scores of culinary entrepreneurs launch new products. Its eight-year history has seen several expansions, steadily growing interest from prospective producers and, now, a new name. This week, the incubator announced a rebranding as Food Innovation Institute, or Foodii.
Posh Pop is part of a wave of new businesses eager to work with the incubator, which has helped companies like Hanley’s Foods and Davey’s Treasures get off the ground.
“We’re seeing a big increase in interest in food start-ups right now,” says Foodii Operations Manager and R&D Chef Jason Gilfour. “These businesses have a low cost of entry. Part of our goal is to coach and teach every aspect of food production to our tenants.”
The process begins with an orientation seminar, “How to Start a Food Business,” which the incubator offers a few times a year. Seventy prospective food entrepreneurs attended the session on May 21, the largest turnout yet, Gilfour says.
“We’re seeing more minorities and women interested in starting food businesses,” Gilfour says, “and we’re seeing restaurant owners want to start a product line in order to create a new retail revenue stream.”
Posh Pop is one of 10 new tenants, says Foodii Director Gaye Sandoz. Others include Linda Green, the New Orleans-based “yaka mein” lady, who is working on a new bloody mary mix, and high school student Caroline Sanchez, who started a spicy candy company called Crazy Cajun Confections.
Throughout a given week, production hums in the incubator, with artisan companies rotating through to make pickles, salsas, salad dressings, gelato, spice blends and other items.
Ponchatoula Pepper Company founder Kevin McKlveen uses the facility to bottle several varieties of his pepper jelly. Pranam Superfoods founder and research scientist Joseph Francis and his son, Jonathan, work on their vegan, antioxidant rich nutrition bars, made with berries and other superfoods.
The incubator has five different facilities, Gilfour says, including its flagship production facility at Ingram Hall, a food lab and baked goods division, a show kitchen for demos and tastings, a dairy facility and a bottling plant that can produce as many as 25,000 bottles a day.
This diversity allows the incubator to work with a variety of food types, while also being able to offer manufacturing space to established businesses.
For example, Lake Charles-based Boom Box Frozen Pops and Ice Cream shifted production to the incubator and dairy facility after Hurricane Laura slammed into southwest Louisiana and shuttered business last fall. Boom Box’s production is continuing at Foodii while the company bounces back and expands.
The incubator also helps restaurants and food businesses with nutritional and allergen testing, and has helped advise companies that want to create gluten-free or vegan options.