Outdoors

Maine’s Good To-Go, gourmet trail food, reaches 600 stores

Posted May 05, 2017, at 2 a.m.

What happens when you put together a professional chef and a seasoned backpacker? Gourmet trail food, naturally.

That’s the story of Good To-Go, a company that offers Maine-made dehydrated meals inspired by cuisines from around the world. Based in Kittery, the company was co-founded by Jennifer Scism and David Koorits, a married duo that melded their two life passions — good food and outdoor adventure — to fill a niche they believed had serious potential.

And based on their instant success, they were right.

In just three years, Good To-Go has infiltrated more than 600 stores, including the major outfitters REI, Eastern Mountain Sports and L.L.Bean, and has raised the standard for trail food.

“We just want to make food fun in the outdoors,” said Koorits. “I think it’s just a thing that’s constantly overlooked.”

Good To-Go’s current lineup of dehydrated meals includes herbed mushroom risotto, pad Thai, smoked three-bean chili, Indian vegetable korma, classic marinara with penne, a Mexican quinoa bowl and bibimbap — a spicy Korean dish of mixed rice, sesame, carrots and spinach.

“It’s fun for me to try to figure out how to develop a meal,” Scism said. “I get excited about an ingredient and run with it.”

Scism was the long-time co-owner of Annisa, a nationally recognized restaurant in New York’s Greenwich Village, and has traveled to more than 20 countries studying regional foods. She’s also beaten the Iron Chef, Mario Batali, on the TV Food Network’s Iron Chef program.

While vacationing at her home in Maine in 2008, she met Koorits at a dinner party set up by their mutual friends. At the time, Koorits was working as an emergency room nurse in York, and hiking the White Mountains and western Maine mountains during his free time. The two hit it off and wed the following year.

“I got Jenn into the outdoors,” Koorits said, “and she loved everything about it — except the food aspect of it.”

Scism remembers Koorits taking her on a shopping spree at REI, outfitting her for their first backpacking trip, a two-night trek through Crawford Notch State Park in New Hampshire. She also remembers what they ate for dinner on the trip: Annie’s macaroni and cheese combined with packaged tuna.

“That was your go-to,” Scism said to Koorits, laughing.

As the couple took more backcountry treks together, they tried to find more wholesome and tasty meals to bring on the trail. They tested freeze-dried meals and dehydrated meals made by a variety of companies, but they weren’t impressed. Most of the meals had too much sodium, Scism said, and there wasn’t much variety to choose from.

So Scism and Koorits started to experiment with making their own backpacking food. To learn more about food manufacturing, Scism took courses through the nearby University of Southern Maine Food Studies Program. Through trial and error, they learned what foods dehydrated well, and what foods didn’t. And eventually, they came up with some recipes.

It wasn’t long before Good To-Go was born.

Appalachian Mountain Club was the first retailer to pick them up, then Eastern Mountain Sports. And after being in operation for only a year, Good To-Go was picked up by REI, a national outdoor retail co-op with more than 140 stores, as well as a full online sales catalogue.

“That was a game changer for us,” Scism said.

All Good To-Go meals are produced, from start to finish, at the company’s headquarters: a yellow cape house with a red front door on Route 1 in Kittery. In 2016, they completed an addition to the house to make room for the large kettles and dehydrators needed for increased production. During the summer, which is the company’s busy season, they now produce and package an estimated 50,000 dehydrated meals a month.

It all starts in the house’s industrial kitchen, which they renovated specifically for the production of dehydrated food.

“We’re really excited about clean ingredients,” Scism said. “We don’t really want anything in there you wouldn’t have in your kitchen. It’s not just flavored powders added to the bag, they’re actual products. It’s garlic and lemongrass. We made 80 pounds of curry paste today.”

In addition to ingredients that you can actually pronounce, the meals include no preservatives, zero trans fat, low sodium and nearly all of the meals are cholesterol free. The food was created to have a high calorie-to-weight ratio, a feature that is important for backpackers and other athletes who have to pack and carry their food, such as long distance paddlers. And perhaps most importantly, the meals taste good.

“I’d have to say our competition have upped their game a little bit,” Scism said, “And not to pat ourselves on the back, but I like to think we have to do with it.”

Good To-Go’s commitment to flavor and “real” ingredients hasn’t gone unnoticed. The company’s Thai curry — which is loaded with fresh broccoli, cauliflower, peas and green beans and combined with jasmine rice — won Backpacker Magazine Editors’ Choice Award in 2014. And their new oatmeal — a mix of whole-grain, gluten-free oats, quinoa, chia and hemp seeds, seasoned with cinnamon, turmeric and cardamom — earned the same coveted award this year.

But that type of quality doesn’t come without a price. A single serving (3.4 ounce) portion of Good To-Go’s Thai curry costs $6.75, with the double serving at $12.50. The other meals are similar in price. But if you look at the company’s competitors, such as Mountain House, their prices for dehydrated and freeze-dried meals are similar.

In the near future, Good To-Go is looking to expand their line of meals to include new entree recipes as well as desserts, and they expect they’ll need more room for production as the company continues to grow. But even if they move, their goal is to stay in Maine.

“We’re wed to Maine,” Scism said.

They also are looking beyond the outdoor industry, to cater to people who are simply “on the go” and don’t have the time to cook a wholesome meal. In fact, Good To-Go recently starting selling their meals at the Whole Foods Market, a chain of stores selling natural and organic foods that spans the country.

“We’ve come a really long way from our humble beginnings,” Scism said. “But I think we have a very long way to go.”

To learn more about Good To-Go and to order their products online, visit https://goodto-go.com.

 

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