Image of Old Soul pickles above courtesy of the company.
Approaching second anniversary, facility sees plenty of successes
In the test kitchen of the LSU AgCenter Food Incubator, sisters Linda McAdams and Karen Daigle are breaking apart rectangular slabs of their signature Pretzel Crunch, an item the two had made for years at home and recently began selling commercially through their business, Truly Scrumptious.
Large planks of the sweet and salty snack, composed of Rice Krispies, white chocolate and pretzel shards, lie in front of Daigle, who gingerly breaks them into the bite-sized pieces that McAdams scoops into 8-ounce labeled bags. The two, along with Linda’s husband James, have been tenants of the Food Incubator since last summer and have already seen strong sales and encouraging response from local and regional independent grocers.
“We could not have done it without being here,” McAdams says. “It’s helped with permitting, sales, marketing and everything.”
In a separate Food Incubator building on the LSU campus, a newly purchased 60-gallon vacuum tumbler is making it possible for tenant Alvin Ray to make pickles for his Bayou Best Pickles in a fraction of the time it used to take him, Food Incubator Director Gaye Sandoz says. It’s one of several pieces of equipment the incubator has either purchased or repurposed from LSU’s School of Nutrition and Food Sciences program to make life easier for its start-up tenants.
“This particular piece of equipment shortened Alvin Ray’s process from four days to one hour,” Sandoz says.
Since it launched in July 2013, the Food Incubator has become the go-to site for culinary entrepreneurs who want to bring their ideas to market. The incubator has expanded twice on the LSU campus, added two food scientists and one chef research graduate assistant and helped more than 30 tenants produce a variety of culinary items. Graduate Richard Hanley of Hanley’s Foods created a large enough demand for his salad dressings that an offsite co-packer now bottles his recipes for him.
Among the Food Incubator’s tenants are familiar local brands Hooked on Re:, Ruth’s Hummus, Malco’s Magnificent Salsa, City Gelato and Old Soul Pickles. Last year alone, the facility helped tenants generate more than 20 tons of product. Collectively, its tenants were able to get into about 500 stores.
“We’ve got a high success rate,” Sandoz says. “We’ve really touched on something. People call every day wanting to know how they can sign up.”
With so many interested would-be entrepreneurs, Sandoz has started hosting quarterly information sessions. About 280 attendees sign up for each meeting.
The incubator has received $50,000 in grants from Louisiana Economic Development for equipment purchases, including a gelato maker. It will help City Gelato founder Mario Lozanov reach a broader audience with his handmade gelato flavors. A former chemist, Lozanov entered the food business after being laid off in 2012. He signed up with the incubator in 2013.
“The new piece of equipment is going to be the next phase for me,” Lozanov says. “It’s going to really help increase sales.”
In 2014, the Food Incubator established an Innovation Technical Services Department to assist other food companies with analytical testing, nutritional panels and other services, Sandoz says.
Moreover, the incubator will soon open a satellite co-packer facility just off campus, which will manufacture and produce items at a faster rate. It represents a huge expansion for the Food Incubator. Tenants will be able to develop shelf-stable, great-tasting products in the test kitchen and laboratory, and as they increase their sales volume, they can contract with the co-packer facility to bring their production to scale.