Tasteful Trekking and Campfire Meals- Dining with Packit Gourmet
By Shelby DeCusati and Christa Sellers, Girls Who Hike Ambassadors
Whether you are planning an overnight camping trip or multi-day backpacking adventure it's essential that you plan on bringing food that will keep you energized and happy. Food is not just about staying fueled up to keep your adventure going; it’s about truly enjoying your time and experience off the grid. Packit Gourmet is a multi-generational family-owned and operated business located outside of Austin, Texas. They are a family that shares a passion for the outdoors along with their family recipes and flavors to help adventurers make the most of their outdoor experiences. They truly believe and have learned through family outings that delicious and nutritious food is just as important for making outdoor memories as well as anything else. Packit Gourmet is a local company that stands out amongst other outdoor food organizations for their expertise in food preparation, company history, values, and devotion to their customers’ dining experiences.
Who are the core employees of PackIt Gourmet?
“Debbie is the mother in our family and also our Chef! The majority of our meals are based on recipes that have been passed down through the generations.
Jeff is the father in our family — he heads up production and can build or fix absolutely anything! He single-handedly built out Packit’s entire facility and continued to expand on it as we grow.
Sarah is the elder sister; she’s the driving force of this business! She is in charge of the Packit Gourmet Operations!
Loren is the youngest sister, and if you’ve communicated with Packit Gourmet in any way, you’ve met Loren!” She is in charge of marketing for the business.”
What was the driving force behind wanting to start the business?
“Packit Gourmet began very organically, and it was truly born out of a love for the outdoors and the desire to enjoy delicious, home-cooked, quality meals in the backcountry. We, the Mullins Family, have been camping together since Sarah and I were born, and we each embarked on our first canoe trip at the age of 2. For Debbie, it made perfect sense to not only cook all meals from scratch at home but to carry that into our outdoor family adventures as well, so Debbie and Jeff would dehydrate fresh produce from the family garden, first using screens and sunshine and in the later years, a home dehydrator. In all honesty, Sarah and I had no idea how good we had it!
In 2005, Sarah went to CU Boulder pursuing a master’s degree in business administration. When calling home to brainstorm business ideas, Debbie suggested what she wished she had, a way to purchase small quantities of dehydrated ingredients for DIY camp recipes!
Since she’s a chef at heart, this not only blossomed into a full grocery section of ingredients but a line of meals as well! Debbie would experiment, create new meals and ship them up to Sarah at CU Boulder. Her team would make them, taste them and thankfully, raved about them!
It was the push from Sarah’s classmates and professors that really inspired us to begin the Packit adventure! All of a sudden there was a Packit HQ in Jeff and Debbie’s home and although they were both still working full time for the University of Texas, the business launched in 2008!
Sarah was building the website and handling all business-related matters, Debbie created the recipes on the weekend, Sean (Sarah’s husband) bagged the meals and Jeff remodeled the attic to be an additional workspace! Austin (my now husband) and I had just graduated college, purchased and renovated an aqua blue ’77 VW bus. To debut the launch we set out on a three-month road trip to 17 National Parks in the Western US with a Packit Gourmet magnet plastered on the side of the van. We chatted with everyone we possibly could, put Packit Postcards and Coupons on parked cars in campground parking lots and told our story to anyone that would listen! We were shipped packages of meals along the way and became the official Packit Gourmet field testers! I have to say, Austin and I really lucked out on that Deal! Nine months after the launch, Backpacker Magazine awarded our Austintacious Tortilla Soup with the 2009 Editor’s Choice Award. It was at that point that it all became very real, and the rest is history!”
What is the top selling meal?
“The Texas State Fair Chili! And to take it over the top we added Fritos Corn Chips, Monterey Jack Cheese, and a packet of Texas Pete Hot Sauce!”
What is everyone’s favorite meal and memory associated with it?
Loren: “This is easy — Dottie’s Chicken and Dumplings! This dish is named after my grandmother Dottie (a nickname from Dorothy). Her chicken and dumplings recipe was passed down to her daughter/my mother Debbie and I must say, it is out of this world good!”
Sarah: “At the moment, I am loving our Texas State Fair Chili, Big’un Burrito, Austintacious Tortilla Soup and Good Day Sunshine Bowl. The Austintacious Tortilla Soup will always hold a special place in my heart as it was with me through taste tests and brainstorming sessions in grad school.” *Editors’ Choice Award from Backpacker Magazine: Austintacious Tortilla Soup*
Debbie: “My favorite is the Pasta Puttanesca/Bolognese. I’ve always felt that was the best spaghetti I’ve ever made!”
Jeff: “The biscuits and gravy is my favorite meal and I have fond memories of eating it in our remote Canadian log cabin ... I remember thinking that it doesn’t get much better than this.”
How many servings do your recipes typically offer?
“All of our meals are designed to be a single serving, but the portion sizes vary depending on the meal. We understand that our customers are involved in physical activities and have worked up quite the appetite, so it’s important to us that our meals are hearty and satisfying.
Also, when comparing nutrition charts, you’ll see that we typically have a higher calorie count and level of protein in our meals. We don’t skimp on ingredients and we never will. We’re out there in the backcountry eating our meals just as you are, so we understand what’s important with regards to nutritional needs and portion sizes.”
Do you use locally grown or organic produce in your meals? Explain any kind of sourcing with trusted companies.
“Sourcing the ingredients for our meals is the first and most important step when creating our dishes! We continually seek out the best ingredients that complement our vision for each of our meals and our customers’ food preferences. The quality of each ingredient with regards to taste and texture are continually evaluated by Debbie on a daily basis and we take the time to research who we are buying from, as well as their practices in farming and manufacturing.
We use local and organic ingredients when we can rely on their continued availability and they’re at a cost point which allows us to keep our customers happy. We’re proud to use cage-free chicken and organic chicken stock in our meals, all-natural egg in our breakfast dishes, and lots more which are detailed on our website. Continually seeking out these ingredients is a high priority for us and we always look forward to expanding our local and organic products! Our goal is to provide our customers with the most delicious and nutritious meals possible or their adventures and we keep that mission in mind each and every day!”
Are there certain meals that you would recommend to hikers that have specific dietary needs? Gluten-free diets?
“We understand that everyone has specific dietary needs and we’re continually striving to offer a variety of meals that correspond to each category. Our website is designed to help our customers find which meals best fit their diet (gluten, dairy, vegan, vegetarian, etc.) by allowing customers to filter our meals by meat content & dietary considerations, as well as heat need (cool or hot water), cooking type (bag or pot).
Regarding gluten-free, we use the term “gluten-conscious” to describe a product that we prepare with gluten free ingredients; however, it is not prepared in a gluten-free environment. We think it's important to make this distinction for those individuals that are highly sensitive to gluten. That being said, with all dietary concerns and allergens (dairy, nuts, etc), we are extremely considerate to avoid cross-contamination.”
Are the lower calorie recipes for those who are dieting or trying to watch their figure? Does your company take into consideration how much sodium or added sugars go into the products?
“All of our meals range in calorie count, protein levels, sodium, carbohydrates, sugar etc. and we take all of these components into consideration when creating a new meal. Our website contains a product page for each trail meal including the nutrition chart, ingredients list and additional dietary information. This information is also clearly written on the back label of each meal.
When it comes to these types of preferences, we feel as though the customer understands their individual needs best and we depend on the customer to evaluate each meal with regards to their own needs. We are not experts in trending diets or dietary conditions and therefore do not advise on these topics. In addition, our grocery section offers a great resource for customizing individual meal plans!”
Have you had any customers that have come up with creative or innovative ways to serve PackIt Gourmet meals whether it's adding supplementary ingredients, adding spices, or other flavors?
“Although we receive feedback from our customers on a regular basis. We seldom hear about them adding to or changing our meals. That’s a pretty great compliment! We did just hear from a customer that stuffed his freshly-caught trout with our Pico de Gallo, pan-fried it and said it was “extraordinary”! There’s also a lot of great recipes that DIY-camp chefs are creating with our line of freeze-dried and dehydrated grocery items. This is something that we’d like to start highlighting more in 2019. It can be really fun to create your camp recipes, so we’d like to help our customers understand how to work with these non-traditional or unfamiliar ingredients to see the potential of what they can create.”
Do you try to inspire your customers to Leave No Trace as they take your recipes into the wilderness?
“Packit Gourmet is a Leave No Trace Corporate Member and for the past nine years, we’ve been happy to provide a standing discount to all LNT members! We also help our customers pack out what they pack in by actively working to cut down waste in our packaging. We took a big step towards this with our new Cook-in-Bag design this year and we will continue to explore ways to incorporate conservation practices into our packaging.”
Are there strategies your company is using or working towards changing to make your packaging Eco-friendly?
“At the Packit Gourmet HQ, striving to be as eco-friendly as possible is always part of the conversation. Although there is always room for improvement, here are a few fun things we’re doing to be part of the solution: We actively maintain a cardboard composting area at our facility. By layering used cardboard boxes with soil and leaves we can create nutrient-rich soil that benefits and enriches our entire property and enables better water conservation in our dry Texas climate.
The Packit Gourmet property is certified by the National Wildlife Federation as a “Certified Wildlife Habitat” due to our supply of food, water, cover and places for animals to raise their young. We’re located in the hill country on the outskirts of Austin and we recognize that it’s our responsibility to nurture and live in harmony with the local wildlife. Through landscaping, intentional building practices and gardening, we’re proud to call our land home to a variety of land-mates: foxes, raccoons, opossums, owls, snakes, skunks, bobcats, a range of birds (including the gorgeous painted buntings and the endangered Golden Cheeked Warbler!), butterflies and honey bees housed in our homemade hive.
Our facility is completely made from recycled materials. In addition, we use recycled materials and supplies throughout our facility and offices, as well as biodegradable packing peanuts in our shipments and biodegradable clay desiccants with our meals.”
Do you try to give back to your local community in any way?
“Absolutely! We donate product to 15+ non-profit organizations throughout the US annually including the Austin-based Hill Country Conservancy and Austin Parks Foundation, plus nationwide search and rescue organizations, outdoor education centers, conservation efforts and more.
One of our favorite experiences was working with El Ranchito, a non-profit nature-immersion camp. Throughout the summer they provide inner-city kids between 4th thru 12th grade with a week-long camp consisting of camping, backpacking, rock-climbing, cave exploring and nature education. Packit Gourmet donated meals and taught lessons for each groups very first overnight backpacking experience on the difference between freeze-dried and dehydrated food, why lightweight meals are ideal for backpacking.”
Packit Gourmet would like to share their love with all our Girls Who Hike Members, by offering everyone 20% off their first order until 12.31.18!
Simply log on to www.packitgourmet.com, create a user profile, fill up your cart, and then enter GWH20 at checkout! The Mullins family has put years of family love and their love for the outdoors and poured it into every bag that’s made. Be sure to experience this, and spread the love to your family and camping buddies! From having grandma’s recipe on the trail after a long day to having a margarita celebration at 14,000 feet, what more could you ask for? We hope you enjoy your Packit Gourmet order as much as we have out on the trail! Cheers to enjoying a meal that will taste like you spent all day whipping up something wonderful in the kitchen when actually you’ve been logging miles, enjoying the amazing fresh air, and spending some quality time with mother nature. Happy breakfast, lunch, and dinner time!