Trying to preserve food is not a new concept—ancient Chinese civilizations used ice cellars to preserve produce and meat as early as 1,000 B.C.! But ever since the introduction of the frozen food aisle in the 20th century, food itself—and how we preserve, prepare, and consume it—has never been the same. Here’s a fascinating look into the evolution of the frozen food aisle.
The Inuits inspired modern flash freezing methods
In the early 1920’s, Clarence Birdseye (yes, that Birdseye—of Birds Eye Frozen Vegetables) was a scientist working in Newfoundland who noticed that the native Inuits would immediately place their freshly caught fish and vegetables in barrels of sea water, which would freeze in the Arctic cold. When the food thawed, Mr. Birdseye observed that the food’s freshness, taste, and texture was completely intact. You see, Mr. Birdseye had tried different methods of freezing food before, but the food always turned out mushy and, well, gross. This discovery in Newfoundland was the inspiration he needed to develop the first flash freezing machine—a double belt freezer— which was a precursor to the freezers we use today.
Frozen food was slow to catch on
It’s crazy to imagine a grocery store without rows of frozen food aisles filled with every delicious treat you could want. But when Mr. Birdseye introduced his newfangled freezing method to the world in the late 1920’s, the public was hesitant to buy in to it, primarily because food retailers didn’t want to purchase the expensive freezers needed to display his products, and frozen food developed a reputation for being of poor quality. Though it was slow going, Clarence Birdseye persisted. And thank goodness he did!
WWII made frozen food popular
During WWII, Americans were forced to ration almost everything, including tin. At this time, canning was the most common means of preserving food, which in turn made canned food more expensive. As a result, the popularity of frozen food, which was packaged in the considerably less expensive paperboard and styrofoam, skyrocketed.
The first frozen pizza was introduced in 1949!
TV dinners heated their way into the heart of the American household in the 1950s, but the first frozen pizza is reported to have been created as early as 1949. Different pizza restaurants lay claim to creating the original frozen pizza, not least among them Totino’s Pizza!
Frozen food = convenience
The introduction of the microwave oven in the late 1970’s ushered in the era of convenience when it came to food. And with women entering the workforce en masse, being able to cook up pre-made food quickly, easily, and cheaply became a priority for many families. At this point, the industry introduced more and more entree options, and the frozen food aisle became a staple of every grocery store trip.
Frozen food is a now multi-billion dollar market…and it’s growing
If it seems like there’s a new frozen food in the freezer aisle every time you visit, that’s because there probably is. The frozen food market is now a multi-billion dollar industry and is projected to grow to $307 billion by 2020. In our busy modern lives, convenience is key, and frozen food plays a pivotal role in allowing people to make the foods they crave as quickly as possible. And as consumers continue to choose healthier foods with more natural ingredients, you can expect to see an increase in delicious options that suit every kind of lifestyle!
Americans ate nearly 200 million frozen pizzas in 2016
The frozen pizza market is as strong as ever. In 2016 alone, Americans consumed a whopping 198.52 million frozen pizzas. That’s a whole lotta frozen pie! That stat is a testament to just how important frozen pizza is to all of our lives. It makes sense—frozen pizza is one of the greatest gifts to mankind perhaps ever.
You know what we love most about frozen pizza? The fact that you can take high quality ingredients, assemble a pizza by hand, and then use flash freezing to lock in the flavor so that it tastes like a fresh, homemade pizza when you put it on your kitchen table. We don’t know who to thank first: the Inuits of Newfoundland or Clarence Birdseye. Either way, it’s a glorious frozen miracle.