Marvin Moncada, lead research and development scientist at the Food Incubator, says the food science research and assistance he and others provide tenants sets the incubator apart from others in the country. Photography by Brian Baiamonte
Food science students in the LSU AgCenter School of Nutrition and Food Sciences are gaining real-world experience at the Food Incubator.
“We are training students in real food science,” says Marvin Moncada, the incubator’s lead research and development scientist and production facility manager. “They study how to do analyses in the classroom, but they get see the reality of it in the plant. It makes our students much more competitive when they enter the job market.”
Food Incubator Director Gaye Sandoz says students who work in the incubator get to know all aspects of product development from recipe formulation to allergen testing and Food and Drug Administration regulations.
“It’s invaluable experience because we do it all here,” says Sandoz. “It gives them an edge when looking for a job.”
Demand for food scientists is projected to grow 5% between 2014 and 2024 as research on food safety, nutritional analyses and allergy studies continues, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Median annual pay for food scientists was $62,470 in May 2015. Currently, the Food Incubator employs three full- or part-time food scientists and a graduate assistant.
Local high school students are also learning about the field of food science. In September, students from the newly minted Food Science and Sports Nutrition Club at University High School held the first of a series of monthly meetings at the incubator to learn more about the development of food products, especially healthy ones.
“We have a health class, we have sports, we have coaches, but there’s a need for learning about food because it is so important,” says Abigail Baumgartner, a 10th-grader who founded the club, which has 15 members. “I’m very excited and optimistic about what’s going to be happening.”
The Food Incubator also recently served as a technical assistance provider to Slovak University of Agriculture, the only agriculture-focused university in Slovakia. In May 2015, two Slovak University food scientists, Vladimíra Knazovická and Marián Tokár, visited the LSU Food Incubator for three weeks, shadowing food scientists and entrepreneurs and studying Louisiana’s food systems, from natural sources to finished products. A month later, AgCenter Vice Chancellor John Russin and Sandoz traveled to Slovakia on a goodwill trip to further advise Knazovická, Tokár and their colleagues on establishing a local incubator.