The same large kettles where Blue Runner Foods has prepared red and navy beans and meal bases for gumbo and jambalaya will see added duty as the company expands into frozen foods in a $2.2 million production facility at Gonzales. 

Its first frozen products will be gumbo and red beans, both made with sausage, said Katie Bautsch, vice-president of operations for the family-owned business.

"We're really excited to expand into frozen foods," Bautsch said. 

The company expects to have its new products available by the end of the year, she said.

It's the third expansion of the product line over the last decade for Blue Runner Foods, which had its beginnings in 1918.

The company added dried beans to its products in 2015 and, in 2011, added the meal bases for Creole dishes, to which cooks can add rice and meat or seafood.  

With its new frozen gumbo and red beans, "We think frozen foods will give us some flexibility we don't currently have in a can," Bautsch said. 

The new frozen food items will be sold in grocery stores, as well as to restaurants and grocery store delis, she said. 

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For its new plant, to be built at the front of the Blue Runner headquarters and production facilities on Burnside Avenue in Gonzales, the company is asking for an exemption from property taxes, over several years, through the state's industrial tax exemption program. 

If granted by the major taxing bodies of Ascension Parish, the company would be exempt from 80 percent of property taxes on the project for five years, renewable to 10 years.

"Blue Runner Foods is a Louisiana-based, family-owned company that has fed the people of our region for over 100 years," said Kate MacArthur, chief executive officer of the Ascension Economic Development Corp., who presented the company's request to the Ascension Parish School Board last week.

The company, she said, "takes pride in keeping Louisiana's food tradition alive."

The School Board, which receives the largest share of property taxes in the parish, would see $155,000 in new property taxes from the project over 30 years and, during the construction phase, $27,000 in sales taxes.

Under the guidelines of the state's industrial tax exemption program, the School Board would give up $125,000 in property taxes over 10 years.

The board will vote on the request at its next meeting, on March 16. Blue Runner will also be seeking approval from the city of Gonzales, the Ascension Parish government and Sheriff Bobby Webre. 

Once the new production facility is up and running, the gumbo and red beans will be cooked in the same kind of huge kettles, which can hold hundreds of gallons, that its other products are cooked in, before being frozen quickly to preserve freshness, in a "blast freezing" process, Bautsch said.


Email Ellyn Couvillion at ecouvillion@theadvocate.com.