Subsidiary Companies

Ice Cream


Frood Division

Lyons Frozen Food

As with many food innovations frozen food originated in North America although it could be argued that the Inuit, living beyond the Artic Circle around the World, have been freezing their food for generations. The development of refrigeration technology, developed in the nineteenth century, made it possible to ship frozen food, mainly meat, around the World and Australia and South America were the two main countries exporting frozen meat to Europe. The World’s first freezing works were set up in Sydney, Australia in 1861 by Thomas Mort. This was followed by William Vestey and his brother Edmund who established freezing works in Argentina in 1909 and then formed the Blue Star Shipping Company, with their refrigerated ships, to transport huge quantities of beef to the UK. Australia on the other hand were shipping lamb.
However, early refrigeration processes had limitations and it was not until 1920 that the American, Clarence Birdseye, developed his fast-freezing technology. Birdseye experimented for many years until he discovered a method of fast freezing food by placing it between two intensely cold plates. In 1924 he co-founded the General Sea Foods Company (fish was the early target of frozen food) and it went on sale in 1930. He soon afterwards sold his company and it eventually became part of the Unilever empire.
Lyons had first been alerted to Birdseye’s process in 1930 by a director of Baker Perkins, who was installing food processing equipment at Cadby Hall. By the late 1930s Lyons interests were revived and they started experimenting with frozen rice pudding, waffles and soup. These experiments were accelerated at the onset of war when Lyons found themselves with a huge ice-cream plant which was idle due to the embargo on ice-cream manufacture. At this time it was thought frozen food would be insurance against a total collapse of food supplies due to the shipping losses in the North Atlantic. By 1941 some teashops were being supplied with limited frozen food which by 1945 included whole meals and sandwiches. During the war frozen food was supplied to American troops stationed in the UK and the teashop in Duke Street, near to the American Embassy, was handed over as a troop canteen where frozen food was not ‘unusual’. After the war this restaurant was refurbished and turned into a full frozen food teashop for shoppers in Oxford Street. By 1954 when rationing was all but over, production of frozen food was stepped up, both at Cadby Hall and Rannoch Road (where production lines had been installed) and Lyons started to supply frozen food to shipping companies, airlines, the catering trades and hospitals. Micro-wave ovens, using technology developed during the war, helped to promote frozen food technology as it could be de-frosted and heated in seconds (or minutes in those days). Cooking by radar was one common theme.
Marketed under the brand name of Frood the Lyons products soon became popular and frozen food became one of the major socio-economic phenomena of the twentieth century. It was fuelled by the development of the home refrigerator, as well as the micro-wave (although this was not imperative as the food could be heated in a conventional oven) and the fact that more women and housewives were working and found frozen food convenient for their life-style. Lyons formed their Frood Division in 1954 under the management of Leonard Gluckstein. By 1962 losses from the Frood operation reached £150,000 as caterers were reluctant to invest in what was still expensive microwave ovens. In 1962 an opportunity came to purchase the frozen food division (Fropax Ltd) of Union International. In 1963 Eskimo Foods Ltd, a subsidiary of Associated Fisheries, joined the consortium and the combined group became Fropax Eskimo Frood. The merger was not successful and in 1968 Union International and Lyons decided to merge their frozen food business with that of Nestle (Findus Ltd). Despite the diversification of products, Findus remained best known for its frozen fish products but had strong competition from Birds Eye. By 1974 Lyons decided to pull out of frozen food altogether and in August 1974 sold their 49 per cent interests in Findus (UK) Ltd giving no reason to shareholders for the decision. However, other large food acquisitions were in progress at this time and the sale of the Findus equity may have helped fund these acquisitions.

© Peter Bird 2005

Frood production line (roast beef dinners) Cadby Hall 1950s