Hurricanes sap supply of MREs - and Eugene firm's business model

Massive hurricanes across the country dealt a blow to The Epicenter, a Eugene company that sells MREs - meals that are ready to eat. (SBG)

EUGENE, Ore. -- They made the headlines late this summer - hurricanes of massive destruction named Harvey, Irma and Maria.

They are storms that also dealt a blow to the bottom line of a west Eugene business thousands of miles away.

Bryan Nelson is owner of The Epicenter, selling meals that are ready to eat (MRE for short).

"It put them through the roof until we ran out," explained Nelson. "Oddly enough, things like blueberry turnovers."

And a few tasty side dishes - on a normal year, it's 50% of total sales, but when the hurricanes hit one after another, that's when the trouble started.

"FEMA just basically says, 'Okay, we want all of that, and then we want you to start making custom cases for us as well,'" said Nelson.

The MRE supply line dried up.

"We had no more," said Epicenter customer director John Shipe. "We couldn't give quotes for large orders starting in about late September."

Nelson says MRE supplies were also hard hit by orders to fire crews in the west this summer, and they haven't recovered.

Shipe says they've tried to fill some of the gap with sales of separate foods. "Just some of the ancillary MRE items like the MRE sandwiches, some of the snacks."

Meanwhile, online sales of MRE items are down at least 11 percent this fall.

Customers are not happy and Epicenter managers can only hope supply lines will soon recover.

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