How to carry everything in a pack needed for a full-on extended back country adventure, without compromising nutrition? This was the question posed by the military and outdoor enthusiasts back in 1950s NZ that ultimately led to the creation of Back Country Cuisine.
Back country camp site
Back then light-weight outdoors gear didn’t exist; everything was heavy. So, from the 1960s onwards the focus went on reducing the weight of outdoors gear, which is where the Back Country Cuisine story starts with The Alliance Freezing Company (Southland) Limited freeze-drying Beef. In the 1960s Alliance pioneered the development of freeze-drying food in New Zealand to reduce its weight and extend its shelf life, supplying products to adventurers like Sir Peter Blake for Lion New Zealand’s, “Round the World” yacht race and the army.
Pudding in the bush
By the 1990s The Alliance Freezing Company had changed its ownership structure to be a cooperative, changed its name to the Alliance Group and re focused on core business. So Back Country Foods Ltd was established to take over the freeze-dried meal business founded by the Alliance Freezing Company.
This was in 1998 when Arthur and Shirley Ballantyne and Invest South purchased the freeze-dried food business from Alliance Freezing Company. Invest South is a Southland private equity fund, 100% owned by Community Trust South. Invest South provided equity capital to assist Arthur and Shirley to buy the business from Alliance and Back Country Foods Ltd was formed. Invest South saw opportunity to add value to a local business that was clearly focussed on growth. The business was relocated to Otepuni Avenue, Invercargill and the iconic Back Country Cuisine brand was created.
Invercargill is at the bottom of New Zealand and is one of the southernmost cities in the world, with great access to some of the best wilderness areas in NZ – Catlins, Stewart Island/Rakiura and Fiordland. Many raw ingredients, including meat and vegetables, are produced by food processors in Invercargill. The region is something of a gourmet food box. With amazing world class food producers on their doorstep Back Country Foods have always been proud to source locally as much as possible to go into their Back Country Cuisine meals.
Sunset in the mountains
Like most new business ventures nothing is plain sailing and difficulties were experienced in the early days. While Invest South’s initial investment was passive it soon provided management support in the form of skilled directors with governance and systems to assist the company with its growth objectives. Some of Arthur’s file notes show his appreciation of the support and advice from some pretty good mentors. Invest South showed patience in assisting the business to realise its objectives.
In 2009 Invest South facilitated a succession plan which enabled Arthur and Shirley to exit the business and bring in new shareholders Brent and Kara Crossan to join the company. The new shareholders were focused on market growth, particularly in the export markets.
A gluten free Berry Smoothie on the go
In 2013 Invest South facilitated the funding for a new large freeze dryer that delivered a step change in production capacity and generated efficiencies to enable the growth strategies.
In early 2017 Brent and Kara for personal reasons wished to exit the company, so Invest South acquired a 100% shareholding, putting in place a management team to support the company through a transition period and to underpin future growth. Invest South has recently sold Back Country Foods to Invercargill-based family business George Wilson Group.
George Wilson Group is a well-established Invercargill-based family business with more than 65 years’ experience in engineering, farm machinery, and more recently, campervan hire. Group director Murray Wilson says Back Country Foods presents an excellent new opportunity to diversify their Southland operations by growing an already successful business.
“We are very excited about the potential of Back Country Foods, a strong and profitable business with a high-value brand that is extremely well positioned for growth and expansion into new markets. Our vision is very much focused on realising that potential, developing new products and exploring new markets whilst continuing to contribute to the Southland region’s economy and community.”
Back Country Foods is very excited about the future with George Wilson Group.
So, what’s so great about Back Country Cuisine and who’s been eating the half a million meals, desserts and smoothies Back Country produce every year?
Back Country Cuisine products are light-weight, easy to prepare and taste great because of their unique freeze-drying process. This combines quick-to-hydrate, freeze dried vegetables and meats with delicious sauce mixes that retain their natural flavours. The result is tasty freeze-dried meals that can be prepared inside the pack in 10 to 15 minutes with just adding a bit of boiling water.
During the freeze-drying process, crystals of frozen ice in the food are sublimed (evaporated) to water vapour in a vacuum chamber. The result is a completely dry product that does not shrink during the drying process. After packing, the food is heat-sealed in foil pouches from which all the air has been removed and replaced with nitrogen gas, keeping the food safe and flavoursome for at least four years. When prepared for eating, the water is quickly absorbed by the pores left by the ice crystals to give a juicy, tender food product. Back Country Cuisine meals are formulated to meet the high energy needs of outdoor activity and our products have a careful mix of the essential components needed for a healthy diet. This includes balanced carbohydrates and sugars for instant energy, protein to replenish exhausted muscles and oils and fats to keep you feeling full.
Back Country Foods General Manager, John McGrath says that Back Country Cuisine meals provide outdoor adventurers with not only less pack weight and nutrition, but they provide a connection to home while they’re out in some of the toughest environments in the world. From crossing deserts, oceans or climbing mountains in pursuit of game or the summit.
“We produce in excess of 500,000 meals a year, with Roast Lamb & Vegetables being our best seller every year. It’s a really classic Kiwi dish that’s as popular with both hikers and hunters alike here, Australia and South Africa. It’s also amazing how many international adventurers also try our meals while visiting New Zealand or adventuring with Kiwi’s abroad. It never ceases to amaze me where our meals get taken – climbing in Nepal, Oman Desert marathons, Kayaking the Tasman to sailing around the world and hunting in Kazakhstan. We then get requests from all around the world for our meals.”
Back Country Cuisine Roast Lamb & Vegetables
To help celebrate Back Country Cuisine’s 21st birthday this year, they’ve decided it’s time to give their meal bags/pouches a new look. Their new design is clean, simple and designed to retain and enhance their New Zealand heritage. Green from native bush and orange from track markers is now combined with a sunset mountain scape, including clouds or a lake depending on how you perceive it. They’ve kept the same range category colour scheme to make finding and buying your favourite meals easy – dark green for meals, light green for breakfasts and desserts and blue for meal complements. Over winter and beyond Back Country tell us they’ll be working on improving their labelling to increase legibility, improve bag tear lines and provide an on-bag water measuring system, which we think will be a great addition!
So, with 21 years of experience, world-wide demand, great looking new packaging, a new owner and new meals being developed the future looks very bright for Back Country. If you would like to know more check out backcountrycuisine.co.nz