LSU AgCenter Food Incubator helps dessert caterer expand business

Richard Bogren, McClure, Olivia J.  |  12/2/2016 7:34:07 PM

(12/02/16) BATON ROUGE, La. – Deme Banks has always loved traditional red candy apples. The dessert caterer from New Orleans also has a background in chemistry. So a few years ago, when her husband suggested dipping apples in different colors to match themes of events she catered, she headed to the kitchen to put her skills into action.

“They created a large awe factor,” Banks said of the colored confections. “People assumed that they were chocolate, but when they saw they were hard candy apples that tasted like the traditional red ones, they would say, ‘How do you do that?’ Of course, you don’t ever want to give away your kitchen secrets, so we thought, ‘Why don’t we monetize off of that?’”

As Banks sold increasing numbers of the colorful apples in dessert packages for parties and other events, she was also working to develop a powdered mix so people could make them at home.

The end product – Deme’s Delicious Dips Hard Candy Apple Mix – led Banks and her husband, Dale, to the LSU AgCenter Food Incubator, which has helped them ramp up production and navigate food industry regulations. They officially joined the incubator after attending an informational meeting in March 2015.

The incubator, which links entrepreneurs with expertise and tools to help them launch food businesses, has given Banks access to a facility to produce the dip mixes in high volumes. Incubator experts have also helped get product labels approved and develop business and recall plans, along with giving advice on promoting the products to stores.

“It’s gone from being just an idea to actually being realized,” Banks said.

Packages of Hard Candy Apple Mix include a base powder and vials of food coloring. All customers have to do is add sugar and water to the powder and coloring, then dip apples in the mixture.

Banks’ product lineup currently includes four editions. The primary colors mix is sold year-round, and three others – Mardi Gras, Tiger Fan and a limited edition containing black and gold – are available seasonally.

Banks has done most of her sales online, although the Mardi Gras edition was available in New Orleans-area stores earlier this year. Her goal for 2017 is to expand to grocery stores, farmers markets and party supply stores in both New Orleans and Baton Rouge.

She and her husband have also been working with the LSU Olinde Career Center to recruit help for product demonstrations in Baton Rouge.

Banks credits the Food Incubator for helping her turn her love of both science and sweets into a product she hopes to see on more store shelves soon.

“Prior to having come to the incubator, we would have been all over the place, not knowing what steps to take first,” she said. “It streamlined our process to make us be able to approach a general manager, get into a store, and know how to demo, how to drive sales.”

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Deme Banks (right) holds packages of Deme’s Delicious Dips Hard Candy Apple Mix while her husband, Dale, holds a plate of the finished product. Photo by Olivia McClure/LSU AgCenter

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