The demand for convenience fuels food innovation and the frozen food industry.

The 1950’s was a time of great innovation in many areas including food.  As families grew busier and women joined the workforce in increasing numbers, convenience became the name of the game.  Innovations in refrigeration technology after World War II eventually made owning a refrigerator affordable and by 1953 it was estimated that 33 million families owned a refrigerator.  Manufacturers were making the freezer compartments larger in order to keep with the demand for convenience at mealtime.

In 1953 the C.A. Swanson & Sons company introduced their frozen meal called the TV Brand Frozen Dinner.  The frozen prepared dinner was not a new idea, but the Swanson company was the first to popularize and mass produce the product.  Their first TV Dinner was a Thanksgiving type meal that consisted of turkey, cornbread dressing, sweet potatoes and peas.  It was packaged in a divided foil container and cost just 98 cents.  The company ordered a production run of 5,000 units for the first year, which they exceeded by far with over 10 million sold.  The meal clearly met the demand for convenience.  It could be stored in the freezer and heated in just 25 minutes in a 425 degree oven.  And with the oven proof tray used for heating and eating, there were no extra dishes to wash.  Americans were hooked and by 1959 they were spending about half a billion dollars a year on frozen prepared meals like the TV Dinner.

There are several theories regarding the origin of the name TV Dinner.  Early packaging featured the image of a television set.  Others say it was due to the shape of tray, which resembled a 1950’s televisions set.  It is also believed that the name came from the idea that people would eat these meals on a tray in front of television, which of course so many families did and still do.  While Swanson stopped using the name TV Dinner in 1962, the term remains closely linked with any prepackaged frozen prepared meal to this day.


tv dinner

Swanson TV Dinner advertisement.