Sasquatch Fuel

Father and son co-owners, Sandy and Andrew Schroeder, began a local freeze-dried backpacking food company with biodegradable packaging. Sandy and Andrew pose for a photo at the Cottonwood Trailhead on Thursday.

When Andrew and Sandy Schroeder set their packs down after finishing a long hike to a lake in the Crazy Mountains, they spotted something glimmering at the bottom of the clear water.

The object was a wrapper from a pre-packaged camping meal.

“There’s nothing worse than going nine miles to a lake in the middle of nowhere and seeing a Mylar pouch at the bottom of the lake,” said Sandy, 55. “It’s infuriating.”

But the litter gave the Schroeders an idea: Why not develop a packaged meal that could break down in nature?

More than three years later the Bozeman father-son duo has created what they believe is the answer. Sasquatch Fuel — just-add-water meals with biodegradable packaging — debuted at local retailers in April.

The meals — currently spaghetti with meat sauce and vegan rice and beans, though the Schroeders soon plan to add a couple breakfast options — come in Omnidegradable bags, a patented material that breaks down using microbes in the ground and water. According to the pair’s backyard testing, the pouches decompose in around two months in the summer and closer to six months in the winter. They are also safe to burn, though the Schroeders still recommend packing the trash out.

“We don’t advertise just throwing them out there,” said Andrew. “It’s a last line of defense for the ecosystem.”

Despite their initial zeal for the project, Andrew, 24, an independent contractor and full-time student at Montana State University, said getting the meals to market was infinitely more complicated than he imagined.

The two have jumped through regulatory hoops at the USDA and FDA, and have gone through several distributors, processors, investors and graphic designers.

“People think cooking was the hard part,” said Sandy. “No, cooking is the easy part. Government regulation and red tape is the hard part.”

“We’ve learned a lot about the food industry,” Andrew added with a laugh.

The Schroeders have done most of the work themselves — from the final logo design and video for the website to sticking labels on hundreds of pouches.

“The biggest positive to date is that we’re here now. There are real highs and lows, but we made it out and it’s awesome,” Andrew said.

When Sasquatch first made it onto the shelves at Schnee’s on Main Street in Bozeman, the Schroeders took a photograph of themselves standing outside holding two meal packages.

“To see it on the shelf, it was one of the happiest days of our lives,” said Sandy.

Hampered by recent injuries — Sandy is recovering from ankle surgery, while his son recently compressed two vertebrae — the two have done little in the way of marketing, save promotion through Instagram influencers — users with large followings who feature products on their profiles.

But the Schroeders hope to get some exposure before the end of the summer hiking season, including offering samples at local trailheads and producing content from their own backpacking adventures.

Currently the meals, which sell for $11.99, can be found online, at Schnee’s and at Bob Ward’s stores across the state, and the owners hope to eventually get the brand on shelves at the Bozeman REI, as well as Yellowstone National Park operator Delaware North.

And though the two know they can’t compete with larger companies like Mountain House or Backpacker’s Pantry, the Schroeders hope to tap into Montana’s love for the outdoors and build a “grassroots following.”

“This is an awesome place to do this. It’s just a matter of telling people and getting it out there,” said Andrew.

“We wouldn’t have a chance if we started in Indiana, but people like it here,” his father added. “Bozeman is great.”

Kendall can be reached at lkendall@dailychronicle.com. Kendall is on Twitter at @lewdak

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