Not “Frozen”: Researching the Frozen Dinner Industry

This post was written by our new reference librarian in Business Angel Vu. She will eventually become a blogger here at Inside Adams so look for more posts in the future.

During winter, when we are surrounded by an abundance of delicious homemade goodies, the history of frozen dinners and the frozen food industry typically does not come to mind.


Surprised! c1934

The series, Everyday Mysteries: Fun Science Facts from the Library of Congress, attempted to unravel the disputed history of frozen foods with “Who Invented Frozen Food” and the pre-packaged “TV dinner” with “Who Invented the Frozen Dinner.”  Clarence Birdseye developed methods for fast freezing foods and ended up with over 150 patents. However, the frozen dinner’s initial success (i) in the mainstream consumer market, has been widely attributed to Swanson (ii). In a nutshell, Gerry Thomas, Swanson’s marketing and sales executive in the mid-1900s, was faced with a surplus of 260 tons of unsold frozen Thanksgiving turkeys. Inspired by prepared airline meals, Thomas and Swanson created meals with the surplus turkeys using aluminum trays (iii).   After a massive advertising campaign, the frozen dinners proved popular with the general public. Within a year (1953-1954), Swanson sold 10 million turkey dinners at $0.98 apiece, making a nice profit (iv).

The frozen food sector has undergone tremendous change (v) since Clarence Birdseye’s innovations and the turkey dinner’s initial success. In North America, the number of customers purchasing frozen meals has increased, but market growth has slowed. The industry’s current struggles (vi) are driven primarily by consumers’ evolving demands (vii), some of which include greater attention to taste and quality. If you want to know more, the following are resources that can help start your own research:

Bridgeton, New Jersey. Seabrook Farm. Frozen food coming out of the quick freezer. FSA/OWI Collection, June 1942.

Bridgeton, New Jersey. Seabrook Farm. Frozen food coming out of the quick freezer. FSA/OWI Collection, June 1942.

Articles in sources like Frosted Food Field are a great place to find information on an industry’s issues, trends, or current events. Additionally, professional industry analyses and forecast reports published by reputable firms are available through subscription databases. Many databases include the option to search by NAICS or SIC codes which enable researchers to look at industry statistics and find competitors. In the case of frozen foods, the NAICS code, 31141 for “Frozen food manufacturing,” or the SIC code, 5142 for “Packaged frozen food,” could be used in full-text databases and other sources such as

But don’t rule out print sources—particularly since not everything is online. For historical and current print publications on the frozen food industry, search the Library of Congress catalog using the following LC Subject Headings:

Frozen foods industry–United States–History
Frozen foods industry–United States–Directories
Frozen foods industry–United States–Statistics
Frozen foods–Marketing–Statistics–Periodicals
Frozen foods–United States–Statistics

Finally, consider trade organizations. Trade organizations and associations are a great resource for obtaining more information on the finer details of the particular business.

For more details and strategies, the Business Reference Section has compiled some helpful research guides as a starting point for industry research:

Guide to Industry Research
Industry Surveys
Market Segmentation: A Guide to Sources of Information
Products and Manufacturers

Change in consumer behavior provides fertile grounds for innovation and expansion. Globally, Europe is the current market leader of the frozen food industry with over 35% market share in 2012. Europe’s frozen food market revenue from 2013 to 2019 is projected to grow at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 3.8% (viii). The fact that customers are still purchasing frozen meals, and international interest in frozen foods has increased, shows that the business has not “frozen” with time.

Happy New Year and good luck with your research!


viii PR Newswire (2014) “Frozen Food Market – Global Industry Analysis, Size, Share, Growth, Trends & Forecast 2013 – 2019.” Retrieved December 2015 from ProQuest: ABI Inform Complete database.

James Johnston speaking about Yarrow Mamout on January 22 CANCELLED

Due to the blizzard expected in the Washington region, the Library of Congress is closing all buildings at noon. (9:45 a.m 9/22/2016) Curious about a portrait of “Old Yarrow” by James Alexander Simpson that hangs in the Peabody Room of Washington, D.C.’s Georgetown public library, James J. Johnston a journalist and attorney decided he wanted […]

Miss Margaret Reynolds and Early Bank Libraries

I sometimes wonder what it would have been like if I had been a business librarian 100 years ago. Two articles from Bankers Magazine from the 1920’s on early bank libraries offer some insight. One article from June 1921,“Usefulness of Bank Libraries,” was brief and really only gave a little information about Guaranty Trust Company […]

Monkey Skin, Elephant’s Breath, and Kitten’s Ear: History of Color Naming

There is scarcely any subject that has so many practical and scientific aspects as the subject of color (Henry LeFavour, Elementary Color, 1895: p 1). There are many ways to study color*. We can trace the history of color pigments, the development of color chemistry, the effect of color on our psyche, and the perception […]

Give the Gift of Music

Giving musically themed gifts at Christmas has been popular for a long time, as you can see from this 1915 advertisement for Victrolas. The Victor Talking Machine Company, maker of the Victrola, was founded in 1901 by Eldridge R. Johnson to manufacture machines specifically designed to play the disc records Emile Berliner had patented. In […]

New Horizons: Journey to Pluto and Beyond, subject of Dec. 8 lecture

Pluto has become one of our most favorite bodies in the solar system, perhaps gaining increased appreciation after it was demoted from a full-sized planet to dwarf planet in 2006 and thus decreasing our solar system planet count to eight planets. A significant portion of Pluto’s mass is icy material and so it is often referred […]

Flights of Fantasy and Fact: Man-made Wings in Literature and History subject of Dec. 3 program

Today’s guest blog post is by science fiction and fantasy author Fran Wilde, who will be visiting the Library on Dec. 3 to talk about “Flights of Fantasy and Fact: Man-made Wings in Literature and History”. Wilde is also a technology consultant and former engineering and science writer. Her short fiction has appeared in publications […]

Dawn Mission and the Formation of Our Solar System Subject of Nov. 19 Lecture

In late 2007 the Dawn mission spacecraft launched and began the 1.8 billion mile journey to the giant asteroid Vesta, which it reached in 2011. It was the first spacecraft to orbit a main-belt asteroid. In March 2015 it completed another 990 million miles to the dwarf planet Ceres and was the first spacecraft to […]