Civilian MREs – History and Evolution

Military MREs are not available for consumption by the general public. With ongoing reforms with these operational military rations, the US Government introduced special labels for the MRE packages and containers, stating that these were the property of the US Government. Hence, commercial resale was not allowed.

How to Access Military-Grade MREs?

Despite these restrictions, the general public has tried to gain access to military-grade MREs for regular consumption. eBay, in violation of federal laws, has been selling these military MREs for a profit.

Although there are no definite laws prohibiting the resale of MREs, they are usually just sold to military organizations. eBay has come under scrutiny by the government for selling military-grade MREs through its online portal, but unless there is some real law prohibiting this commercial resale, eBay is far from done anytime soon.

Other than eBay’s online portal, military-grade MREs may be accessed in the following ways:

Active Military Officer

If you have a relative or friend serving in the US armed forces (navy, army or air force), you might have some luck getting your hands on MREs. These active service officers have access to MREs on missions, during training and on the field during combat and assault.

Army Surplus Store

Another way you can access military-grade MREs is through an army surplus store. In these stores, you might have to pay more than what you’d be required to pay on eBay for MREs. A single MRE may be sold for $8, while a package may cost you up to $80. The normal price charged for a military MRE ranges from $45 to $55.

Local Gun Shows

This is yet another venue that keeps MRE packages available for sale. If there is a local gun show taking place near you anytime soon, you might want to use the opportunity and get yourself a reasonably priced MRE package. A few vendors at these local shows may even have individual MRE components for you to purchase and try.

All these options are available if you need to try a military-grade MRE, but what if we told you there were civilian MREs manufactured for the general public?

History of Civilian MREs

There has been a demand for MREs, even though the US Government prohibited their consumption by the general public. It was much later that civilian MREs were introduced to fulfill this demand from the general public, especially for campers and victims of natural disasters. The various factors that led to the development of civilian MREs will be discussed in detail in the paragraphs that follow:

Natural Disasters

Although there had been an ongoing demand of MREs before, natural disasters in the form of tsunamis and Hurricane Katrina led to a surge in demand for packaged ready-to-eat meals. When these natural disasters hit, there was nothing but chaos all around. People lost their homes, and families were out on the streets. There was a shortage of food, and a huge population of survivors to feed.

It was during these desperate times that MREs became quite useful. The pre-packaged ready-to-eat meals were provided to survivors. MREs are packaged for storage and transportation convenience. These sealable pouches are portable and come with an average lifespan of 3 years, provided that an adequate temperature level is maintained. During these emergency times, MREs were of immense help to prevent starvation throughout the country.

Illegal Sale & Purchase of Military MREs

Another conspicuous reason for the popularity of civilian MREs has been the illegal sale and purchase of these ready-to-eat meals. When people go on camping trips and on hiking trails, they usually avoid carrying too much baggage primarily because excessive weight slows them down. Plus, there isn’t enough space to store and prepare food for campers.

MREs are ready-to-eat meals that can be easily carried while camping and on hiking trips without having to worry about a complete daily meal that is both nutritious and fulfilling. Following this demand for MREs, online portals such as eBay had been supplying military-grade MREs, despite restrictions on commercial resale. This led to the development of civilian MREs, which are now easily available for sale from a few popular manufacturers.

Civilian MRE Manufacturers

The two companies that had been producing civilian MREs before 2000 were Sopakco and Wornick. You must have come across the following brands from Sopakco’s MRE product category:

  • Sure-Pak 12
  • M-Packed

Wornick had also been selling civilian MREs under one of its famous brands called Mil-Spec. It was during 2001 when the emergency food supplies were no longer required that Wornick ended the Mil-Spec brand, putting a full stop on the production and supply of civilian MREs. It was during the same time that Sopakco felt a plunge in demand and decided to let go of the M-Packed brand.

After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, there was another surge in demand for civilian MREs to feed the survivors. This time around, there were three military manufacturers, namely AmeriQual, Sopakco, and Wornick, which began manufacturing civilian MREs to fulfill demand. Following this, MRE products such as Meal Kit Supply and MREStar flooded the US and Canadian markets.

Since then, the production and supply of civilian MREs have been steady, and there have not been legal issues associated with them either from the government or from other legal authorities and organizations.

Difference Between Civilian MREs and Military MREs

Now that people have a choice between MREs, somehow there is a higher demand for civilian MREs. Let’s explore the differences found in both types of MREs.

1. Military MREs Cannot Be Purchased in Bulk

Military-grade MREs cannot be purchased in bulk quantities. While individual MREs are available at local gun shows and even on eBay, bulk packages are rarely ever sold through trusted vendors due to the restriction from the US Government. Even if you are lucky and end up purchasing them in bulk, it is going to cost you a hell lot of money! The army surplus stores sell military-grade MREs for a surging price of $80 per package. This is double the price you’d otherwise pay on eBay.

2. Civilian MREs Are Tastier

Military MREs have been prepared to remain edible for a long time and can survive harsh temperatures and conditions. This is not true for civilian MREs. Hence, civilian MREs tend to be tastier that military MREs as they are fresh and are not manufactured to withstand high temperatures and tough conditions. Edible is not a synonym for tasty!

In addition to this, military MREs may have come all the way from the Iraqi desert and may have been kept for days before you are given a chance to consume this meal. All of this does take a toll on the taste and texture of the food.

3. Military MREs Are Cheaper

Military MREs have undergone tough conditions and are, thus, available for a low price relative to what you’d be paying for a civilian MRE. Civilian MREs are sold through reliable vendors, making them fresh and of superior quality than MREs that you could buy for cheap from military personnel.

4. Civilian MREs Are Consistent in Quality

Civilian MREs are manufactured for the general public and are not required to stay edible for a long period of time. Also, they do not require any temperature adjustment. Each time you purchase a civilian MRE, it will have the same quality as it was before. On the other hand, military MREs differ in taste as well as quality, as they might have been stored away for quite some time before reaching you.

5. Civilian MREs Have Reliable Vendors

This has been mentioned before and will be reiterated here. Civilian MREs can be purchased from manufacturers such as Wornick and AmeriQual. These reliable vendors will provide you with a premium quality product and in case of damage to the package or contents within it, you may contact them for a refund or exchange. This purchase flexibility is not available with military MREs, which may not even be sold via reliable channels and auctions. With military MREs, you could be risking your investment, but this is not true with civilian MREs.


Based on your preference for the different reasons mentioned here, you can purchase military or civilian MRE. However, if you wish to ensure value for money, a civilian MRE is what you need. With prime quality and exceptional taste, these ready-to-eat meals can satiate your taste buds better than military-grade MREs.

Civilian MREs are also free from doubt, thereby allowing you peace of mind with your purchase. However, if you are really out looking for a cheap alternative, go for single meals in the civilian MRE category rather than choosing full meal packages. They are friendly on the wallet and you will also get to know what they taste like.

Scroll to Top