// Photo by Adam Bacher
Several industry and economic trends are helping sustain and grow the company. Uncertainty — social, economic or political — apparently is a positive indicator for the food-processing industry. “We watch gold, guns and grocery,” Merryman says. “If those things are going up, that means there’s turmoil out there and that means people are buying food.” Mountain House has experienced double-digit growth annually for the past three years, and OFD has experienced companywide growth since 2009.
A growing nationwide preoccupation with emergency preparedness is another angst-driven market booster. “It could be a tornado, it could be a hurricane, but people are concerned,” Merryman says, and they want nutritious food that doesn’t require electricity if the power goes out. OFD also is capitalizing on interest in healthy convenience food by test-marketing its own freeze-dried meals — beef stew, lasagna — for everyday family use. At the same time, the company intends to invest more heavily in Mountain House, focusing in part on new ways of meeting backpackers’ twin objectives: more protein and less weight.
In the 21st century, freeze-dried isn’t just for food anymore. A market leader in freeze-dry technology, OFD has dabbled in a wide variety of products in the past decade, including nanoparticles, rocket fuel and probiotics. One of the biggest growth areas is pharmaceuticals, Merryman says. “We see a lot of products that have been patented over the years that are coming off of patent looking for a new delivery system.” More specifically, OFD will focus on alternatives to drug injections, including oral delivery, a method that will be further developed at the new manufacturing facility.
Scheduled to be completed in 2013, the pharmaceutical plant reflects the company’s desire to grow locally, a community-based philosophy that dates to 1986. That’s when a group of employees including Merryman purchased OFD, which had transitioned through two owners, 7UP and Philip Morris. Today OFD’s strategic focus on core house-branded products is another example of the company’s locally grown priorities. Not that the food processor is trading diversification for the monotony that sometimes plagues other food producers.
“I have a lot of friends in the food business,” says Merryman, who got his start at OFD scrubbing floors in 1974. “When you’re running corn, you’re running corn, and when you’re running beans, you’re running beans. We make over 450 products, and every day is something new and different.”