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Story Next Door: So far so good for new leader of Oregon Freeze Dry
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Story Next Door: So far so good for new leader of Oregon Freeze Dry

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Joe Folds is a hiker and loves the outdoors, but he isn’t a backpacker, so he hadn’t tried Mountain House or many other freeze dried foods.

When he interviewed for the top position at Oregon Freeze Dry, he figured he needed to taste the company’s meals, and that’s what sold him on the job.

“The food was amazing. This is just outstanding product. I was impressed,” Folds said.

Folds is Oregon Freeze Dry’s new president and CEO. His first day on the job at the Albany-based company was Jan. 29.

“So far, so good,” Folds said. He said he’s still learning about the business, but he added that a major plus for Oregon Freeze Dry is the environment created by its employees, whom Folds described as “good, solid people.”

Folds is viewed as an expert on product and strategy development. He was most recently the president of Pacific Foods, a Tualatin-based business that makes soups, broths and plant-based drinks.

He also has more than 20 years of executive experience with Campbell’s Soup, and he worked to implement supply chain improvements for the business. For nearly a decade, he worked to drive the company’s expansion in Japan, China, Australia and other areas of the Pacific. During that time, he lived in Hong Kong and Australia before moving on to Germany and working for Campbell’s there.

Living internationally “gives you a different perspective on life. You see things from a lot of different angles,” Folds said. His children loved the experience, including his youngest son, Ben, who was born in Hong Kong.

Folds’ world travels also have given him an insight into recent headlines, such as the Australian wildfires and the coronavirus that originated in China. He recalled the SARS outbreak, which resulted in cancelled face-to-face business meetings in Asia for Campbell’s. During subsequent videoconference calls, he talked with co-workers and clients who wore surgical masks to try to protect themselves.

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Folds said that worries about coronavirus have resulted in a significant increase in demand for emergency food kits made by Oregon Freeze Dry. The company is selling out of its largest survival food kits, which include dozens of meals, he added.

“It’s not a good situation, but certainly from a business perspective, we’re doing what we can to supply what we can,” Folds said.

The nature of many of Oregon Freeze Dry’s products is that demand is high when things aren’t going well. The U.S. military remains a major customer, for example, and its orders ramp up in times of conflict.

Despite Folds’ international experience, his focus for Oregon Freeze Dry isn’t on expanding into new markets across the globe, and that’s partially due to regulatory issues with food. “Even getting products into Canada can be pretty challenging,” Folds said.

He’s looking to spread the word about the freshness of Oregon Freeze Dry’s products, and growing the company through new offerings such as a dehydrated fruit smoothie used for nutrition and recovery by athletic teams at two large -- and unnamed -- universities. Folds said that the smoothies are only offered in large bins now, but eventually will come out in single serve packages.

Oregon Freeze Dry also has released Simple Sensations, a new brand of Mountain House marketed toward people who want a quick but healthy meal at home or on the road.

More freeze dried snacks could be on the horizon, since more Americans are choosing to graze between meals, Folds said.

Oregon Freeze Dry also has a small pharmaceutical aspect that hasn’t been the focus of the business, and Folds said that could grow, as well.

Folds succeeded Jim Merryman as president/CEO of Oregon Freeze Dry. Merryman, a 46-year veteran of the business, is now the chairman of the board of directors for the company.

Kyle Odegard can be contacted at 541-812-6077 or kyle.odegard@lee.net.

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