From Jell-O to Jiffy Pop, TV dinners to Tupperware, product design has radically altered the way we carry, cook, and consume food. While many food innovations fail the test of time (see a brief review of this past year’s new products and designs), some endure to become cultural icons of the most visceral kind—smells, tastes, and experiences that are part of our lives and social interactions to a degree that rivals the cultural contribution of any smartphone or electronic gadget. The following slides offer some of the innovations that have changed our food experience over the past 100 years.
Pearl B. Wait sold Jell-O to Orator Woodward for $450 in 1899. After struggling in those early years, the cold, sweet, jiggly treat took off, promoting itself as “America’s Most Favorite Dessert.”
Photography by: Bill Hogan/Chicago Tribune/MCT via Getty Images
Introduced in 1912, Oreos are the most popular cookie ever, with nearly 500 billion sold since its introduction. The three-tier design and “Milk’s favorite cookie” slogan encouraged people to take it apart, dunk it, and otherwise have fun with the cookie before and during eating.
Photography by: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg
Invented in 1927 by Eduard Haas lll, PEZ candies did not come with the dispenser at first; that followed 21 years later. PEZ pioneered the concept of “interactive candy,” originally designed to look like a cigarette lighter and appeal to adults who smoke.
Photography by: William Thomas Cain/Getty Images
Wonder Bread embarked on a creative marketing strategy in 1930 involving company trucks delivering helium-filled balloons to children, who were then asked to deliver a letter to their mother. A picture of the Wonder loaf appeared on the letter, which invited Mom to try the new bread. That promotion sent sales growing faster than any other brand in Indianapolis. Owner Continental Baking took a huge step forward in convenience when it introduced the pre-sliced loaf, forever changing the way bread is sold.
Photography by: AP Photo/Larry Crowe
In 1942, Earl Tupper, a DuPont chemist, knew a new plastic, polyethylene, would be just right for a myriad of home goods, including food containers. But it was his marketing idea to distribute products only through home Tupperware parties that made him rich.
Jiffy Pop took popcorn—an inexpensive and widely available product—and made it new and exciting. This innovation (in 1959) presented unpopped popcorn in a disposable frying pan for “magical” cooking on the stove as the foil expanded to a dome shape, to many a child’s delight.
Photography Courtesy of: Jiffy Pop
Freeze-Dried Ice Cream
In 1968, Apollo 7 was the first NASA mission on which freeze-dried ice cream, created by Whirlpool under contract to NASA, flew to outer space. The ice cream could be kept at room temperature without melting and remained rigid, yet soft, as it melted in your mouth.
Starbucks opened its first store in Seattle in 1971. Its focus on making coffee an experience that touched all five senses allowed the startup to charge a premium for a product commonly brewed in homes, fast-food restaurants, and gas stations around the world. The approach created a loyal following: Customers visit a store six times a month, on average—and one out of five goes 16 times a month, according to the company.
Photography by: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg
In 1985, Dairy Queen introduced the Blizzard, a soft-serve treat with ingredients, such as cookies, brownies, and candy, mixed in. The thick blend could stand up on its own and allowed the customer to customize the treat. In the first year, 100 million Blizzards were sold.
Keurig introduced the individualized coffee experience in 1992—it brought the coffeehouse to busy customers looking for convenience and cost savings. The company now markets more than 200 varieties of single-serve K-Cups that, with the Keurig brewer, provide an easy way to make a custom beverage for just you or your guests.
Photography by: Herb Swanson/Bloomberg
The reality TV show The Great Food Truck Race featured competing food trucks as the trend to gourmet fare-on-wheels began to emerge in 2008. The movement encouraged people to head outdoors and eat in groups al fresco—and even follow their favorite food trucks via such social media sites as Facebook and Twitter.
Photography by: Arun Nevader/FilmMagic
The Aeroshot, unveiled in 2011, is a lipstick-size canister that delivers inhalable powder containing caffeine in an amount equivalent to “a very light espresso.” The breathable caffeine was developed by Harvard professor and inventor David Edwards, who’s also a co-founder of Breathable Foods. The product is currently available at Aeroshots.com for $2.99 and is slated to hit stores in Boston and New York this month. But there’s some concern that the product could be abused by teenagers. Senator Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) has asked the FDA to review the safety and legality of the inhaler.