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How Frozen Pizza Started Its Journey in the USA

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How Frozen Pizza Started Its Journey in the USA - Pizza Bien


Americans buy over a quarter of a billion dollars worth of frozen pizza every year, and that number is growing. The modern shopper's freezer becomes the respite from cooking with $275 million in sales for March 2020 alone - 92% more than last year. 

But it wasn't always this way; here's how America came to embrace famously-cheap pizzas like DiGiorno, Red Baron, or Stouffer french bread variants as staples we can rely on when time gets tight:


The Journey Begins 


In the early 1950s, American shoppers were only able to buy frozen pizzas from their grocery store. Italian immigrants introduced pizza in America around 1900, and it wasn't until after World War II that Americans started taking a liking to this cuisine. It was not that trendy like frozen pizza online shopping but for town in 1950, the trend was enough. 

Frozen dinners didn't enter the picture until more people began buying home freezers during the 1940-1950s era due to higher living standards continuing into the post-WWII era. Most homes had electricity, making cooking easier for families who may have previously been large households struggling with money or food shortages because they couldn’t cook without power (scarce outside cities).

Pizzas have been a staple in American culture since as early 1950. In June 1950, The New York Times wrote that the trend of refrigerated, “ready-to-cook pizzas” had recently become popular in Boston. Leo Giuffre sold similar pizzas for 49 cents each at his bakery on Manhattan's 5th Avenue and 23rd Street. By 1952, he expanded to offer several different flavors, including tomato sauce with cheese or without an anchovy pizza - all ready to cook!

The world of frozen pizza has come a long way since the 1950s. In 1951, Emil De Salvi launched his Pizza-Fro brand, and by 1954 they sold over five million from their two-year span in existence. And Jack Deluca's $20 thousand per month business was off to an early start with selling 33 cent pizzas out of newspapers he got hold of for free!


Frozen Pizza Was Patented But Didn’t Work  


Philadelphia native Joseph Bucci was the first to file for a patent on what we now know as frozen pizza. His 1950 filing, titled “Method for Making Frozen Pizza” and officially granted in 1952, set up an industry that would later become known worldwide by both its original Italian name -pizza fritta- or just "frozen pizza."

In 1954, when the patent was granted for frozen pizzas- it is anyone's guess if Bucci filed his invention. By that time, many other companies had also invented and began to sell their versions of this product in stores across America.


Here Comes Totino’s


As the American population started to grow in size and diversity, it was inevitable that there would be a demand for different types of food. Pizza began as an Italian dish but became popular across America due to its delicious taste and diverse toppings. 

The frozen pizza had mainly been dominated by regional players until 1962 when Rose Totino opened her plant with Jim, known today as Pillsbury Corporation’s frozen division-Pizza Rolls. 

The couple took out a loan ten years earlier from their bank officer, who knew nothing about pizzas because they wanted his support, so she baked him one! When he finally tasted how good the crust looked like at first glance on completion (plus all those toppings), he approved them instantly without doubt or

Totino’s became the country's top-selling best store frozen pizza, thanks mainly to their ingenious marketing campaign. The company sold its shares for $22 million to Pillsbury Company and then continued as a company subsidiary until General Mills acquired it in 1989.


PIzza Business Becomes Big


Many large corporations got into the frozen pizza business in the ensuing decades by buying up notable family brands. Pillsbury wasn’t alone as Mama Celeste's Frozen Pizza was founded in Chicago after Italian immigrant Celeste Lizio sold it to Quaker Oats back in 1969.

The Simek brothers of Medford, Wisconsin, had a Tombstone Tap bar which they used to sell their pizzas. In 1966, they pivoted from selling pizza in bars and began focusing on distribution with frozen pies for taverns nearby. 

PIzza Business Becomes Big - History of Frozen Pizza - Pizza Bien


By 1984 when Kraft Foods acquired it for an undisclosed amount, Tombstone Pizza became one of America’s largest distributors of frozen pie products at $100 million annually and made over two years prior.

Schwan’s story is one of success. In 1976, Schwan launched Red Baron pizza to rival the likes of Pizza Hut and Dominoes with its cheaper yet delicious pizzas that are now sold in over 20 countries around the globe! With a humble start selling as frozen pizza store for schools across America, they managed to rise as one of the leading brands on our grocery store shelves today.

High Tech Pizza Business Boom 


Kraft developed a new type of frozen pizza in 1995 with dough that rises as it bakes instead of the flat crusts. This innovation created an entirely different platform for other companies to build on. At the same time, Kraft introduced various food additives and vacuum-sealed packaging to keep out oxygen which "erodes" the dough.

The competition for the top frozen pizza brand in America was heating up, and DiGiorno found itself as number one by 1996. While Schwan’s launched their own competing product Freschetta to compete with them, Kraft filed a lawsuit accusing Schwan of stealing secrets from them by hiring a contractor who had previously worked for Kraft. 

The two companies finally settled out of court just before 2001 wrapped up - but what were the terms?


It Is Worth Billions of Dollars Now


While America continues to grow, so does the frozen pizza market. The U.S.'s share of this booming industry is now worth $5 billion, and it isn't slowing down anytime soon, with global prospects as high as $17 billion by 2023, according to an estimate done by Allied Market Research.


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