Suzy Bratton of Yum Pouch began creating vegan meals-on-the-go when her husband Jason “Stickboy” was competing in the Iditarod Trail Invitational.
Each racer needed to ship 10 drop boxes filled with food and supplies to fuel their 1,000-mile bike ride across the Alaskan tundra. When a vegan friend and fellow racer discovered the astronomical shipping costs from his home in South Africa, Suzy offered to make, pack and ship his meals to fuel this arduous journey.
As a passionate homecook and former vegetarian herself, Suzy knew the importance, and sometimes challenge, of having a high-quality protein diet. “I borrowed a dehydrator from a friend, did some research and just fooled around!” she laughed.
Using lentils, beans, hemp seeds, nutritional yeast and other protein sources, she went to work in her home kitchen. The meals were well received and exceeded the expectations of their South African friend.
Yet, as a full-time professional musician dedicated to her work, Suzy put this hobby on the backburner. That was until she developed a nerve disorder in her mouth that prevented Suzy from her livelihood as a clarinetist with the Grand Rapids Symphony. Out of commission, and in the midst of a global pandemic, she decided to take the leap with Yum Pouch, and “do it for real.”
“It’s a direction I never expected my life to take,” she said. “It’s been a big leap, there’s no net, but I’m going for it.”
First on the menu was Trail Blazin’ Fiesta Rice. “I took a very nerdy, scientific approach, even measuring to the tenth of an ounce,” she laughed of the process. “I have notebooks and notebooks filled with iterations.”
Suzy became fascinated with experimenting how fresh food tastes and translates once it’s become dehydrated. “What do I keep fresh and what do I dehydrate to get the right textures and right flavor? Do I hard boil, keep it raw, blanch it? It’s a super multilayered process,” she reflected.
Suzy approaches it all with the same precision and attention as she does her work as a musician. “In music, everything is on needle point in terms of timing, it’s so focused,” she said.
Suzy wants Yum Pouch to be known for clean food with loads of flavor. “There are other good [adventure meal] companies out there with good nutrition and good packaging,” Suzy said, “but what makes us stand out is the flavor, no question.”
Yum Pouch launched with two meals at the start of the Iditarod Trail Invitational in Anchorage in 2022 — by that time Suzy had also created the recipe for Shroomin’ Roo Pasta. “It was a full circle moment,” Suzy recalled, as they handed out free meals to racers.
Given that they put so much time and consideration into the quality and flavor of their meals, Yum Pouch wasn’t going to accept a mediocre, wasteful packaging option. “It just didn’t make sense to me,” Suzy said of using conventional plastic packaging. “It should be clean on the body, and clean on the Earth, too.”
The Omnidegradable bags that hold Yum Pouch dehydrated meals are compostable after use — and after being packed out the backcountry. Instead of relying on water, heat or sun to degrade, the packaging material gets decomposed by the ever present microbes in soil. “I’m so lucky that the technology is out there, and it’s getting better all the time.”
Suzy takes great pride in introducing adventure meals to the Mitten State. “The culture of backcountry food is kinda a niche market on the ground, but Michigan has a super big outdoor community, and lots of support for local businesses.”
“It’s an open field and it’s not a path that’s well-known,” Suzy said of the local market. “I feel like I can take some ownership in this category.”
While Yum Pouch is a one-woman band with Suzy at the helm, her #1 fan is never far away. “If I get super self-critical and ‘half empty’, Jason is very grounding and reminds me of all the reasons we’re doing it. He brings a lot of authenticity to what the company is and is so integral to the vision.”
In the summer months, you can find Suzy and Jason (often disguised in an inflatable kangaroo costume) at their local farmers markets. Much to their surprise, it’s not just the backpacking and endurance communities supporting Yum Pouch. “There’s a place for this product in a lot of people’s lives.”
Yum Pouch is excited to release a third vegan meal later this year, Mean Green Curry. For all the fans asking for some heat, this is it. “And it is a little mean,” Suzy laughed.
The brand’s steadfast mission always will be to create food for the hungry ones, both literally and figuratively. It’s food for the dreamers and achievers. “It all has to start with a dream … and you gotta feed the dream!”