How Pizza-Like Finger Foods Dominated The '90s

"Pizza in the morning, pizza in the evening, pizza at supper time. When pizza's on a bagel, you can eat pizza anytime!" If you grew up in the '90s, you can probably hear the boisterous commercial jingle in your head as you read that. Bagel Bites, along with Totino's Pizza Rolls, Lunchables, Combos, and other snack foods inspired by one of the world's most favorite meals – pizza – graced kitchen tables and lunch boxes in the 1990s. The decade that brought us the Spice Girls, Tamagotchis, "Seinfeld," and Crystal Pepsi was a time when convenience and popular culture reigned supreme. It was also an era that can be defined by the "Pizza Wars," an enduring competition among major chains like Pizza Hut, Little Caesars, and Domino's, according to Ranker.

So, what was it about these miniature pizza-like finger foods that made them so special back then, and have allowed them to remain nostalgic comfort foods to this very day? It can be said that these simple products, personal-sized and sauce-and-cheese-filled, were (and are) pinnacles of portability, affordability, and taste all rolled into one.

Bagel Bites and Pizza Rolls defined '90s snacking

For now, we'll focus on two brands that made a major impact on the American food industry thirty-something years ago: Bagel Bites and Pizza Rolls. Both of these pizza-infused products could be cooked in the microwave or the oven after school, late at night, or really any time at all for a no-frills, savory, cheesy treat.

Bagel Bites made their official debut in the early 1980s when friends and tennis partners Stanley Garczynski and Bob Mosher co-created a product designed to be a kid-friendly hors d'oeuvre of sorts, according to MEL Magazine. Bagel Bites raked in $500,000 in sales their first year on the market and eventually garnered millions of dollars in revenue annually. Today, Bagel Bites are still a household staple. Statista reported that 2.7 million Americans consumed at least five packs of Bagel Bites in 2020 alone. Per the Toronto Star, the company was purchased by Heinz in 1991. 

Totino's Pizza Rolls, on the other hand, entered the market in the 1950s, according to the brand's official website. Thrillist explains that the recipe for the poppable pizzas as we know them was invented by frozen food tycoon Jeno Paulucci. However, the brand itself is named after Minneapolis pizza parlor owners Rose and Jim Totino, who sold their parlor and frozen-pizza plant to Pillsbury in 1975. To pay homage to the pizza pioneers in Minneapolis, Jeno's Pizza Rolls were renamed Totino's Pizza Rolls in 1993, per Pizzapedia. And the rest is delicious history.