(02/26/19) BATON ROUGE, La. — When Joseph Francis was growing up in India, he would watch his father mix plants and spices to make home remedies for various ailments.
“He would go to the impoverished areas in the city and use the mixtures to help those that could not afford to go to the hospital or were written off by conventional medicine,” Francis recalled.
Years later, inspired by the remedies that had been passed down the generations to his father, Francis would develop his own interest in the health benefits of certain foods. As a neuroscientist at the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine, he studies how antioxidants in fruits like blueberries can reduce brain inflammation in people and animals with depression and other health conditions.
All of this eventually led Francis to the LSU AgCenter Food Incubator, where he has been making four flavors of his Pranam Superfoods “antioxidant bars” since December. They are already being sold in eight stores in Baton Rouge and seven others elsewhere in Louisiana.
The bars contain quinoa — rather than oats, a more common base ingredient for such products — and a mixture of antioxidant-rich fruits and nuts.
They are sweetened only with honey. All ingredients are organic, gluten-free and vegan-friendly.
“Every single ingredient that we have added in our Pranam bars is a functional food or a superfood,” Francis said.
The bar evolved from a drink that Francis made in his kitchen at home using blueberry powder and some spices.
He asked his family and colleagues to taste the blend. Impressed, they said they’d buy it if Francis sold it.
Francis eventually decided on making snack bars with similar ingredients and soon enlisted the help of the Food Incubator to mass produce them.
AgCenter food scientist Marvin Moncada helped Francis scale up his recipe from 1 pound of the bar mixture to 50 pounds. Changes had to be made to the production process, too, such as identifying an oven temperature that would evenly bake the much-larger batches of the bars.
Moncada also analyzed the nutrition content of the product and recommended adjustments.
“We went through all the ingredients, and finally, we got a good balance of calories, protein and fiber per serving,” Moncada said.
“Marvin has been excellent in the entire process,” Francis said. Incubator director Gaye Sandoz also has guided him on marketing, and fellow incubator tenant Joseph Tucker, who makes Hydra-Guard sports drinks, helped with the Pranam packaging design.
Though Francis now makes about 1,000 bars at a time when he works in the incubator kitchen, Pranam remains a family-oriented business. Francis’ wife and sons along with Philip Ebenezer, a friend of the family, all pitch in.
Francis said he hopes Pranam — which comes from a Sanskrit word meaning life-giving energy — will one day generate enough money to fund trials related to his research. In the meantime, he said, the bars offer a healthier alternative to other snacks on the market.
“I started this with a passion of helping people,” he said.
He also sees it as a way to carry on his father’s legacy.
“He taught us a lot,” Francis said. “We grew up helping other people, so that was one of my biggest inspirations.”
Joseph Francis, right, pours honey into a bowl of dry ingredients to make his Pranam Superfoods “antioxidant bars” at the LSU AgCenter Food Incubator on Feb. 22, 2019. Philip Ebenezer prepares a tray for baking the bars in the background. Photo by Olivia McClure/LSU AgCenter
Joseph Francis, left, mixes ingredients for his Pranam Superfoods “antioxidant bars” while talking with LSU AgCenter Food Incubator food scientist Marvin Moncada on Feb. 22, 2019. Photo by Olivia McClure/LSU AgCenter
Joseph Francis, far right, was among the tenants of the LSU AgCenter Food Incubator on hand when Louisiana Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser, second from right, toured the facility on Feb. 22, 2019. Nungesser is holding one of Francis’ Pranam Superfoods “antioxidant bars,” which are made at the incubator. Also pictured are LSU Vice President for Agriculture Bill Richardson, far left, and incubator director Gaye Sandoz, second from left. Photo by Olivia McClure/LSU AgCenter
Joseph Francis makes four flavors Pranam Superfoods “antioxidant bars” at the LSU AgCenter Food Incubator: Blissful Blueberry, Yummy Yum Berry, Powerful Pomegranate and Marvelous Mango. Photo by Olivia McClure/LSU AgCenter