Inside FOODii: LSU AgCenter’s food business incubator | News
When one of his family members got cancer, Joseph Francis, professor and Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Education at the veterinary school, became passionate about creating a product that could help.
Francis started Pranam Superfoods, which produces antioxidant protein bars. He reached out to a friend who worked at the LSU AgCenter’s Food Innovation Institute, or FOODii.
“It protects against the side effects associated with chemotherapy,” Francis said. “Every single ingredient in the bar is a superfood or a functional food.”
FOODii is a food business incubator, where professors and faculty help small businesses produce, promote and innovate new food products. Francis worked with a faculty member involved with FOODii to develop nutritional information he would need.
“He guided me through the process of how to do the analysis,” Francis said. “They have a computerized process where you put the amount of ingredients so it gives you the calorie content and other things.”
While Francis only received help with nutritional analysis, other tenants of FOODii use their bottling and packaging facilities, microbiology resources for ensuring sanitary standards and office spaces. Gaye Sandoz is the director of FOODii.
“FOODii is a one-stop shop for technical and other resources for Louisiana companies,” Sandoz said. “There is no other organization like this in the state.”
When Mario Lozano was considering shifting his company, City Gelato, from a storefront on West Chimes St. to a distributed product, he heard about FOODii and presented his plan to them.
“The incubator provides you with the facility to manufacture your product,” Lozano said. “They had assistance for labels and distribution. They even helped us get into our first grocery store.”
Lozano said that the incubator helped him to get started. He hopes that his business will grow out of their facilities eventually.
“Things have been good so far, but the incubator is not a factory,” Lozano said. “I’d like to find a partnership with a local investor and open up a small packaging facility.”
FOODii paired Steven Stumpf, owner of Zoey’s Fresh Queso, with LSU’s dairy sciences to produce his queso. He said he wanted to produce a queso with natural ingredients and no additives.
“Most of the queso in stores, you can’t even pronounce the ingredients,” Stumpf said. “I wanted something clean-labeled with some kind of shelf life, so I worked with the food scientists (at LSU).”
Sandoz said the incubator is equipped to help businesses in times of disaster and hardship. FOODii was able to help small businesses during the pandemic.
“FOODii remained a supply and production facility for many to assist them in continuing business while their businesses or others closed,” Sandoz said. “Our employees worked remotely and at the plants during this period, assisting companies with food production and sale.”
Stumpf is no longer a FOODii tenant, but his business is still expanding. He said the incubator taught him a lot, and he’s been able to use Sandoz as a resource even after he left.
“She was a wealth of knowledge,” Stumpf said. “I’ve been able to keep in contact with her and call on her to ask her questions.”
Lozano’s gelato is now in grocery stores across Baton Rouge. He said he’s been able to establish a reputation while working with FOODii.
“A lot of people love us in town now,” Lozano said. “It’s been a great experience.”