Supporting Local Food Entrepreneurs

October 20, 2020

As the COVID-19 pandemic hit and hurricanes Laura and Delta then devastated culinary businesses in the southwestern part of the state, the LSU AgCenter Food Incubator in Baton Rouge quickly increased their number of tenants from 24 to 32, including the restaurant chain Fiery Crab and newcomer BoomBox Frozen Pops and Ice Cream. The incubator is a magnet for new ideas, whether it’s how to create a shelf-stable version of a buttery seafood sauce normally made to order in restaurants or how to turn grandmother’s candy recipes into a solid business venture—the latter leading to Crazy Cajun Confections, a start-up run by an 11th-grader who will be taking her salted toffee with pecans and other treats into local grocery stores this year.

The incubator’s very first tenant, Hanley’s Foods, went from making a few gallons of their Sensation salad dressing when they started in 2012 to over 1,600 gallons last month, shipping to a thousand stores from Austin to New York, including Wal-Mart and Costco.

“We produce everything at LSU,” said owner Richard Hanley. “The incubator has played a major role in our success, with lots of great resources and food science behind the scenes to help a business get to the next step.”

Next door, the Sensory Services Lab allows companies to bring their products in to be tested by Tiger Tasters to determine consumer attitude and perception, while food engineering research in packaging and preservation helps Louisiana entrepreneurs overcome technical challenges in translating something that might be excellent fresh from the stove to a product that can survive years on a shelf—a tasty weapon against food waste, estimated to be about 40%.

Researchers are also looking at green tea as a remedy for blackspot on shrimp; chitosan—made from seafood shells—as a natural preservative for many foods, including seafood; cryogenics to extract tail meat from tiny crawfish; and a turmeric solution that can be sprayed on produce to kill bacteria—they’re currently testing it on cantaloupes because their net-like peel poses a true challenge.

Sensation salad dressing

Hanley’s Foods top seller, produced at the LSU AgCenter food incubator, is the Sensation salad dressing.

– Elsa Hahne / LSU / Adobe Stock

“With the knowledge, experience, and technical expertise LSU has in food science, the university can serve as a manufacturing and product development partner for businesses both big and small. Their food incubator program offers key services to empower entrepreneurs. From consumer testing to food safety and food preservation, LSU is a resource for businesses to design and deliver products from concept to a finished product on the shelf.”

- Claude “Dr. Boil” Davis, Ph.D., Principal Scientist at McCormick & Company, Inc. and Brand Ambassador for Zatarain’s