1944 Frozen vegetables first processed in Australia

Birds Eye were not the first frozen vegetables in Australia, but began processing here in 1949

Amidst the food rationing of the war years, imported quick-frozen vegetables became available in Australia. The first Australian plant to process frozen vegetables was established in Sydney in 1944 by Reginald Cahill, one of the proprietors of Cahills’ restaurants. He had government support and initially the vegetables were shipped to soldiers.  By 1946 they were being exported and beginning to be available to the domestic market.

In the late 1930s, articles began to appear in the local press about the new process that made vegetables available in frozen form in the USA, Canada and Britain. in 1939, the Daily Mercury in Mackay, Queensland, told its readers about the new “American process”, saying that “The sale of frozen foods in paper packages has developed amazingly in America, and a great many stores are equipped to hold the food in frozen form”.

There were doubters. In 1946 Perth’s Daily News quotes “experts” who scoffed that the size of the Australian market was too small to warrant the expense of setting up the necessary machinery here. The market was, perhaps, limited by the need to install freezer cabinets in grocery stores. In addition, home refrigerators were still something of a rarity and those that were available had very small freezer compartments. Nonetheless, frozen vegetables caught on faster than the pessimists predicted. Peas, beans and cauliflower were the first vegetables to be quick-frozen and by 1948 it was clear that frozen peas were often cheaper than fresh ones.

One company that saw the potential was Unilever. The British/Dutch company had bought the Birds Eye brand and the quick freezing technology developed in the USA by Clarence Birdseye.  In Australia, Birds Eye vegetables were imported during the war years and in 1949 the first vegetables were specially grown and processed at Batlow in NSW for sale under the Birds Eye brand.  Production later expanded to Tasmania. The vegetables were initially marketed as “frosted foods”

In 1959 Birds Eye united with the Australian canning company, Edgell, to form Birds Eye Edgell. The Birds Eye and Edgell brands are now owned by the American company Simplot. Today, supermarkets rarely bother to stock fresh peas. In 2013/14, processed peas accounted for nearly 95 per cent of pea production.

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