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A camping meal of Backpacker's Pantry Louisiana red beans and rice. Photo courtesy of Doug Brown

Backpacker’s Pantry Meals Are Flying Off Area Shelves

Sales of the Boulder-based company’s gourmet freeze-dried meals, which come in flavors like red beans and rice and risotto with chicken, have never been better.

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Summer is usually peak season for Backpacker’s Pantry, but this year, amid the pandemic, the Boulder-based company’s freeze-dried meals have been in higher demand than ever before. In fact, for a six-week period in February and March, online sales of its beef stroganoff, chana masala, and other gourmet meals brought in the same amount of revenue as cumulative sales in 2019, according to marketing manager Drew Carone.

Since then, demand for Backpacker’s Pantry’s 33 meal options, which include 10 vegetarian varieties (seven of which are vegan), has continued to grow. Business was so brisk this past spring that the 70-year-old company hired a half dozen additional employees. In fact, summer sales through retail outlets and online is almost double what the brand has experienced in the past, thanks to heightened interest in social-distancing-friendly backcountry adventures. “People are ready to go back out there,” says Carone.

Backpacker’s Pantry was born in 1951, when a California Girl Scouts troop developed the freeze-dried meals as a way lighten their packs. A Colorado family bought the company in 1971, eventually moving the brand to the Front Range in 1992. Today, the meals are made and shipped from a facility in Boulder’s Gunbarrel area that supports 50 employees. The bagged products, which transform from arid-looking fluff to nourishing feasts with the addition of boiling water, are flying off the shelves at outdoor recreation stores like REI and have even been sold online for more than their retail value by customers willing to part with spare bags.

What makes the meals so delicious? Backpacker’s Pantry prepares all of its ingredients separately, including the freeze-dried components and spices, before combining them in the bags. When a user stirs boiling water into the bag, it’s the first time the ingredients touch one another; other companies prepare full meals (for example, a batch of lasagna) before freeze drying individual portions. Carone says the Backpacker’s Pantry approach leads to more vivid flavors.

Boulderite Amy Kaneko, the author of Let’s Cook Japanese Food!, recently embarked on a family camping trip to Rocky Mountain National Park. She wanted to bring Backpacker’s Pantry along on the adventure and felt lucky to find employees at her local REI restocking shelves with the products when she arrived. “They said it will all be gone by the end of the day,” Kaneko says. “They said they can’t keep up.”

Kaneko purchased the pad thai, mango sticky rice, and Summit breakfast scramble—her favorite dish so far. “With the vegetables and the beans, it was hearty and flavorful, like really flavorful in a good way,” she says. “And so easy to do. We just ate it out of the bag.”

Pro tip: Purchasing the products from Backpacker’s Pantry’s website is the surest way to receive your pad thai (the company’s best-selling meal, with Kathmandu curry and lasagna running close behind). Carone advises customers to plan on between five and seven days for delivery.

Backpacker’s Pantry meals cost between $5.49–12.99 per bag and serve one or two; check out all of the varieties here.

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