The Packit Gourmet founding story begins in 1975 with Debbie and Jeff Mullins, their ‘73 Dodge Van, a passion for adventure, and a love for wholesome food.
Debbie and Jeff found their way to Northern Ontario, where they lived in a “back-to-the-land community” as their daughter, Loren Mullins Divino, called it in our interview. “It set the tone for loving the outdoors and living that lifestyle.”
That lifestyle included no electricity, no running water, and learning the skills to make shelf-stable food, tend to a garden, and source from local farms.
“There was no dehydrator,” Loren explained. “My mom was sun drying things at that point, making ‘window screen’ vegetables.”
Once older sister Sarah and Loren entered the scene, Debbie and Jeff didn’t skip a beat. “We were just folded into that lifestyle,” Loren laughed.
The Mullins girls grew up visiting Canada’s Algonquin Provincial Park, exploring its 750 miles of rivers. This opened up a love for extended canoe trips. These adventures called for expert meal planning, something their mother Debbie excelled at.
“She has always cooked meals from scratch at home and is an incredible cook,” Loren said. “The same mentality transferred over to all these adventures growing up.”
Fast forward a few decades. Sarah was in Graduate School at CU-Boulder in Colorado. Her entrepreneurship class assigned the task of creating a mock business.
At the same time, Debbie and Jeff were in the middle of prepping for an extensive canoe trip at the time, which included massive amounts of meal planning — sourcing multiple grocery stores for shelf-stable foods, and dehydrating ingredients. This gave Debbie an idea.
Why not create a one-stop-shop online grocery store that supplies all these dried ingredients allowing folks to customize their own meals? Why not market some of Debbie’s famous dehydrated meals, too?
After several semesters of market research, field testing with fellow grad students, and lots of excitement from Debbie about the idea, Packit Gourmet organically folded into a full-fledged family business.
Debbie, who was still working full-time, busied herself on evenings and weekends making and testing meals in their Austin, Texas home. Jeff, a master of all trades, renovated the home’s attic space making it code compliant for food processing.
The website launched, and in the summer of 2008 Loren and her husband Austin jumped in their ‘78 Volkswagen bus and hit the road to spread the word about Packit Gourmet.
“We were this big blue bus with huge Packit Gourmet magnets on the side, people were drawn to us,” Loren laughed of the attention they received. Traveling through 17 national parks and countless national forests, they made a lot of new friends that summer.
Slowly but surely, the orders were coming in, too.
The following year, Backpacker Magazine took notice, awarding the brand’s Austintacious Tortilla Soup with a mention in the 2009 Editor’s Choice awards. It was the first time the publication had recognized any sort of backpacking food as backpacking gear.
“They realized the importance of what a good meal does to you, mentally and physically,” Loren said. “It was a huge honor to receive that recognition. It solidified that we were doing something right.”
Packit Gourmet was doing something different, too.
With an impressive 45 meals in their lineup, they offer breakfast, lunch, dinner, happy hour and dessert themed meals. “We don't leave anyone out,” Loren laughed. Recognizing everyone does the outdoors differently, Packit Gourmet has something for everyone.
“We love a good meal,” Loren said. “We want it to be the best it can be in terms of quality, flavor and portion size.”
To enhance flavor and the overall experience, Packit Gourmet offers “extra bits” that allow for customization — like small packets of hot sauce, freeze-dried cheese, tortilla chips and dehydrated lime. Backpackers can add more value to their meals and give it that gourmet feel, Loren said.
Marketing Manager Travis Perkins agreed that the brand’s ad hoc or a la cart options empower the customer. “I love how you can choose your own adventure and you don’t have to be stuck with the six backpacking meals available. All things are possible!”
Packit Gourmet prioritizes balanced, healthy ingredients in their meals. “There are 15 different vegetables in our beef stew,” Loren said. “Debbie doesn’t cut corners and she doesn’t hold back!”
Many Packit Gourmet meals are those Debbie has been making for her own family for now years. “I grew up eating the chicken and dumpling meal. It was even my birthday meal of choice,” Loren laughed. “We have 45 meals because it’s hard to let go of meals! We like each and every one!”
Travis recalled seeing Debbie in her element in the kitchen. “She just starts mixing, and says, “Here try this. Too much spice? Not enough? She has real, legit passion for her recipes,” he laughed.
The greatest accomplishment and reward, undoubtedly, is the customers, Loren said. “We get so much feedback about their adventures, who they shared the meal with, and how it changed their trip.”
“We know how having a good meal out there is important and how it can make or break an experience. It’s amazing to hear from customers who feel the same way,” she said.
After three years in the Mullins’ attic, Packit Gourmet moved its headquarters to a spacious and rural property in the Austin Hill Country. “Going to work isn’t just going to work,” Loren said of the expanded space. “Once the day is over, we can have happy hour at the cottage or walk the property. There’s a beautiful overlap.”
“It was striking when I first started working with them, how effectively they operated as a family business,” Travis said. “There are few families that would be able to pull this off and still want to be around each other. There’s a lot of shared mutual respect for everyone.”
“We’re a small team and we have a lot of conversations about how to grow the business that keeps the quality high,” Loren agreed. “The industry has changed and there’s a lot of competitors, but we have control of what’s going on, how to grow, how to get out there, but also keep our standards high and focus on food.”