(02/05/19) BATON ROUGE, La. — The LSU AgCenter Food Incubator posted another successful year in 2018, producing an all-time high of more than 100 tons of food.
The incubator, which launched in 2013, gives entrepreneurs access to cooking and packaging equipment as well as the support of AgCenter personnel with expertise in food science and marketing. The incubator also provides food companies services such as shelf-life studies, nutritional analyses and other types of testing.
The incubator began operations with 10 tenants; today, 22 companies use its facilities to make more than 100 products, including snack foods, baked goods, condiments, beverages and more. Six more businesses are in the onboarding process.
According to the incubator’s annual report, tenants turned out about 102 tons of their products in 2018, a slight increase from 2017’s 94.8 tons. Those figures include a nominal amount made by AgCenter faculty for research purposes.
In 2013, production totaled just 3.5 tons. Capacity has increased over the years as the incubator has secured grants to buy additional equipment and to support facility expansions and improvements — including a bottling plant that will soon open on the LSU campus.
“Total production in the facility in five and a half years has reached over 318 tons,” said Gaye Sandoz, director of the incubator. “That is very impressive, and it shows how the incubator has helped companies grow and become sustainable.”
Interest in the incubator remains strong, she said. On Jan. 25, her staff led a meeting attended by about 30 people on how to start a food enterprise and become part of the incubator.
It is not an easy endeavor, they told the audience. Prospective tenants must present plans for their business and wait to be approved to join.
After that, they have to work with AgCenter scientists to adjust their home-kitchen recipes to accommodate larger-scale production and meet health regulations. Then there is the hard work of promoting and moving products.
A presentation by a representative of the Louisiana Department of Health provided information on the array of rules food companies must follow to pass inspections.
Despite those challenges, being a food entrepreneur can be incredibly rewarding — not only to the business owner, but also to the Louisiana economy, said Marvin Moncada, an AgCenter food scientist who works at the incubator.
Since the incubator was formed, 120 full-time and 75 part-time jobs have been created through tenants’ companies, he said. Their products are prominently stocked in many stores in Louisiana, and some have retail customers throughout Southern states.
“It’s very motivating to see how they came to our office with an idea, and now they have a company,” Moncada said.
A workshop for prospective tenants of the LSU AgCenter Food Incubator was held on Jan. 25, 2019. Photo by Olivia McClure/LSU AgCenter