Editor's Plate: It's Been a Crazy 70 Years

Oct. 7, 2010
For our anniversary, we take a fun look back at the recent history of food.

Historical retrospectives are always fun, and this month's look back provided a lot of entertainment for us at Food Processing. As our cover subtly indicates, we're celebrating the 70th anniversary of this magazine. However, we didn't want to bore you with facts about Food Processing; rather we wanted to take a look back at milestones in the food industry in that time.

Looking Back
Check out Food Processing: A History and test your food history knowledge.

Putman Media, still our owner after all these years, launched Food Equipment Preview in December of 1940. It was billed as "a new service for food manufacturers." Publisher Russell Putman's front-pager editorial promised: "As you look through the pages of this new publication, you will find them filled with terse news-facts … the latest developments in specialized equipment of specific interest to food manufacturing men."There were a lot of references in those early years to the "men" that made up the food industry. Just as Food Equipment Preview and its successors gradually broadened to include ingredients and then all other aspects of food manufacturing, so did it acknowledge the presence and critical contribution of women to this industry.

(Actually, it was Putman Publishing Co. that launched Food Equipment Preview, and Putman Media that now publishes Food Processing. The corporate name change reflects another acknowledgement of the changing times, especially in what used to be called the publishing business: more than one-third of our revenue now comes from digital media, not printed-page advertising.)

It was interesting to note how domestic and world developments in each decade influenced the advance of food manufacturing (and I credit our News & Trends Editor Diane Toops, who wrote our cover story, for most of the following observations.)

The 1940s were consumed by World War II, and that meant men fighting the war and women working the factories. M&M's, Spam (actually 1937) and other canned foods being developed to survive the rigors of battle; the Wm. Wrigley Co. dedicating all output of Spearmint, Doublemint and Juicy Fruit gums to soldiers; then, after the war, Reynolds Metals Co. finding a new use (aluminum foil) for all that scrap aluminum from the war.

The 1950s were all about the good life. After years of rationing, meat, poultry and dairy consumption 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 led to the creation of supermarkets. Television becomes the entertainment of choice. And new kitchen appliances proliferate, meaning packaged, prepared foods move to the fore. Swanson introduces the first frozen chicken pot pie in 1950 and the TV dinner four years later. Frozen peas (Birdseye), fish sticks (Mrs. Paul's), waffles (Eggo) and french fries (J.R. Simplot) appear on the scene.

The Sixties were the age of advertising and when convenience really kicked in. Charlie the Tuna joins Starkist. General Foods sings "I wish I were an Oscar Meyer weiner." Poppin' Fresh joins Pillsbury.

The 1970s saw radical changes in our culture, demographics and tastes. With a TV in every home, Americans begin to pack on the pounds. Nearly 11 million Americans live alone, a 54 percent increase from 1960, causing more changes in how we make and market foods. Waves of new immigrants arrive, and Americans from all backgrounds develop a taste for ethnic foods. Pepsi becomes the first U.S. consumer product made and sold in the Soviet Union, and Coca-Cola does likewise in China.

With a microwave oven in nearly every home kitchen, the 1980s saw a proliferation of nukeable foods (and changes in all food packaging), the start of dietary (especially obesity) concerns and the odd interest tobacco companies had in food companies (R.J. Reynolds bought Nabisco in 1985 and Philip Morris bought Kraft in 1988; BTW, Nestle bought Carnation in 1985).

The Nineties saw the introduction of the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act and, two years later, the Nutrition Facts panel.

And the earlier part of this millennium, in case you forgot, saw Kraft buy Nabisco, PepsiCo acquire Quaker Oats and later South Beach Beverage Co., General Mills get Pillsbury, J.M. Smucker purchase International Multifoods and Nestle buying Dreyer's Ice Cream, Novartis Medical Nutrition and Gerber baby food.

So it's been a wild ride. We hope you take the passenger seat and go along for our longer drive.

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