Backwoods backpackers who like to start their day with freeze-dried, precooked scrambled eggs and end it eating reconstituted beef stroganoff out of a bag might have to learn camp cooking all over again this year, and they will have people who fear world calamity to blame.
People freaked out about surviving world disasters and economic meltdown have made a run on freeze-dried food in the past month. As a result, Albany-based Oregon Freeze Dry Inc. — the country's largest supplier of freeze-dried camp food — won't accept any new orders through the 2011 camping season.
The company produces the widely sold Mountain House line of food pouches popular among everyone from overnight wilderness backpackers to Pacific Crest Trail devotees.
Oregon Freeze Dry officials say they have never seen this level of consumer panic over emergency preparedness in the company's 48-year history.
In the industry, the emergency-preparedness crowds are called "preppers," and they literally are taking food out of the mouths of hikers nationwide.
"The market has definitely shifted more toward the preppers, especially since the Japan earthquake," says Melanie Cornutt, Mountain House's retail sales manager. "There's just an incredible demand for our product."
Cornutt sent a letter to outdoors retailers last week saying the "very chaotic situation" means the company can only fill orders made before April 14.
Many stores already have sold more freeze-dried food packages in the first three months of this year than they did all of last year — and the summer camping season has yet to begin, Cornutt's letter says.
Oregon Freeze Dry is working on a multimillion dollar project to increase capacity at its Albany plant to try and keep up with demand, but that won't be done until fall.
The Mountain House pouches have sold out, and so summer hikers better stock up on pre-cooked scrambled eggs and chicken teriyaki pouches now or buy a camp stove, some propane and tortellini bags to pack into the backwoods this summer.
"This could be bigger than hoarding before Y2K," says Black Bird Shopping Center buyer Mike McMullen.
Black Bird has a 32-foot-long Mountain House display that he normally restocks with orders monthly through summer, he says.
It's stocked now, but he won't be getting any more.
"When hikers and campers find out about this, it'll go bonkers," McMullen says.
Mountain House pouches are popular along the Pacific Crest Trail, where they are prized for their light weight, nutrition and ease of use.
Many long-distance hikers mail themselves boxes of supplies along the trail, or stop at small stores to restock with freeze-dried foods.
With pouches gone, they'll either have to shift to dehydrated food or stop and get conventional food at stores along the route.
Wilderness hikers will be forced to pack in more conventional foods, and that means more weight, backpack space and time spent on food.
"They might face learning how to do camp-cooking, but that's more work at the end of the day," says Jack Haskel, trail information specialist for the Pacific Crest Trail Association.
Cornutt says Oregon Freeze Dry started as suppliers to campers and backpackers, eventually getting on the radar screens of survivalists.
The company's 10-serving cans have shelf lives of 25 years, while the pouches popular among campers have 7-year shelf lives.
But not until Hurricane Katrina did the emergence of preppers start to really show up in sales, Cornutt says.
"There's just a lot more ways people use freeze-dried food," Cornutt says.
But even the preppers' latest frenzy has caught Oregon Freeze Dry off guard.
Apparently, nothing says "buy freeze-dried food" louder than a 9.0 earthquake in Japan, a tsunami on the West Coast and fears of radiation clouds floating to North America from crippled Japanese nuclear power plants.
Oregon Freeze Dry expected a 30-percent increase. That turned into a 400-percent increase in just 30 days, Cornutt states in her letter.
That's why some of the company's biggest accounts will get some orders, but the smaller stores will be pouchless until the company can expand and catch up to the demand, she writes.
"We have never experienced the level of consumer panic and preparedness that we are currently facing," Cornutt's letter states.
Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470, or email email@example.com.