Frozen food has a long history – it’s been popular since 3,000BC, when the ancient Chinese used ice cellars to preserve food through cold winter months and beyond.
The Romans also used to store food in compressed snow in insulated cellars. So, it has been with us for a long time!
The modern frozen food industry, dates back to 1917 when Clarence Birdseye, whilst fur trading Labrador Canada, observed local inhabitants preserve fresh fish and meat by letting it freeze rapidly in Arctic temperatures.
He discovered fish from a previous expedition perfectly preserved by the cold. Inuits had discovered that freezing preserved food at the peak of quality, whilst locking in freshness and taste. Birdseye brought the idea back to the US where he spent years perfecting the process we now know as quick freezing – where each individual food item is rapidly frozen at extremely cold temperatures to obtain small ice crystals so that food cells are not damaged. The rest, as they say, is history.
● 1940s and 1950s
First Ready Meal
The volume of frozen food products on the market took off rapidly and the first frozen ready meal hit the freezer aisles in 1953. The earliest domestic freezers were designed for the economics of bulk buying. This 1954 model from the USA held one third of an American ton! Clarence Birdseye had discovered that frozen ready meals had been around for 3,000 years since the ancient Chinese used the method – he also proved that they were now here to stay!
The Quest for Convenience
Convenience was king as productivity levels rose. Frozen foods and frozen ready meals met the need offering a new generation of shoppers easy-to-prepare ready meal solutions that were delicious and nutritious at the same time.
Frozen food: A Family Staple
Sophisticated ‘value added’ products (frozen ready meals, frozen oven chips, frozen pizza and frozen desserts) all arrived in the early 70s. Gateaux set a precedent for frozen confectionery as an indulgence. With the ever-growing popularity of domestic freezers frozen food became a staple of everyday family life by the middle of the decade.
Answering Growing Nutritional Awareness
The frozen food industry quickly adapted to public demand with more frozen foods and frozen ready meals made available to suit every fancy. The grocer’s freezer now offered year-round availability of seasonal foods. Brands continued to innovate with ready meals backed by consumer advertising – and healthy
eating emerged. Findus launched calorie counted Lean Cuisine (note the microwaveable packaging). McCain boosted the healthy profile of its pioneering Oven Chips in 1988 with the introduction of Sunflower Oil. Frozen ready meals were here to stay!
Consumers became more aware of nutritional issues, E-numbers and additives became common topics of debate. Frozen food – which requires no additives and is as fresh as the day it was harvested – recognised as the safe choice for a health-conscious family.
Quality in a recession
Whether at home or eating out, even with a looming recession, people still wanted to indulge in quality food. The catering industry blossomed providing a variety of quality meals across the price spectrum. Frozen food became the catering industry’s mainstay with its guaranteed availability, convenience, low wastage and, of course, safety. ‘Quality and authenticity’ were key objectives of product development in the 90s.
The Debate: Frozen or Fresh
Perhaps following in the wake of celebrity chefs and cookery writers, we are increasingly demanding ‘fresh’ ingredients. We seem to be reversing the trend of the last few decades, and becoming hesitant about incorporating frozen food into our daily meal plans. As you would expect, we believe this attitude is largely based on misconceptions – as we hope to show!
‘You can be sure it’s fresh – it’s frozen’
Far from being inferior to ‘fresh’ food, frozen food is often fresher than ‘fresh’ – and offers other advantages too.
Consumers are more and more demanding and so ready meals are becoming better all the time
- Frozen food contains no preservatives. It is a natural form of preservation.
- Frozen fruit and vegetables are nutritionally more reliable than fresh. Freezing prevents sensitive vitamins and nutrients from being lost during transportation from farm to shop.
- Frozen food ensures that even the most exotic dishes are available on demand.
- Freezing allows you to choose from a vast selection of otherwise seasonal ingredients all year round.
- Frozen food also helps reduce food waste as you use only what you need – which means it’s good for your pocket and good for the environment.
So, from the point of view of health, the environment, variety, taste and your budget, frozen food is just as good a choice as it ever has been.
Since 2010 many misconceptions around frozen food have been challenged, with independent research helping to highlight the advantages of frozen; promoting its nutritional, cost, quality and sustainability benefits.
As more and more people are now realising the numerous advantages of frozen, companies such as Iceland and Iglo – Europe’s largest frozen food company – have launched their own major frozen food campaigns. The iFreeze and#PowerofFrozen movement are promoting the benefits of frozen food and spreading the message that frozen food is not only nutritious, flavoursome and safe, but is also high quality whilst remaining great value for money.
In addition, from Chef’s attitude surveys in 2012 and 2014, to Consumer Preference taste tests in 2012, nutritional research into fresh versus frozen, to a detailed Food Security report, the British Frozen Food Federation (BFFF) has been very busy proving the benefits of frozen as well.