Out of the Norm: Celebrating 52 Years of Service

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.

Not only did Norm Jager formulate many of Mountain House’s famous meals, he also provided his looks for a magazine shoot.

Not only did Norm Jager formulate many of Mountain House’s famous meals, he also provided his modeling skills for a magazine shoot!

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.

OFD Foods, Inc. honors Norm Jager by naming the R & D Center after him.

OFD Foods, Inc. honors Norm Jager by naming the R & D Center after him.

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.”

Norm Jager and Jim Merryman at Norm's 50 year bash!

Norm Jager and Jim Merryman at Norm’s 50 year bash!

Up a Tree: A New View on Outdoor Recreation

Here at Mountain House we keep a keen eye open for stories to share with our community, particularly those that encourage folks to get outside and explore. And wonderfully, people are doing just that! From hiking the PCT, to summiting mountains, to discovering natural wonders in our own backyards, outdoor recreation seems to be at an all-time high. Great news, right? Well yes. But … we’re also keeping an eye open for other stories, too. Because as more and more people get outside and turn little-known areas into popular “must-see” experiences, there’s a risk that some ecologically-sensitive areas could be “loved to death.” So we want to highlight a different story, and encourage you to consider experiences that instead, love these special places to life.

Kelli Martinelli, one of our team members, recently had the opportunity to experience a cool new way to get outside here in Oregon. Her goal was to take a trip up to the top of an old growth tree, and if possible, spend the night up in its branches.  Thanks to Opal Creek Ancient Forest Center and Expedition Old Growth, Kelli got the adventure she was seeking, and then some.  She writes about the conversation she shared with her EOG tree guides while up in the canopy:

“… we discussed the language that trees share with each other. There is an unmistakable communication system, not so different from human neural and social networks. As an example, one tree in a grove could be under attack by an invasive bug. As the bug chomps on leaves, the tree releases volatile organic compounds into the air. The other trees detect these airborne stress signals and ramp up their production of a chemical defense mechanism in response, warding off attack. Makes it easy to wonder, are there signals being sent out to us that we simply haven’t been sufficiently aware in order to receive them?”

From Rejuvenation to Recreation

The Opal Creek Wilderness is the most recently protected wilderness area here in Oregon, thanks to the folks behind the Opal Creek Ancient Forest Center. Through their efforts they have been able to conserve 35,000 acres of old growth, protecting this vital watershed and ecologically diverse gem. They now concentrate most of their conservation efforts through programming offered at the rejuvenated mining outpost in Jawbone Flats, from outdoor schools, to wilderness medicine certification programs, and even private cabin rentals in the midst of old growth Douglas Fir, Western Cedar and Hemlock. Lots of people head to Jawbone Flats during the warmer months, taking advantage of the cool swimming spots and cliff-jumping opportunities. And while those activities are certainly fun, just think about the richer experience of doing something that integrates recreation with education and conservation, so that those swim spots and big trees will continue to be around for future generations.

Gear and safety check with Damien Carré of Expedition Old Growth.

Gear and safety check with Damien Carré of Expedition Old Growth. Photo credit Uncage the Soul Productions.

No Monkeying Around. Climb With an Expert.

Expedition Old Growth partnered with Opal Creek Ancient Forest Center to offer an immersive tree-climbing/camping experience. Damien Carré, owner-operator of EOG, has been up inside trees for 17 years, possessing the technical skill to ascend and descend safely, while minimizing the impact on the trees and surrounding forest. Interested in ascending a tree in your neck of the woods? Find a guide! Expedition Old Growth, for instance, provides experienced catered climbing excursions in Oregon and Washington.

Enjoying a 360 degree view of an Oregon treasure.

Enjoying a 360 degree view of an Oregon treasure. Photo credit Uncage the Soul Productions.

Remember taking field trips as a kid? Sure there was fun in heading to the zoo (again) or to the local paper mill (maybe), but we just bet the memories that stuck around had more to do with the expert guides and the hands-on education than just the place itself. Kelli writes,

“While I can’t speak for anyone’s experience except my own, I cannot imagine you’ll return to roots-level without a newfound understanding of this breathtaking symbiosis. I’m still dizzy with elation over the experience and am challenged to reinterpret my own relationship with trees, no longer seeing them as a “renewable resource” or even “friends” — but instead as wondrous, mysterious neighbors in whom I can trust, and for whom I will strive to be worthy of theirs.”

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So we want to hear from you. What gems have you discovered in your own backyard that have offered you an experience where you were able to play — and learn — all at the same time?

You can read Kelli’s full account here, Asleep in the Arms of Ancients. And yes, she did get the chance to have her overnight in a treetop. Not only that, she brought Cheesecake Bites. Because she could.

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Our #MyAdventureMeal Contest Winners!

Wow. You guys do some really cool things in beautiful places. And we have photo evidence that tells us you really know how to eat well outside. Kudos to everyone who submitted their photos and videos to our #MyAdventureMeal summer contest. From where we sit in Albany, OR, we had a great view of everything from SUP-side dining, to picnicking in Havasupai, to a toddler’s first taste of Mountain House on a camping trip! Good stuff, folks. Thank you for sharing. Thank you for supporting each other in the voting process. And thanks for celebrating adventure with us all summer long.

Alrighty, our vote-determined winners are …..

Grand Prize – Heather Miller

We're not sure where she's headed, but with a picnic basket like that, we're coming with!

We’re not sure where she’s headed, but with a picnic basket like that, we’re coming with!

2nd Place – MaryBeth Patrick (featuring her daughter, Maddison Lockhart)

This little adventurer worked hard to reach out to her community to help support her photo in this contest, " ... walking all over Boulder asking people to vote for her photo of her favorite Mountain House product (Napoleon Ice Cream)! Its been such a great learning experience for her and I couldn't be more proud as her father. For that I am deeply grateful to you all for having this contest and encouraging everyone to get out there." ~ proud papa

This little adventurer worked hard to reach out to her community to help support her photo in this contest, ” … walking all over Boulder asking people to vote for her photo of her favorite Mountain House product (Napoleon Ice Cream)! Its been such a great learning experience for her and I couldn’t be more proud as her father. For that I am deeply grateful to you all for having this contest and encouraging everyone to get out there.” ~ proud papa, Travis Lockhart

3rd Place – Jacky Chan

Nothing says lightweight and delicious like a floating Adventure Meal against a stunning mountain range. (note - this wasn't photoshopped, it's just a super cool trick! Try it at home, kids!)

Nothing says lightweight and delicious like floating Chili Mac against a stunning mountain range. (note – this wasn’t photoshopped, it’s just a super cool trick! Try it at home, kids!)

And our runners up …
These folks each receive $100 gift voucher to load up on all their favorite Mountain House meals!

Photo by Sam Mauldin

Photo by Sam Mauldin

photo by Austin Johnson

photo by Austin Johnson

Photo by Kenzie Farrell

Photo by Kenzie Farrell

Photo by John White

Photo by John White

Photo by Dave Traub

Photo by Dave Traub

Mountain House Makes Emergency Preparedness Easier With New Multi-Day Kits

Compact and easy to store, new kits will feed one person from two to five days.


Albany, Ore. –
Mountain House launched four new multi-day emergency food supply kits with enough food to help feed one person from two to five days. These kits include Mountain House’s most popular breakfast and lunch recipes. Easy to stack and store, combining one of each of the kits as a simple way to store two weeks’ worth of food. They are compact enough to fit in any closest, pantry, or even under a bed and are a great foundation for a comprehensive emergency food plan.

Each emergency food supply kit contains a unique assortment of 18 of Mountain House’s popular just-add-water meals. With recipes ranging from Biscuits and Gravy to Italian-Style Pepper Steak with Rice & Tomatoes, and kits ranging from two to five days, their goal is to enable easily customizable food storage to meet families’ taste and timeframe requirements. Simple to prepare, just pour hot water into any of the pouches and in eight to ten minutes the hearty meal is ready to eat. Continue reading

Letter From a Mountain House Fan

MH fanWe recently received this letter from one of our many Mountain House fans and wanted to share this with you.

“Howdy Mountain House Customer Service!

I am writing you to extend a huge thank you for salvaging our last backpacking trip! I took my significant other on her first ever backpacking trip last week, and long story short, there were quite a few hiccups.

On the very first night, we were caught in an unexpected thunder/hail storm at almost 12,000ft elevation, and all of the waterproofing on our tent failed. It pretty much ruined her experience, particularly for the first night. The one saving grace? The Mountain House food we had packed!

I was able to keep her spirits up with hot meals that she loved, and she even mentioned that the thing that made the trip better for her was how surprisingly delicious all of the food was. Her favorite was the lasagna and the Neapolitan ice cream, mine was the beef chili and macaroni and the biscuits and gravy. Each meal we ate was delicious, and it really made a huge difference!

Sharing my love for camping and hiking with her was extremely important to me, and I was really distraught when the trip was going so terribly. When she said that the rest of the trip was great, but that it wouldn’t have been without being able to enjoy all of the meals that we packed, it made me realize the debt of gratitude I owed you and your food. It’s such a small thing, but it made such a huge difference in her experience. I had to take the time to thank you!

C.W.

— Climber, Camper, and Extremely Grateful Customer”

 

You’re welcome C.W.! We’re happy to be along for the journey. We do what we do so you can concentrate on pursuing and sharing your passion for the great outdoors.

Mountain House Announces ‘Taste Guarantee’ for All Products

Long standing policy made official in response to widespread consumer confusion over “shelf life” in emergency survival food industry.

Lasagna-with-Meat-SauceMountain House, widely regarded as the gold-standard brand of emergency survival and camping food, has announced they are guaranteeing the taste of food they sell in pouches for a 12+ years and 25+ years in cans. This guarantee clarifies and distinguishes the quality claims of Mountain House from its competitors and stands in stark contrast to vague assertions of shelf life “up-to” a period of time, coupled with the very low standard of “will sustain life.”

“The claims of ‘up to’ and ‘will sustain life’ don’t give consumers confidence that their investment will perform as expected,” says Jim Merryman, president of Mountain House’s parent company OFD Foods, Inc. “We want consumers to be confident that our food will taste as good at the end of our Taste Guarantee as the day it was made, and that it will be there to feed and comfort them in their times of need.” Continue reading

Mountain House Receives Top Scores in Third-Party Sensory Test of Emergency Survival Meals

Consumers Have Spoken: Mountain House Scores Best Among Six Popular Emergency Survival Meal Brands

mountain house consumer sensory testing results

Click to Expand

 

Albany, Ore. – May 05, 2015 – Mountain House has published the results of a consumer sensory study comparing it to other major brands of outdoor recreation, and emergency survival foods. The study, conducted by the Oregon State University Department of Food Science and Technology Sensory Lab, compared taste and appearance of “chili macaroni” dishes.  Mountain House scored significantly better than other brands in both taste and appearance. Continue reading