LSU’s FOODii culinary incubator set to expand again

It helped launch Hanley’s Foods, a salad dressing and topping line that is now in Wal-Mart, Costco and soon to be in Sam’s. It launched the wildly popular Alvin Ray’s Bayou Best Pickles, now sold throughout the southeast. It provided space for the legendary Pat O’Brien’s to bottle a signature bloody Mary mix, and the restaurant chain Fiery Crab to develop a line of seafood sauces.

Since it opened in 2013, LSU’s Food Innovation Institute, (formerly known as the AgCenter Food Incubator) has helped scores of Louisiana food producers see culinary ideas go from rough sketch to store shelf.

“It’s been a journey,” says director Gaye Sandoz, who was originally hired as a consultant to start the incubator. “We’ve continued to grow and to support statewide food entrepreneurs.”

Now, a federal grant and state funding totaling $4 million will help the LSU-based culinary hub expand even further. In July, the Food Innovation Institute, FOODii for short, announced it had received a five-year $1.5 million U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration grant to update and expand its facility adjacent to LSU campus. Another $2.5 million from the state will allow the institute to unify operations, which are currently spread across four sites on campus, Sandoz says.

“We’re going to have everything in one location, and it’s going to make a big difference for our tenants, staff and also the large number of tours we give every year,” Sandoz says.

FOODii now has 39 tenants, an all-time high, with 10 more early-stage producers on deck who will become official tenants soon, Sandoz says. Tenants use the FOODii commercial kitchen or bottling facility to make their products, and they receive assistance from Sandoz and her team with business development and marketing, product development, food science and nutrition labeling. FOODii stands out among nationwide culinary incubators for its partnership with a major research university, and the access its tenants have to food scientists.

“We have three on staff, and it’s very unusual to have that,” Sandoz says.

In 2021, the incubator’s tenants produced 140 tons of culinary products. Already this year, it’s produced 300 tons with the addition of the bottling facility, which can produce 25,000 bottles a day.

The new funding will allow FOODii to center its operations in one place. The plan is to add on to the bottling facility, located on Gourrier Avenue outside the south gates of LSU. The site will be renovated to create a storefront, additional kitchens, an industrial freezer and cooler, a loading dock and classroom and conference spaces, Sandoz says.

Sandoz says the incubator kitchen is currently booked daily with tenants making their products. Among the new trends Sandoz says she’s expecting to see in the coming months is more plant-based items. For more information, visit FOODii’s website.