Line of marinades, dressings has grown from greasy jars to factory-sealed bottles _lowres

Advocate staff file photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING -- LSU AgCenter Food Incubator manager Luis Espinoza, left, helps Lili Courtney last year with a machine that applies bottle labels to one of the products in her Delightful Palate line.

The LSU AgCenter Food Incubator has received a three-year, $2.5 million grant that will allow the incubator to ramp up production, serve more clients and hire more people.

The Food Incubator on the LSU campus serves 25 tenants, providing food entrepreneurs the tools and expertise to test, produce, package and market foods. With the grant, the incubator will be able to purchase larger-capacity equipment, enabling it to eventually serve about 200 clients in some capacity and do pilot plant studies for larger companies.

“This grant will alleviate one of our main constraints,” said AgCenter Vice Chancellor John Russin. “Right now, we have done all of our work based on research-sized equipment, which is fairly small equipment.”

The grant is through the Louisiana Office of Community Development’s Disaster Recovery Unit and comes from federal Community Development Block Grant Funds provided to the state by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The funding is intended to stimulate economic development in areas of the state affected by hurricanes Gustav and Ike in 2008.

A number of the incubator’s tenants have grown significantly, and large quantities of their products are in demand. For example, it is inefficient to mix several small batches of a product in the incubator’s 40-gallon kettle. Buying more equipment will enable the incubator to serve operations of different sizes while improving efficiency and increasing production, Russin said.

Some tenants are now selling their products — which range from salad dressings to snack foods — in regional locations of Whole Foods, The Fresh Market, Associated Grocers stores and Rouses Supermarkets.

“The continued success of the food companies is due to the LSU AgCenter’s resources, equipment, support staff and our network within the community,” said Food Incubator Director Gaye Sandoz. “We have been approached by over 250 interested persons since the inception of the program in 2013.”