(06/03/21) BATON ROUGE, La. — What’s in a name? For the LSU AgCenter Food Innovation Institute, it is the promise of partnering researchers with entrepreneurs to shape the future of food production, consumption and, as the name suggests, innovation.
Launched in July 2013 as the LSU AgCenter Food Incubator, the institute — known as FOODii — began with 10 tenants. Its mission was to develop emerging food ventures and provide technical services to companies to help them survive and grow during the start-up period by providing business support, services and resources.
FOODii now boasts 25 to 40 tenants at any given time, allowing for individualized attention.
In the intervening eight years, emerging technologies and challenges presented by climate change have necessitated the expanded mission and name change. Through innovation and education, the FOODii of 2021 seeks to ensure a sustainable food supply, protect the environment and improve the economic well-being of the world’s growing population.
As a result, plant-based start-ups are becoming increasingly popular, said FOODii director Gaye Sandoz.
“Our plant-based and specialty product lines are growing and include Panaro Food Innovations sweeteners, Hanley’ssalad dressings and mushroom Bacom Bits, Skinny Roux, Fletcher Farm strawberry jalapeño barbecue sauce and many others,” she said.
FOODii’s areas of focus include food product development, marketing products and services, and food safety and security. The last of these is crucial as the prospect of food terrorism targeting processed food becomes a larger threat, according to the Johns Hopkins Center for Public Health Preparedness.
“We are excited about the possibilities presented by the Food Innovation Institute,” said LSU Vice President for Agriculture Bill Richardson. “FOODii is a resource center where budding entrepreneurs learn to produce, promote and protect their food product. Also, the institute is looking at alternative food sources that will safeguard the environment and is prioritizing food security to ensure a safe supply chain and healthy food access for all.”
FOODii embraces the concept of “food for the future,” which includes advances such as:
— 3D printing of food to deliver meals based on a person’s metabolic panel. FOODii researchers will develop formulations for food capsules that are loaded into a 3D printer to print a meal.
— Alternative sources of food and protein. Partnerships with local businesses make it possible to create sustainable products such as flour made from insects and crops other than wheat.
— Production of meat and seafood from animal and plant cells grown in a cultivator. This type of cellular agriculture expands the food supply and reduces incidences of foodborne illness.
Having a future focus also means mentoring high school students through the Young Entrepreneur’s Academy of Baton Rouge. There are currently three student entrepreneurs working in FOODii programs.
“FOODii has added value to food companies and restaurants in Louisiana. Some of these clients include Walk On’s, Fiery Crab, Camellia Beans and Sal and Judy’s,” Sandoz said. “Through these connections, our food sciences students can work or volunteer with these clients and receive vital experiences that prepare them for their careers and hopefully keep them in Louisiana upon graduation.”
FOODii is well positioned to grow. The current facilities in Ingram Hall and the Animal and Food Sciences Laboratories Building have 11,323 square feet available. Phase 1, which added a new bottling line, is now operational, and with the addition of Phase 2, the total space will grow to 19,126 square feet. It will feature the bottling line plus refrigeration and freezer spaces, a storefront and more.
“As we’ve grown, so has the need for a larger space to produce these value-added and specialty food products using Louisiana commodities such as dairy, sugar, rice, seafood and sweet potatoes,” Sandoz said.
Panaro Food Innovations partners with FOODii to produce healthier sweeteners made with fruits, vegetables and spices. Photo by Marta Panceri/LSU AgCenter
Cane Land Foods is one of many Louisiana-based companies partnering with FOODii. Photo by Marta Panceri/LSU AgCenter