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Case Study: The Story of Clarence Birdseye Although the practice of preserving food by freezing has been traced back to as early as 1626, and the first commercial venture in producing frozen food to 1875, Clarence Birdseye is credited with developing and refining the process and making frozen food available to the mass consumer market. Born in Brooklyn, New York in 1886, Clarence Birdseye began his entrepreneurial career at age ten. He lived summers with his family on a large Long Island farm where he spent most of his time outdoors in the fields or at the seashore. In his outdoor explorations he noticed a large number of muskrats in the area, and through contacts at the Bronx Zoo, he trapped and sold muskrats to a customer in England. An entrepreneur and outdoorsman at heart, he used his profits to buy a double-barreled shotgun to improve his productivity. Birdseye's interest in animals and the environment continued to develop through high school. His first job after spending only two years in college at Amherst was with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Biological Survey. Through his work at the Biological Survey, Birdseye traveled extensively, gaining respect as a hard worker and developing a reputation for eating unusual food, such as mice, chipmunks, skunk, rattlesnakes, polar bear and lion. Traveling through the arctic, Birdseye noticed how easily food was preserved in extreme cold. He watched the Eskimos' rudimentary quick-freeze methods, a process by which items are frozen at such a speed that only small ice crystals are able to form, and noted that quickly frozen food tasted vastly better than if it were frozen slowly. The key, Birdseye found, was to freeze the food so quickly that there would be no damage to its cellular structure, preserving taste, texture and appearance. Quickly recognizing the consumer relevance of the Eskimos' freezing method, Birdseye began experimenting with a variety of different foods and developing the most effective freezing and packaging methods for the mass market. In addition to perfecting the flash-freezing method and developing equipment to freeze large quantities of food, Birdseye also created an innovative system for freezing it in a small package that could be sold easily to the consumer. The sale of Birds Eye frozen foods began March 6, 1930 in test marketing in 18 stores in Springfield, Massachusetts. There were 27 items-vegetables, fruits, fish and meats in this initial consumer test. Another consumer test was run in 1934 in Syracuse, New York followed by another in Rochester, New York. From this point, frozen food moved on to nationwide distribution. But, since many retailers couldn't afford to buy freezers during the Depression, Birdseye developed and leased innovative, inexpensive freezer display cases and leased them to his national distributors. The ability to distribute and sell frozen foods at the retail level marked the beginning of the frozen food industry. In 1944, Birdseye leased the first insulated railroad cars and nationwide frozen food distribution became possible. In effect, Birdseye created a market for frozen foods. "I do not consider myself to be a remarkable person," Birdseye once said. "I did not make exceptionally high grades when I went to school. I never finished college. I am not the world's best salesman. But I am intensely curious about the things which I see around me and this curiosity, combined with a willingness to assume risks, has been responsible for such success and satisfaction as I have achieved in life."
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