While experimenting with freezing food, he was more focused developing the machinery for every phase of the process (e.g. scaling fish, filleting fish). The machine that truly started the frozen fish industry was patented on 18 June, 1927 (#1,773,079), that used "quick-freezing" technology on blocks, which drastically reduced the likelihood of bacteria. His patent described every step of the process for freezing food, including consumer-friendly packaging; he called this process "Multi-Plate Freezing", and it started (and dominated) the fledgling industry.
Despite his tremendous breakthrough, he
still had the problem of how to distribute his frozen food nationwide. In a way, he had the same problem that Thomas Edison experienced after perfecting the light bulb; without a power grid, the light bulb was useless. Even more perplexing was how to convince consumers that his frozen food was the equal, or even superior, to fresh food - butchers, fishmongers, and poultry producers all publicly came out against frozen food, since it was a threat to their markets. Adding to his almost insurmountable challenges was that the transportation industry (e.g. trucking & railroads) refused to ship his product, fearing liability. Birdseye even had to spend a fair amount of money at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to prove that frozen food was SAFE to eat.
Birdseye needed someone that had millions to invest and also knew how to create a market for a product . . . enter Marjorie Post. The Post family was already an American brand name due to the success of the coffee substitute Postum and the cereal Grape Nuts (the product's name came from the fact that the sugar that was extracted from the wheat was the same sugar that was found in grapes). In 1929, Marjorie Post purchased General Seafoods for $23.5m ($315m today), in which she then owned Birdseye's patents, as well as his giant brain. Post knew she could focus on her specialty of capital and marketing since Birdseye had the technology framework established - each had what the other lacked, and it was a perfect business match.
The Postum Company reorganized after the purchase, and on 25 July, 1929, renamed the company General Foods. Birdseye was the Director of Research for General Foods, and he remained in Gloucester to perfect his process for frozen food. Birdseye was very lucky indeed that the sale occurred when it did, just three months before the Stock Market Crash in October, 1929.
In Springfield, Massachusetts on 6 March, 1930, General Foods introduced twenty-seven frozen food items, including steak, lamb, ham sausage, peas, spinach, cherries, raspberries, fish, and oysters under the name "Birds Eye Frosted Foods: A Little Short of Magic." Post's sales pitch was this: Imagine having whatever food you want, out-of-season, and fresh! But even Marjorie Post experienced an obstacle to her marketing vision, in that the percentage of people that had freezers at home in 1930 was still very low.
By 1932, the typical American consumer still didn't believe that frozen food was safe as fresh food, or of the same quality. General Foods supplied stores with freezers, and the frozen food was on consignment for vendors; it was the only way to get frozen food "out there" to the still-skeptical consumer. Frozen food was slow to catch on, in part, due to the fact that fresh food was readily available and inexpensive. Another reason why frozen food was slow to catch on was that in the 1930s, the poor preferred inexpensive canned food, middle class citizens preferred fresh food, and frozen food was viewed by both classes as a high-quality luxury for the rich. In was only in the 1940s when there were multiple companies selling frozen food (Entries to the Market) as well as freezers in enough homes that the frozen food industry truly exploded on the American landscape.
One way to turn a profit is to minimize costs, and the $1500 freezers in stores had to go; they were replaced with cheaper and more reliable units made by American Radiator (Amrad) which developed the slanted-window freezer for $300. Those freezers were cheaper to run, and were far more consumer-friendly in the store, which soon led to the national distribution of Birds Eye Frozen Foods.
Birdseye traveled the nation during the Great Depression, bragging-up frozen food; he was viewed as an inspirational figure in a society hungry for success stories. Even though frozen food wasn't making a huge splash in the marketplace, the media loved the product, and they especially loved Birdseye. During the Great Depression, Clarence (he preferred to be called Bob) Birdseye was a favorite-son of Gloucester for providing opportunities for employment.
Birdseye remained curious; he wanted to know how long frozen food would last. He found out that meat became more tender a week after being quick-frozen than it was fresh. Birdseye also figured out that freezing peas one-at-a-time (as opposed to a block of peas) was by far the best method, while plunging vegetables in boiling water before freezing also enhanced freshness. As the market for frozen food grew, a new complaint arose: not enough variety. Birdseye worked on providing more variety of vegetables, but lettuce and tomatoes never cooperated w/ his efforts.
In 1939, Birdseye invented the "Gravity Froster", which would be his last important invention for freezing individual pieces of food. This industrial freezer was so small it was even portable, and would freeze food without drying it out. One worker could operate four machines at once; a worker could monitor the machines freezing 7200 pounds of peas per hour.
Even before that breakthrough, General Foods & Birdseye lobbied Congress to pass an improved Food and Drug Act in 1938. General Foods needed / wanted to convince people that frozen food was safe, since it would have the FDA's seal-of-approval. Another reason was that competition in the frozen food industry existed, and Birdseye in particular wanted the other producers to adhere to proper industry standards. In other words, Birdseye wanted regulation which led to product safety for frozen food, meaning that the quality remained high even when the price decreased.
Clarence Birdseye died on 7 October, 1956, at the age of 69 of heart failure in New York City. Even in that year, many Americans had started to take the miracle of frozen food for granted; for millions, frozen food was a normal feature on their landscape. With all the choices available today in frozen food and frozen dinners, it's easy to forget that none of the high-quality and relatively inexpensive choices would be possible for consumers without Birdseye's perpetual curiosity (and his giant brain) . . . and just to be clear, the company that Birdseye and Post named General Foods is now General Mills . . . which has a few food items to purchase . . .