Clarence Birdseye (Dec. 9, 1886 – Oct. 7, 1956) was an entrepreneur and naturalist, considered to be the founder of the modern frozen food industry.
While on a field assignment for the United States Agriculture Department, he became interested in food preservation. He was assigned to Newfoundland from 1912 to 1915 and during this time he became interested in food preservation by freezing fish. The unique aspect of freezing the fish was to quickly freeze it to preserve the freshness.
The Native Americans of the region taught Birdseye how to ice fish under very thick ice. In -40 C weather, he discovered that the fish he caught froze almost instantly, and, when thawed, tasted fresh.
Immediately he recognized that the frozen seafood sold in New York was of much lower quality than the frozen fish of Newfoundland. With this insight, Birdseye realized that applying this knowledge could be very lucrative financially.
During this early period the conventional freezing methods were commonly done at higher temperatures, and thus the freezing occurred much more slowly, giving ice crystals more time to grow. It is now known that fast freezing food produces smaller ice crystals, which causes less damage to the tissue structure.
As we all now know when slow frozen foods thaw, cellular fluids leak from the ice crystal-damaged tissue, giving the resulting food a mushy or dry consistency upon preparation. We have Clarence Birdseye to thank for improving the taste of frozen food.
To capitalize on his discovery, Birdseye conducted further fish-freezing experiments at the Clothel Refrigerating Company in 1922. The experiments were successful, and he then established his own company, Birdseye Seafood, Inc.
The same year he developed an entirely new process for a commercially viable quick-freezing packaged fish Birdseye, and he then created an entirely new company, General Seafood Corporation, to promote this new method of freezing fish.
It took until 1927 for Birdseye to begin the process of quick-freezing other products such as meat, poultry, fruit, and vegetables.
With the addition of a variety of foods, the company became attractive to the investors of the Postum Company, who paid $22 million to Birdseye for his company.
The “spin-off” led to the founding of the Birds Eye Frozen Food Company where Clarence Birdseye continued to work.
Consumers liked the idea of purchasing frozen foods and today the “Birds Eye” name remains a leading frozen food brand.