Hurricanes, tsunamis and other disasters fuel food storage growth

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 14 2012 11:39 a.m. MDT

What do the tsunami in Japan, Hurricane Katrina, the financial crisis and the presidential election of 2008 have in common? They're all playing a key role in the recent surge in food storage sales across the U.S.

Based in Kaysville, Utah, Tomorrow's Harvest food storage sales have “blown up” since 2008, Mike Porenta, the company’s co-owner and chief operations officer, said. It’s a topic Porenta’s familiar within his side role as chief operations manager at the American Preppers Network, one of the biggest online forums and resources for people stocking up on food storage, said in an interview.

Revenue at Tomorrow’s Harvest has jumped by 900 percent since 2009, Porenta said while declining to give specific figures. In 2011, the American Preppers Network had its biggest sales year ever and he expects 2012 to be even larger. The company sells freeze-dried food and other items for emergencies. They did 50 percent of its business east of the Mississippi in 2011 and just 5 percent in the first quarter of 2012 was in Utah.

"That is new for our industry. We've always just dealt with the west," Porenta said. "I think the financial crisis of 2008 really started pushing people and the movement swept."

While some buy food storage to prepare for the end of the world, most buy for economic reasons, Melanie Woodward, sales manager of retail at Mountain House Food based in Albany, Ore., said in an interview. Oregon Freeze Dry owns Mountain House, the largest freeze-dried food producer in the U.S.

Food storage wasn't very popular among Americans outside some religious groups before Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Woodward said. The industry would see temporary jumps in sales for events such as Y2K and the Cold War. But once Katrina hit, the industry saw "rapid growth," Woodward said.

"That's when we saw a major shift in the market," said Woodward. "I think that awoke something. People recognize that it could happen. Something could happen."

The majority of consumers buy food storage for natural disaster preparation or possible economic slow-downs, Woodward said.

“The economy is right now, really driving this thing," she said.

Justen Ericksen, CEO of Daily Bread, a food storage company in Kaysville, Utah, echoed Woodward's comments. The majority of its food storage consumers are not extremists, he said. Buyers tend to be a little more wealthy, conservative and family oriented.

Ericksen said he has enough food storage to last his family for at least a year.

Some can spend up to $10,000 on food storage at a time, buying freeze-dried foods that can last for 25 to 30 years. Most will cover their families and sometimes grandchildren, so they can be ready for a long-term disaster, Porenta said.

Many people buy enough food storage to last for three or six months, instead of purchasing the larger, one-to-three year amounts, Woodward said. Some start small, by purchasing a few cans at a time, she said. But in 2009 and 2010, consumers were buying packages of food storage to last for longer periods of time.

"People are buying it for peace of mind," Woodward said. "They don't really believe the Mayan calendar. They don't really believe the solar storm is going to happen. But they're just buying it, just in case."

While the Mayan calendar and the predicted end of the world aren’t major reasons to buy food storage, it will be a cause for consumers to purchase more food storage in September and October, Woodward said.

Woodward has worked at Oregon Freeze Dry for 10 years, but until recently she didn't have any food storage of her own. She has enough to last her and her family for about three months. Woodward started stocking up on her supply because she doesn't know what will happen in her life.

Woodward wouldn't give specifics on revenue but said Mountain House has had a 40 percent jump in sales since 2008 and 600 percent since the Y2K scare. The company does 30 percent of its business to retailers in Utah and another 30 percent in the West Coast.

Most U.S.-based food storage companies export business outside of the country because of laws against sending meat across national borders, Ericksen said. If companies are doing business across international lines, they are selling freeze-dried foods other than meats.

But just how prepared are Americans for a natural disaster? While 64 percent said they think there might be a significant earthquake in the U.S. within the next 25 years, about 25 percent said they haven't done anything to prepare for a natural or man-made catastrophe, according to a survey by National Geographic in January.

Only 11 percent of those surveyed said they could last 60 to 99 days on the food they currently have in their home and 12 percent said they could last at least 100 days, according to the survey.

Click here to see how people can become more prepared.

EMAIL: bbullock@desnews.com

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