by Spencer Kloewer
The birth of Mountain House dates back to early 1969, but the history dates back even further, and one individual has been there since the beginning: Norm Jager. After 52 years with OFD Foods, his contributions have had lasting effect. His impact has shaped the foundation of the quality, longevity, and the passion that makes Mountain House the reputable brand it is today.
Norm began his historic career with OFD in 1964, loading strawberries onto trays. At the time, freeze dried strawberries, found in popular cereals, accounted for 100% of the company’s business. The company quickly recognized Norm’s talents and within the year, Norm began working in what was internally known as, “The Lab.” Since there were no formal departments like there are today, Norm had a mix of responsibilities that included Quality Assurance, Quality Control, and Research and Development.
By the mid-60s, the Vietnam War had already begun to cause turmoil across the globe. In 1967, the United States military approached Oregon Freeze Dry to create meals for their soldiers. They recognized the old “C” rations would be a problem for the soldiers because of the long range patrols they’d go on. This led to the creation of the LRP (Long Range Patrol ration), which OFD still manufactures for the military to this day. Norm played a key part developing the eight meals, two of which are still popular today: Beef Stew and Spaghetti. In addition to the 9,600,000 LRPs produced, OFD also produced cottage cheese and steaks.
For the next few years, soldiers began to write to OFD, praising the taste of the LRPs. They asked where they could purchase them, and we began selling the excess inventory to Army Surplus stores. As the fan base for the LRPs began to grow, they recognized a natural transition into camping and outdoor recreation activities. The rations quickly gained popularity and sold out. In early 1969, OFD was approached by Recreational Equipment, Inc. (better known as REI) to re-sell the military rations to backpackers. By the end of the year, the LRP packaging was changed from military-drab color to brilliantly colored red, yellow, and green foil pouches. Mountain House was born, and at the center of tastefully-formulated meal: Norm Jager.
From 1970-1980, Norm recalled a very different Mountain House than the one consumers know today. “We made pancake mix, French toast mix, nut chocolate Lurps®, pudding mix, orangeade, and even tuna and egg salad.” Our company freeze dried unusual products during that time period, including watermelon, sea cucumbers, Douglas fir seedlings, and even honey. Norm recalled freeze drying honey as “a sticky situation.”
Peter Mittmann, the guru behind Mountain House’s patented packaging, “heavily relied” on Norm’s expertise. “Whenever I had a question, I would always go to Norm.” Since 1979, the packaging structure has changed three times and every time Peter would ask Norm for his blessing.
“Every time we made a change, we checked with Norm to verify the change was the right change.”
Norm’s expertise didn’t stop with Mountain House. In 1982, OFD approached NutriSystem with a line of Fruit Crisps®, freeze dried strawberries. Instead, NutriSystem wanted a range of entrees. They selected six dinner entrees and asked OFD to reformulate to meet their dietary specifications. According to Mittmann, “Norm was key.” This multi-year agreement led to nearly a 50 percent increase in production capacity, greater facility expansion, an R&D center (which would later be named after him), additional rooms and equipment, and computerization for all Plant 1 chambers. Due to the volume NutriSystem required, along with demand from the military, and the production of industrial ingredients, Mountain House was pushed to the side and not a first priority for the company. However, there were many crossover entrees from both NutriSystem and military formulations that found a home with the Mountain House line: Rice and Chicken, Chicken Stew, Beef Stroganoff, Spaghetti, and entrées no longer in production such as Beef Burgundy and Green Pepper Beef.
The growth of OFD allowed Norm and the R&D team to explore their creativity. NutriSystem offered a chance to formulate fresh breads, such as waffles, tortillas, burritos, and even pizzas. In the early 1990s, the Gulf War took to the forefront as military production increased due to Desert Storm and Desert Shield. This time, their interests were providing fresh bread for their troops. This led to the first time OFD began packaging with Oxygen (O₂) absorbers, now a staple to the success and quality of Mountain House meals. Another critical element addressed in the early 90s was the introduction of the gusseted pouch. The gusset allowed consumers to eat from the pouch easier and provided the ability to hold it in their hand without feeling the heat of the pouch. These changes would set the new standard for freeze-dried meals.
Without Norm’s knowledge and expertise, Mountain House could not have created a product that we confidently back with a 30-Year Taste Guarantee. Many of the meals he helped formulate in 1968 are still top sellers for the brand today, such as Beef Stew, Spaghetti, and Chili Mac. According to Mittmann, there is one critical part about Norm’s presence at OFD:
“His dedication to quality and safety of food is unmatched.”
President Jim Merryman comments on Norm’s contribution to the company:
“One person has been involved with Mountain House from its inception in the late 1960s to present day, and that person is Norm Jager. Throughout all these years, Norm has been the steward of Mountain House, formulating recipes and the fine art of freeze drying to bring the very best food to MH fans.”