Food Processing: A History

As we celebrate our birthday, we look back at the incredible changes that shaped the food and beverage industry since 1940.

By Diane Toops, News & Trends Editor

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The 50s -- The good life

Cheez Whiz 1950sAfter years of rationing, consumption of meat, poultry and dairy soar to new levels. Cake mixes, developed by General Mills and Pillsbury, make it easier for families to celebrate. Refrigeration and the rise of suburbia lead to the creation of supermarkets. America's new highway system allows for more efficient distribution of food and the rise of fast food chains. Television becomes the entertainment of choice, and Zenith invents a remote control device, appropriately called Lazy Bones. Sales of new kitchen appliances go through the roof, prepared foods proliferate and more convenient packaging makes food preparation less time consuming.

Minnesota Valley Canning Co. becomes Green Giant Co.

Swanson's introduces first frozen Chicken Pot Pie, and sells 5,000 units in its first year, and 10 million in its second year.

Putman Publishing Co. changes name of Food Processing Preview to Food Processing.

Clarence Birdseye introduces first frozen peas.

Mrs. Paul's debuts frozen fish sticks.

Kraft's Cheez Whiz introduced. Originally created as an easy way to make Welsh rarebit, this stable cheese sauce comes in a jar with Worcestershire sauce, mustard flour and orange coloring. A survey finds 1,300 possible uses for the product.

Swanson TV dinner, 1954C.A. Swanson & Sons introduces the first TV dinner: roast turkey with stuffing and gravy, sweet potatoes and peas. It sells for 98 cents and comes in an aluminum tray (few kitchens had microwave ovens). Supposedly, executive Gerald Thomas comes up with the idea when the company has tons of leftover turkey from Thanksgiving.

Swift's Butterball brand and self-basting turkey introduced. Through genetics, Swift develops a broad-breasted bird without the tough tendons and uses a hot-water bath to remove feathers.

The Tappan Stove Co. introduces the first microwave oven for home use. It features a more compact but less powerful microwave generating system. Price tag is $1,300.

Ray Kroc opens the first franchised McDonald's in Des Plaines, Ill. On opening day, a two-patty hamburger is 15 cents and french fries are 10 cents.

Instant oatmeal invented by the Quaker Oats Co.

General Foods introduces Tang breakfast beverage crystals. Initially intended as a breakfast drink, sales didn't take off until NASA takes it on an orbit around the Earth in 1965 on John Glenn's Friendship 7 Mercury flight.

A market crisis looms with the first widespread public interest in dietary fats and cholesterol. An article in Food Processing warns consumers soon will be asking, "Which foods can I buy that contain the ‘good' type of fat?"

For the first time, margarine sales exceed those of butter.

Green GiantJolly Green Giant born. He appears on TV, but he looks like a monster and scares kids. So they lighten him up a bit, add "Ho, ho, ho" and a catchy jingle.

Sweet 'n Low introduced as an artificial sweetener (granulated saccharin, dextrose, cream of tartar and calcium silicate), and receives U.S. trademark patent no. 1,000,000.

Diet Rite, the first diet soft drink, introduced by the Royal Crown Co.

Food Additives Amendment enacted, requiring manufacturers of new food additives to establish safety. The Delaney proviso prohibits the approval of any food additive shown to induce cancer in humans or animals.

FDA publishes the first list of substances generally recognized as safe (GRAS) in the Federal Register. The list contains nearly 200 substances.

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