Let's explore the the history of frozen food, it’s rise to prominence in recent years, and transportation infrastructure that exist around getting frozen foods into the hands of retailers and consumers.
But the truth is, none of it existed 100 years ago.
In fact, the invention of modern, marketable frozen food was much more significant than a new way for people to “cook” quick and easy meals:
It gave rise to the creation of an infrastructure that’s vital to the global economy as we know it.
Today, we’re going to explore the history of frozen food, it’s rise to prominence in recent years, and the logistics, warehousing and transportation infrastructure that exist around getting convenient frozen foods into the hands of retailers, foodservice operators and consumers.
Frozen food as we know it wouldn’t exist if it were not for Clarence Birdseye, an American entrepreneur.
In 1924, Birdseye was fishing in the frigid Labrador Territory of Canada, and realized that the fish he caught would freeze almost immediately after being pulled from the water. Months later, when he thawed the fish, he was impressed by its excellent taste.
This may not seem very innovative to the average modern consumer—but the concept of flash freezing, thought up by Clarence Birdseye after his frozen seafood experience, was a novel concept.
Before flash freezing, frozen food was consumed as a last resort—mostly because it tasted awful. Food that is slower to freeze develops large ice crystals within the cells of the food, which melt as the food thaws, leaking moisture and flavor from the food and creating a gross texture.
When it comes to the formation of these ice crystals, the faster the freezing, the smaller the ice crystals.
With flash freezing, the ice crystals don’t have a chance to get big enough to damage the food.
Birdseye was smart enough to realize that he had stumbled upon something profound.
While the concept of flash freezing existed historically, it had never been optimized for commercial applications.
Birdseye started by inventing the first mechanical device to replicate this process—a two-belt device chilled with a calcium chloride solution which would quickly freeze most anything stored inside it.
Eventually, Birdseye figured out how to package food and freeze it in large quantities, leading to a frozen food revolution that put food on millions of tables across the United States and worldwide.
More efficient modes of refrigerated transportation were developed, and improvements in technology have given us cold chain logistics—which has become a massive industry and continues to grow.
In the 1940s, the first ever complete frozen meal was created and marketed, creating a movement that would take the United States by storm over the next few decades.
Because of frozen food’s easy preparation, self-preservation ability and affordability, it became a staple in American households.
In fact, during World War II, frozen food used fewer ration points than canned food, making a more affordable alternative. In the year following the war, Americans consumed 800 million pounds of frozen food.
In the early 2000s, many question surfaced about the freshness of frozen food, and frozen food began to be seen as a lazy alternative to home cooking.
However, instead of damaging the industry, this caused frozen companies to raise their game, creating ready-made frozen foods that are in fact gourmet, healthy meals.
Grocery chains like Trader Joe’s do a tremendous job sourcing and preparing high quality complete frozen meals from different parts of the world. Consumers craving tamales, gnocchi or Indian food need only walk through the frozen food aisle for inspiration.
The most recent decade has seen a spike in the variety of frozen foods available to consumers, and this is being met with an increase in demand.
Here’s a graph from Bloomberg showing the reversal of the anti-frozen trend from a decade ago:
Frozen food companies are also putting an ever increasing focus on the creation of healthier frozen foods.
In 2018 alone, sales of frozen vegetables have skyrocketed from last year. Here’s a look at the growth from Bloomberg:
As both supply and demand rise for frozen food, the market is shifting to more diverse, health-minded options. How is the transportation industry responding?
Speaking of growth:
The frozen food industry is predicted to reach $72.98 Billion by 2024, which represents a CAGR of over 4.5% from 2016.
There’s only one issue:
Order sizes aren’t growing as fast as the overall frozen foods market.
This issue is driven by a variety of factors, such as the rise of ecommerce, but the primary source of these struggles is the emergence of countless new players in the market.
As consumer demands for larger variety, more health-conscious frozen alternatives increase, smaller companies are entering the marketplace to attempt to fill these needs.
This is making larger players in the frozen foods industry less profitable, because while grocery chains and consumers are ordering higher quantities of frozen food, they’re doing so from a greater number of sources.
This places stress on shippers and transportation companies alike. According to Fleet Logistics,
“As retailers try to provide what consumers want, they’ve expanded their inventory to include more brands. To manage this, they’re placing smaller orders and adding deliveries. A retailer that used to place a 30-pallet order every week may now require four pallets every day of the week instead, because they’re working with three times as many companies all selling the same product.”
Shippers are now forced to seek out more efficient refrigerated services when it comes to transportation, logistics and using cold storage warehouse.
Many shippers are moving to frozen consolidation shipping, which is essentially Less Than Truckload (LTL) consolidation for frozen goods. Refrigerated LTL carriers allow shippers, who are under pressure to deliver more frequent loads, to consolidate shipments and avoid the heightened costs associated with deploying a host of half-empty trucks.
For shippers who are faced with a need to streamline their transportation process and improve their service to retailers—especially when it comes to the delivery of frozen foods—it’s not as simple as signing up for frozen fleet consolidation.
Not all refrigerated service providers are created equal.
When dealing with a high number of perishable shipments, it’s vital for shippers to choose a company that provides consistent communication and visibility. Delivery windows are shrinking, so shippers need to know when items ship, when they are in transit, and when they arrive at their destination.
It’s also important for shippers to entrust their refrigerated LTL shipments to consistent and reliable transportation and warehousing companies that offer fair prices. Just because the retailers’ needs have become more complex and nuanced, that doesn’t mean shipping should become prohibitively expensive.
At Winnesota, we pride ourselves on proactive communication, consistent on-time delivery of temperature-controlled goods, and our ability to tailor our delivery and Midwest cold storage solutions to the business needs of our customers.
Learn more about our refrigerated transportation solutions, and how they can positively impact the profitability of your business and your level of service.
See how our delivery & warehousing solutions can help you today.