Founders and Executives Explain How Their Louisiana Products Go National


A panel at BREW 2019 featured a range of founders and executives from Louisiana-based companies that are leveraging their Bayou State flair on a national level.

These dynamic business leaders shared how they’ve managed to scale their companies beyond Louisiana and get their products into the right hands around the U.S.

The panel discussion was facilitated by Gaye Sandoz, director of the LSU AgCenter Food Incubator, which has helped springboard multiple startups toward success.

Here’s an overview of some of the insights these experts shared.

Start Local If Possible

Baton Rouge-based company Hanley’s Foods is scaling up its new product Bacom Bits, a natural bacon substitute that has made a name for itself as an all-natural salad topping. The bits achieve a crunchy, umami taste that comes from a proprietary blend of mushrooms and Cajun seasonings.

The company is gaining regional and national traction, but co-founder Richard Hanley says it started small by selling its salad dressings at Our Daily Bread, an independent specialty market. From there it landed larger stores and accounts. “You can get one or two and build momentum,” Hanley says.

Entrepreneur Matt Beeson has also started local with Baton Rouge-based Swamp Dragon, billed as the world’s only truly liquor-based hot sauce, but he says that given the margins on each small bottle of hot sauce he needs the national market to thrive. “I’m more about whale-hunting at this point,” Beeson says.

Sandoz cautions that landing in major retail outlets doesn’t guarantee success. “It’s easier to get your product on the shelf than it is to get it off the shelf, so you have to have some sort of plan to get that product off the shelf,” she says.

Hanley says that to stand out in the marketplace and draw consumers, persistently making the best product possible should be any company’s primary focus. “It all boils down to the great product,” he says. “There are a lot of good products out there. I think it truly has to be remarkable. If you just focus every day on making your product a little bit better and you blow away the competition, that is enough marketing and sales for the rest of your life.”

Preparing for the Unexpected

Boyce Clark founded Lubricity Labs and its hair care product line after he found that his daughter’s hair issues could not be solved by anything on the market. “What’s worked for us is that we have a compelling story, and once that story gets out there we have a great product,” Clark says.

In early 2017, the company was a two-person operation making hair-care products in gumbo pots and with about 50 bottles of products on the shelf, Clark says.

But then WAFB-TV did a 60-second feature on Clark and how he created his product because he wasn’t comfortable putting formaldehyde-based products on his daughter’s hair. The piece was picked up nationally and it aired in 38 states over the next 24 hours.

“The next day I looked up and we had 7,000 orders and our website crashed because it exceeded 16,000 views a minute,” he says.

Clark says today the company, which also was the subject of a second viral story, on Yahoo Beauty, is working with a co-packer and a manufacturing lab to allow it to take on additional capacity if necessary.

Maximize Trade Shows

The panel had extensive discussions about how to maximize the opportunities at industry trade shows, where a startup can often talk to many potential buyers.

Hanley says that early on his company invested in a spot at a prestigious but expensive New York City trade show. In retrospect, he says, the event would have been more successful if he had more definitive distribution arrangements locked down to show buyers.

Louisiana Fish Fry Products CEO Michael Morse, who is leading the company into a new era of growth after its acquisition by a private equity firm, says even large companies often don’t have national distributors for all of their products. He says working with a specialty distributor, which is common in the food industry, can be an effective way to attract shelf space in stores.

“Getting listed with them is the closest you can get to national distribution,” he says. “That’s a way to get a smaller product on the shelf.”

Sandoz says setting up meetings with buyers ahead of a trade show can be effective, especially if you follow up afterward.

Beeson says that if you can’t make appointments and you find yourself walking the aisles at a trade show to introduce your product, you should eschew formal introductions and boil down your pitch to the simplest form possible. “What’s your value proposition? What’s your differentiator?” he says. “Shout it at them and make them stop.”

Hanley agrees that simplicity is best for trade show pitches and that following up after those initial connections is important. “I had massive spreadsheets and I was harassing people every single week for a year after the trade show,” he says. “Persistence is key.”

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