In June of 2020, Shaun Durkee was laid off from his job. For nearly a decade, he had worked as a Materials Manager for a local optics manufacturing company in Bozeman, Montana. At the time, Alpen Fuel was a side business Shaun and his wife, Emily, had started for fun in 2018. But after the layoff, they decided to give their full-time attention to their ready-to-go-breakfasts business.
They began by making four flavors of high-calorie, nutritionally dense granola: Chocolate Strawberry, Lemon Berry, Orange Pecan, and Coconut Mango. Shaun and Emily created these with versatility in mind, and the meals can be prepared with either hot or cold water.
“Our food is filling the void for breakfasts that are up to the task of any adventure,” explain Shaun and Emily. “If you are burning 3,000 to 5,000 calories per day while backpacking, you can't start out with a subpar breakfast.”
Alpen Fuel breakfasts fuel you with five times the calories of instant oatmeal. The Chocolate Strawberry flavor is the highest calorie, at 770 calories per meal, and Shaun and Emily’s favorite is the Lemon Berry, which also happens to be the best selling. All ingredients are sourced from the US, and their oats are gluten-free.
Shaun is a fifth-generation Montanan who grew up hunting, hiking, and fishing on the vast public lands surrounding the Gallatin Valley. Many of Shaun’s trips are centered around fishing for trophy trout high in the mountains, with his wife and two children often in tow. These trips are what inspired him to start creating ready-to-go breakfasts for long days in the backcountry.
Many backpacking breakfasts need hot water and up to 20 minutes to rehydrate. If you don’t want to commit to that, you might find yourself stuck gnawing on an energy bar or snacking on candy as you start hiking.
Alpen Fuel fills that gap, with plenty of energy and instant preparation. Everyone from thru-hikers to hunters and fishermen have found this to be clutch, allowing them a quick exit from camp, while also providing enough nutrition to meet the demands of the day.
Shaun and Emily make Alpen Fuel meals in a local commissary kitchen — the same spot where a nonprofit prepares meals for low-income families in the afternoon. Shaun and Emily use the kitchen in the morning, and their rent helps to cover kitchen expenses.
Overall, the journey to get their meals onto shelves has been harder than they anticipated. “Jumping through all the hoops to become a food manufacturer is quite daunting,” Shaun and Emily reflect, “every facet from label design to finding a kitchen to rent.”
There’s no owner’s manual when you start your own company, and starting a food company is especially hard given the regulations and approvals needed from the city, county, and state.
But just like with backpacking, the challenges also make the successes sweeter.
“We were pleasantly surprised by the outpouring of support from the public and outdoor industry when we decided to launch our own food brand,” they say. “People have been super helpful when we have questions and need help figuring out what direction to go.”
Maggie Slepian is a full-time freelance writer based in Bozeman, Montana. She is the co-founder of BackpackingRoutes.com, and spends as much time outdoors as possible. You can follow her here, or find clips and contact info at Maggieslepian.com