As grocery stores have experienced a surge in demand over the past six months, so, too, has the LSU AgCenter Food Incubator, which is seeing about triple its normal booking activity and recently added eight tenants to its facilities.
During a typical year, LSU’s kitchen is booked about twice a week, but nowadays tenants are reserving it five to six days a week to process their food products so they can keep up with the pace grocery stores are selling them.
“We’re busy every day—much busier than we’ve ever been before,” says Gaye Sandoz, food incubator director. “Normally during the fourth quarter, we’re busy because of football and holiday season … but this summer has been like a six-month fourth quarter for us.”
It’s partially due to some tenants expanding their footprints. For instance, Hanley’s Foods—which has produced 6,000 gallons of salad dressing since the pandemic began in March—signed a deal with Costco to sell its Sensation dressing at all three of Costco’s Louisiana stores. The dressing, which has been on store shelves for the past week, is produced at the incubator’s original plant as well as its $1.1 million, 4,500-square-foot bottling plant that opened in January.
While the bottling plant has increased production capacity, tenants are still dealing with some supply chain issues, Sandoz says.
“During the virus, it’s trickier for tenants because their supplies are limited,” Sandoz says. “They’ve been coordinating how to get glassware, caps, labels and other items that are hard to obtain now.”
At the same time, eight new tenants have joined the food incubator, bringing its total to 31 companies.
Among the new additions is Boom Box Pops, a Lake Charles-based food retail franchise that lost its production facility to Hurricane Laura and plans to produce ice cream and popsicles at LSU’s dairy plant. The company has also recently opened a Baton Rouge storefront near campus, on Highland Road.
Also being onboarded is Fiery Crab Seafood Restaurant and Bar-Seafood Sauce Toppings, which is using the incubator to produce three new seafood sauces it plans to sell at its seven restaurants and grocery stores once permitting is approved.
Other new tenants include Bunnie’s Famous Seafood Spinach Dip, The Old 359 Roasting Company BBQ Sauce, Chef Traci Vincent TVA Consulting, Leonard’s Carolina BBQ, Basic Bee Honey & Honey Products, and Mix Makery Cookies-Vegan Cookies.