Rare Sighting of Birds Eye Frozen Vegetable Bricks

Goodbye, frozen vegetable brick. In spite of the recent explosion in frozen foods, changing consumer habits have meant the loss of one of the best known types of frozen food, the frozen food block.

In the photo above, the sole remaining frozen vegetable brick at a Super Target is spinach, which does not display well in an upward-facing baggie.

Orange Plus was the Birds Eye competitor to Minute Maid. With open freezers on the ground, these products displayed better than in vertical freezers with doors.

The company Birds Eye was the originator and inventor of the frozen food brick; founder Clarence Birdseye’s innovation meant that Americans could enjoy the taste of fresh food, all through the year. The frozen food brick, or block, was at the center of his process. It was a simple piece of packaging. The food would be taken fresh from the field, frozen into a brick, wrapped in a light folding box, and covered with brand packaging.

Birds Eye was not the only maker; store brands mimicked the frozen bricks with their own labels, including Safeway’s Bel Air.

The bricks worked well for a number of reasons. Their main virtue was size. They were easy to pack and ship as they fitted neatly into a box. And because there was no extraneous packaging, they were efficient of space in the shipping process. Plain vegetables like corn, peas and spinach mashed well into a frozen brick. In the store, the frozen foods were also sold in open freezer, that a customer would reach into. This flat display “freezer case” system, is still seen in some older supermarkets. When displays are flat, boxed packaging displays well. That was even the case for Birds Eye Cool Whip, sold in little white tubs.

Once the product came home, the housewife only had to plop the vegetables in water to bring them back from their frozen state. It was much better than canned vegetables, which were already cooked.

Birds Eye
Birds Eye Steam Fresh in the frozen cabinet at a Target. It is still well priced at $1.99, and commands a large space in the aisle. It is microwave ready. While much more convenient, it does not display as well or easily as the old Birds Eye brick.

The bricks worked also because Americans used to have less frozen food space. The freezer was a small area at the top of the Frigidiare, and things that were in same-size boxes fit better. The bricks also worked well if you had a deep freeze or quick freeze, as they were called. These large freezer boxes were often in the garage. Having blocks of frozen items meant that they more easily stored in something you had to reach into to get.

Only a decade ago, the freezer category was written off by many marketers. Minute Maid orange juice, originally sold frozen in paper cans, moved to the dairy section. Birds Eye even made a juice competitor to Minute Maid, the forgotten Orange Plus. But with the advent of new meals, and better plastic packaging fit for a microwave, the category recovered.

Like so many brands that invented the category, Birds Eye has remained a leader as they have enormous brand goodwill stored up. Once a part of General Foods, the brand became a unit of Pinnacle Foods of New Jersey, before being purchased by ConAgra. In the last decade, the brand has become an even larger player in the frozen aisle, as the company embraced more and more prepared foods, and vegetables moved from the bricks to bags.

birds eye freezer
A sample freezer image from the centennial Sears Catalog of 1986. Note that the frozen vegetables fit in the door, not in the main area. Many frozen brands from this era survive, including Sara Lee, Mrs. Paul’s, Edy’s, Banquet and Stouffer.

Today, the frozen bricks are not even seen on the brand’s web page. Birds Eye still has a category of what it calls “plain vegetables” but the category is divided into “steam fresh” and “pour and prep.” They are all in bags.

However, the Birds Eye brand has not just been about frozen vegetables. Even in the 1960s, they sold prepared foods, such as the flounder almondine, sold in a boilable bag.

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