In the early 1980s, the United States military research laboratories took the initiative in designing retort pouches. The retort pouch was a novel concept that helped the US Defense Department to upgrade their entire field ration program to include retort pouches instead of the less effective technologies of freeze-drying and canning. That is how MREs or Meals Ready to Eat originated. The military labs continued to upgrade the nutritional profile and taste of the MREs. Today, the US Military depends on MRE meal kits for most of their operations. MREs became popular with the Desert Storm and Desert Shield operations in the 1990s. In fact, they continue to feed the US troops and their allies wherever they are deployed. Also, the past 10 to 15 years saw the MRE becoming popular with civilian population since they were commonly used for humanitarian and disaster relief programs. In fact, MREs are distributed when there is no food available. Hence, it saves a lot of lives. This article provides information on when were MREs really invented.
In an effort to popularise MREs within the military and encourage the soldiers to consume the meals, the manufacturers increased the portion size and nutritional value of the package. They also introduced diversity in the rations such as adding sweets, cold beverages, and hot sauces in order to make the soldier eat the meal. This occurred in the early and mid-1980s. In fact, every year, the military-grade MREs keep on improving, and their ingredients change with time. MREs had drastically improved today since the time they first appeared on the battlefield in 1983. In 1983, a field study was conducted for more than 34 days involving the twenty-fifth infantry division. These soldiers didn’t eat anything else but MREs. The soldiers rated them as acceptable. But the consumption was still low. There was another test conducted involving the same division in 1986. The consumption has remarkably increased by this time. Due to these tests, many improvements were made possible to the package. The MRE had a facelift in 1988. It included a wide variety of entrees, and the pack was known as MRE XVIII. With the feedback received from the Desert Storm operation, more changes were implemented to the product. The package was called MRE X. The product saw the inclusion of freeze-dried coffee, commercial candy, and dehydrated fruits. During the latter part of 1994, there were three important changes made to the MRE package.
- The MRE bags were made easy to open.
- A study showed that commercial packaging was necessary to popularise the product and increase consumption. Hence, commercial-like features were added to the product in 1994.
- Biodegradable spoons were added to the package in order to make it eco-friendly. These spoons were a bit longer which made it easier to access the food items in the bag.
Another study was conducted simultaneously to increase the number of menus. The investigation revealed that increasing the number of menus from 12 to 24 was essential to prevent menu monotony. This also allowed the MREs to be used for a more extended period. The 24 menus finally arrived in 1998. At the same time, the demand for civilian MRE increased. In fact, civilian MREs were introduced to the market by the end of 1999. These products became quite popular with a majority of outdoor activists and campers in 2000. But the demand dropped in 2001. The revival of the civilian MRE market began in 2004 and 2005 after the hurricane Katrina hit. MREs became a household name after the hurricanes such as Katrina, Sandy, and Irene. The TV coverages of these incidents further popularised the MREs in society.
MREs have numerous advantages compared to other survival foods such as freeze-dried and canned meals. MREs are precooked and ready to eat. You don’t have to add any water. The meal is ready to eat right from the pouch – either cold or hot. If you want to heat the package, there is a flameless ration heater or FRH that comes with the package. Add two tablespoons of water to the FRH, and the meal is heated within two minutes. An MRE provides balanced nutrition and comes with a shelf life of five years or more. You can easily protect the meal for 5-10 years when you store it at the right temperature. The package is portable, lightweight, easy to store and carry, as well as easy to open. You don’t need special tools or skills to open an MRE like a canned food item. Just tear off the package, and you are ready to eat the meal. That is why MREs have become so popular in the military as well as the civilian society.
The information mentioned above provides details on when were MREs or meals ready to eat really invented.