Frozen food as we know it today was developed by New York businessman Clarence Birdseye, who was inspired by observing the way locals preserved food while he was working as a fur trader in Labrador, Canada. Back home, he experimented with quick-freezing techniques for a variety of foods, introducing his first products to the public in 1930.
Today, Birdseye’s name is found in every supermarket frozen-food section in America – though the brand is now spelled “Birds Eye.” The food industry has come a very long way since Birdseye’s products first made their debut, however, and today the vast freezer-case industry offers thousands and thousands of foods, many of which hadn’t been invented or discovered even in their fresh form in Birdseye’s day.
Perhaps surprisingly, though consumers increasingly favor fresh, locally sourced foods, the frozen food market is actually growing. According to a report released last year by the American Frozen Food Institute and the Food Marketing Institute – titled“Frozen Food: The Original Meal Kit” – the category increased by 2.6% in dollars and 2.3% in units sold in 2018. The top three categories were soups/sides, appetizers/snack rolls, and breakfast foods.
Not counting producers of ice cream and other frozen desserts, there are more than 60 major frozen food brands in America alone today, with more being added all the time. And these companies are constantly adding items to their product lines – a total of more than 700 a year, in some cases. Beware, though: Some frozen foods are among the groceries driving up your food bill the most.
The foods companies choose to market in frozen form reflect our changing tastes and dietary preferences. Both putatively healthy items, including “superfoods” and low-calorie and/or low-carb choices, and unequivocally unhealthy ones (super-high-calorie pizza variations, for instance) continue to appear in freezer cases.
So do newly trendy food items that would have been unknown or marginal a few decades back (quinoa, açaí); familiar foods in new forms (cauliflower “rice”); and selections reflecting increased consumer interest in the cuisines of Asia, the Middle East, and more.
24/7 Tempo has assembled a list of frozen foods that you just wouldn’t have found, for various reasons, in 1980. Thaw at your own risk.