July 23, 2021

Interest among consumers in buying and eating military rations, or MREs, has reportedly remained high since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic caused a spike in demand early last year.

Army surplus stores and small private sellers alike are continuing to enjoy brisk sales of the ration packs, with rations from countries ranging from the US to China, Ukraine and France popular among private buyers.

Appealing to survivalists, military enthusiasts and many others, the meals, known as MREs, typically offer more than a thousand calories each and are designed to have a long shelf life.

Sales to private buyers are said to have grown significantly in the first half of 2020, when the disruption caused by the pandemic sparked concerns about food shortages and caused some people to stock up on supplies.

The spike in sales of MREs was just one of countless examples of food demand increasing as a result of the pandemic.

According to a recent New York Times report, at the time of the spike in demand one online US retailer began selling as many packs of MREs in a day as it had previously sold in a week. Interest is said to still be high.

“Today, as purchases of other pandemic fixations have flagged, the civilian fascination with the meals has persisted – driven by caution (stocking up for the next potential pandemic or natural disaster) and curiosity,” the New York Times reported last month.

The tasting of MREs on YouTube has developed a loyal following, with some videos having accumulated millions of views.

One of the most popular clips, which has been watched 10 million times, involves a pizza MRE, a type introduced, with much hype, in 2018.

Greek, Russian, American, Colombian, Swedish and Mexican MREs are among the many reviewed by YouTubers.

Even before the pandemic, interest in MREs among the public had been growing thanks to an increase in the number of “preppers” – also known as people who prepare for a catastrophe.

Although now used generically for a wide variety of military rations from multiple nations, the term MRE – which is trademarked – is just one category of military ration produced by the United States.

The “Meal, Ready-to-Eat” went fully into production in 1980 and is characterised by being lightweight and not requiring a rigid metal can, although military rations in some form can be traced much further back.

A 2012 official US military report titled, “Operational Rations of the Department of Defence,” highlighted the MRE as a general purpose ration that typically weighs 1.5lbs per meal and offers about 1,300 calories.

There are more than 20 sorts of MRE, with new flavours introduced each year.

One vegetarian example contains cheese tortellini in tomato sauce, instant vanilla pudding, chocolate peanut butter, crackers, recovery trail mix, lemon-lime beverage powder, hot sauce and an “accessory packet”.

These accessory packets contain coffee, creamer, a sugar substitute, chewing gum, a towelette, salt and toilet paper.

The report also detailed the FSR (First Strike Ration), a 2.5lbs and 2,900 calorie meal to be eaten in the first three days of a conflict. It is designed to strengthen mental acuity.

The MCW (Meal, Cold Weather) weighs just 1lb but has 1,450 calories, the same as the LRP (Long Range Patrol) ration.

“While the MRE remains the staple individual ration, the asymmetric battlefield our warfighters have been engaged in brought about the need to develop additional rations,” the report stated.

“The FSR was created for conventional forces who were now conducting dismounted patrols for significantly longer periods of time than in the past.”

The types of rations available continues to evolve, with a new offering, the Close Combat Assault Ration, set for release in 2022.

This will be lighter than the standard MRE and is designed for combat units that may be isolated and self-sufficient for long periods.

Made up of “an assortment of nutrient-dense energy bars”, it may be a supplement to or a replacement of the standard MRE and will use latest methods of drying and compression to cut down on weight and size.

“This is a ration that’s designed to be extremely lightweight and compact,” Lauren Oleksyk, an official involved in developing the rations, told the website last year.

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