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More Than Frozen Pizza

March 2, 2000


Pizza has been available in supermarket freezers for more than 25 years. More than 1.8 billion slices of frozen pizza are sold each year. To eat just a day's worth of frozen pizza purchases, one would have to eat a slice of pizza every day for 13,863 years! Pizza is just one of the frozen foods we've grown to love. Since March is National Frozen Food Month, I thought it would be fun to look back at how frozen foods have become a part of our lifestyle.

The history of frozen foods goes back more than 70 years. It was in 1929 that Clarence Birdseye first mastered the process of freezing vegetables. Peas and spinach were the first frozen vegetables brought to market. They were introduced at ten supermarkets in Springfield, Massachusetts. The event was billed by local advertising as "the most revolutionary idea in the history of food . . . the most wondrous magic of all."

In the 1930s, the Birdseye Frosted Food Co. sold packaged meat, fish, oysters, vegetables and fruit from low temperature display cases in selected stores in the eastern part of the country. During the same time, mechanical refrigeration started to become an indispensable part of our food system in the United States.

New frozen foods were introduced in the 1940s. These included puff pastries, hors d'oeuvres, soups, entrees, French fries, Mexican cuisine, whipped topping, meat pies, seafood and pizza! Foil packaging was introduced at that time. In the 1950s, Clarence Birdseye died but frozen foods continued to grow in popularity. Frozen food sales exceeded $1 billion and 64 percent of all retail stores had frozen food "cabinets." Swanson introduced the first TV dinner and the boil-in bag was debuted.

The '60s brought the introduction of the microwave oven, greatly expanding the growth of frozen foods for decades to come. Vegetable mixes became popular, big-size packages, cream pies, and main courses/entrees took off in popularity. Frozen foods sales soared when astronauts, upon returning from landing on the moon, ate prepared frozen entrees and side dishes.

In the '70s, paper tray packaging was used for frozen foods heated in both ovens and microwaves. Stir-fry vegetables were introduced and supermarkets started take-out and deli counters with heated frozen foods.

The '80s brought many changes in frozen foods: cook-in box vegetables, single-serve packages, growth in ethnic foods, low calorie entrees, and low-priced entrees. Fast-food items became available in the frozen foods section of the supermarket such as hamburgers, French fries, milk shakes and breakfast items.

During this last decade, frozen ethnic foods hit an all-time high in popularity. Other frozen food trends included an increase in kids cuisine and family size portions. Our hectic lifestyles continued to boost the sales of frozen foods that could be quickly heated in the microwave oven.
Over the decades, our lives have changed. The frozen foods industry has kept up with our changing lifestyles by making new products available to make our lives easier.



Sources: The Decades of Frozen Foods, American Frozen Food Institute www.affi.com.

Cathi Lamp, UC Tulare County Nutrition, Family & Consumer Science Advisor