Food Incubators: Get on the Shelf in Months

Our Human Assembly line, one bottle at a time

When I had the idea to take my salad dressing to the grocery shelves, I didn’t know a thing about the food industry. All I knew is that I had to make it in an FDA approved kitchen. I looked and talked to everyone I knew that had a kitchen; I could make it in a food truck and wash their tuck in return, I could use a restaurant on a Sunday night when their closed, I could make it at my house if I kept the dogs and kids outside — these where the options floating through my head. Not only did I find a kitchen, I found a proven system that can bring your food idea to the shelves.

Thankfully, I discovered that the LBTC, A University Business Incubator at LSU, had free consulting for new businesses. So I went there, like a crazy man asking everyone to sign NDAs and secretly covering my salad dressing like Paul Newman was there waiting to take it from me. I told them my idea and they told me about this food incubator about 45 mins away — score!

After scheduling a tour, I knew for a fact that’s where I needed to be. Not only did they have the FDA approved kitchen and equipment, but they also had a series of check-list and the knowledge to bring a food product to the market.

Two months later, I was cooking up a business

A few months after that, one of the directors that helped me (Gaye Sandoz) left to startup a new incubator in my town, the LSU Food Incubator — and it’s been amazing. They had everything that the other incubator had plus an entire Food Science department that can help with developing new products, shelf life testing, and can calculate nutritional facts — double score!

Once I moved there, we went from 20 stores to 100 stores

You’ll be surprised to how many food incubators are out there willing to help you bring your product to life, all you have to do is be determined. It’s not easy, but it is fun and rewarding.

So if you have an idea for a food product, search around for an incubator, try “food incubator [your city]” or call up the nearest university and see if they have a program in the food science. If you’re near Baton Rouge (and aren’t making salad dressing) check out the LSU Food Incubator, the staff is amazing and that makes the whole process more enjoyable and worthwhile.

Random Facts

Here’s some numbers based on my experience:

  • $20/hr to get access to the facility
  • $10/per pallet for storage (I have 3, 7 during Strawberry season)
  • 5-6 friends and family help me make a batch
  • 70 gallons makes ~1,000 bottles and takes us 6 hours to make

Ah, the bottling process:

  • Bottles are washed, dried, and stamped (date gun) with the expiration date/batch code, which is a year from that day
  • We mix and make our dressing in a 100 gallon kettle
  • With the bottles on an oven rack, the dressing made, and the air-compressed bottler ready — it’s go time
  • I then fill each bottle, one at a time (I’m pretty quick in this thing by now, about 36 bottles a min) and hand it down
  • Next, my wife caps each bottle, hands it down
  • A friend/family labels the front of the bottle, hands it down
  • Someone labels the back of the bottle, hands it down
  • Someone puts on the plastic shrink bands, hands it down
  • Then my sister seals the plastic shrink band with a super-duper blow dryer
  • Finally, it’s packed into a box (12 bottles in a case) — we make 80-110 of these boxes a batch

Here’s the caveat

Getting it into the box is only half the battle, getting it on a shelf, then getting it to sell back off — is the other half. In the end, you’re building a system, a process that can be systematize over time, but you have to put in the work to start. The food industry is a tough, yet very rewarding industry and a food incubator will give you the start.

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