Jun 5, 2023 - News

Businesses seek a foothold in growing prepper community

A man sits on an ebike on in an exhibition hall while another man looks at it.

Bike shop owner Tice Child demonstrates an e-bike's features for a potential customer at the Be Prepared Expo on Friday at the Legacy Events Center in Farmington. Photo: Erin Alberty/Axios

A bathtub installer, an e-bike vendor and a Goldback trader all walk into an event hall.

  • This is "Be Prepared," Utah's prepper expo, where businesses that may not have much to do with doomsday are trying to gain a foothold in an off-the-grid market.

Driving the news: The prepper movement, once the domain of religious fundamentalists and anti-government extremists, leaped into the mainstream during pandemic-era shutdowns and shortages, exhibitors told Axios during the weekend expo in Farmington.

  • Now, industries from med tech to food prep are developing spin-off products and ad campaigns just for them.

Why it matters: The growth of prepperism is drawing together an improbable cluster of ideological and commercial interests, with a hippie farmer lecturing on permaculture next to a gold currency booth and Flash My Brass Discount Ammo.

  • Green innovators displayed solar panels across from a row of Humvees, while alternative health brands advertised THC gummies and lavender oils near a first aid company whose logo features a skull over rifles arrayed as crossbones.

What they're saying: "We've noticed a huge uptick" in prepper business, said Byron Griffith, a sales rep for Bridgford — a California company that developed non-perishable sandwich wraps for the military, expanded to outdoor rec and now is focusing on the "preparedness" market.

  • "People come up to me all the time and say, 'I used to think this was crazy talk, movie talk,'" Griffith said.
  • Interest has "grown exponentially," he said, since disasters like the COVID-19 pandemic and the 2021 Texas grid failure.

Details: Encase, a Houston company that makes heavy-duty emergency storage bags, sprung from a business that sold packaging material to wrap heavy machinery in the aerospace and oil industries, said president Chris DellaValle.

  • A few clients asked for smaller bags to store their personal guns, and "one thing leads to another" he said, standing in front of a poster with a mushroom cloud erupting behind a log cabin.
  • "Then it was ammo, food, electronics, money" added his wife, Cathy.

Meanwhile, NutriMill, a St. George company that sells in-home grain mills, is considering a manually powered model to meet prepper requests, sales reps Emma and Ethan Park told Axios.

  • A row away, American Fork-based marketing consultant Kameron Conley was preparing a presentation on advertising tips, riffing on zombie apocalypse metaphors — even though, he acknowledged, his business has "absolutely nothing" to do with survivalism.
  • Sandy-based Sound Sleep brought its jaw positioners to the expo for the second year after discovering the prepper market for non-electronic sleep apnea solutions.

Zoom in: At the Antelope eBikes booth, a man in a "Tracker Survival" T-shirt asked the range of a fully charged backcountry bike. It's 30 to 40 miles, owner Tice Child said.

  • "Serious?! I wouldn't need my car no more!" the customer yelped, amplifying a sentiment that would warm urbanists' hearts — in earshot of a booth selling baby onesies emblazoned with the words "Born Sovereign."

Context: Utah is a major driver of the prepper movement due to Mormonism's longtime focus on emergency preparedness, as well as the faith's end-times teachings.

  • The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issues detailed instructions to its members encouraging food storage, and local congregations coordinate neighborhood disaster relief plans in much of the state.

Yes, but: Church leaders have signaled concern that some members may take prepperism too far.


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