An expansion into Wal-Mart stores is propelling local salad dressing company Hanley’s Foods into a new level of competition, opening doors for further growth.
Company founder and CEO Richard Hanley said the company’s dressings will begin appearing on Wal-Mart shelves across the state in April. Wal-Mart approached Hanley and his wife Kate about carrying their product and will be test-driving four of the company’s five flavors in more than 120 stores across Louisiana, Mississippi and Arkansas.
If all goes well, the dressing could expand to Wal-Mart stores in other states, he said. Hanley’s is currently carried in 800 stores from Houston to Atlanta, and the company produces five flavors: sensation, strawberry vinaigrette, avocado, ranch and creole ranch.
Wal-Mart isn’t the only big expansion for the company.
Hanley said the couple has meetings planned with Fresh Thyme, a Midwestern supermarket chain, and has been receiving interest from Fairway Market, a New York City-based supermarket chain. If deals result from either, it will be the company’s first major expansion beyond the South, Hanley said.
Aside from business growth, the company is also looking to expand its flavor offerings and expects to complete its two newest flavors, sweet creole mustard and balsamic, later this year, he said.
Hanley said when he and his wife began the company just over five years ago, they never expected to be where they are now. It takes a lot of hands-on work, persistence and enthusiasm, but it’s all worth it, he said.
“It makes me proud that we can pour our hearts into something and people find that valuable and want to pay you money for it,” Hanley said. “That they find good value in something you’re creating is really rewarding.”
Hanley said the company wouldn’t be on the road to achieving its dreams without the support of the LSU AgCenter Food Incubator. Instead, the couple would probably still be at their original Red Stick Farmers Market stall, slowly making progress but making many more mistakes, he said.
A great thing about the incubator is that it allows small entrepreneurs to control the business process, have a strong creative voice and grow at a manageable pace before advancing to working with a co-packer, Hanley said. The incubator also provides invaluable food science insights and allows Hanley’s Foods to utilize fresh ingredients while keeping the product shelf stable, he said.
Though Hanley’s has largely outgrown the incubator, it’s still doing flavor development and some production in its labs, Hanley said.
LSU AgCenter Food Incubator director Gaye Sandoz has been beside the Hanleys throughout their entrepreneurial journey. Sandoz said she and the Hanleys first partnered together at a food incubator in Norco, Louisiana, before she came to the University to found the LSU AgCenter Food Incubator.
When Sandoz left, the Hanleys followed, even helping Sandoz clear boxes and clean out the building that currently houses the incubator’s permanent operation.
The incubator’s growth has mirrored Hanley’s Foods’ development, expanding to house 35 businesses. The incubator is also adding new high-quality machinery and has grown its staff to employ three food scientists, as well as student workers and a graduate assistant, she said.
Sandoz said she knew early on that Hanley’s would be a success because of the couple’s perseverance.
“I love the spirit of these entrepreneurs,” Sandoz said. “I think that’s why my job is so enjoyable, because at the end of the day I get to see them be successful. This is a tough business.”
Hanley said he hopes to continue growing the company until it’s a national go-to brand for salad fixings. The couple has plans to expand beyond dressings, and they’re currently working on releasing their first crouton flavor, a play on the brand’s sensation dressing made with poboy bread.
“When we got started of course I wanted to be the next ranch,” Hanley said. “I wanted to be the next big brand. I think you have to have those big dreams to slowly achieve them and work backward from there.”