A twelfth century Mongol invader knew how to preserve food. Placed under a saddle, the rider’s meat was compressed by his bottom as it absorbed salty sweat from the horse below. Not an ideal preservation technique, salting as well as pickling, drying and smoking were all that armies could use to feed themselves until the late eighteenth century when canning was invented.
Where are we going? To food innovation from the military.
New Kinds of Army Food
Armies on the move have always needed a mobile food supply. It took World War II though for the U.S. military to decide it had better have a big supply of MREs–Meals ready-to-eat–at all times. And that took an army of scientists.
Near Boston, at the Natick Soldier Systems Center, scientists develop processed food. Explained by a Natick executive, “Our shelf life is three years at eighty degrees because combat rations are a war-stopper…When you go to war, you’ve got to bring your beans and your bullets.”
MREs include beef patties and shelf-stable sandwiches that can sit at room temperature for two years. As a snack, Combos are an example. And for those of us who prefer pepperoni, Natick has a shelf-stable pepperoni taste alike called ozmoroni that can top the three-year shelf life pizza they are now developing.
Our Bottom Line: Technological Innovation
Like all new technology, food processing innovation can serve as a growth engine that leads to Joseph Schumpeter’s creative destruction. So, when you think of non-stale bread, soft chocolate chip cookies, granola bars and a room temperature pizza with a three-year shelf life, remember military innovation and the Mongols on their horses.