The FASCINATING History of I&J

Irvin & Johnson, popularly known as I&J, has been a household name and leader in the frozen foods category for over 100 years.

Trusted by consumers, the brand has consistently produced premium quality frozen foods in tune with today’s lifestyle patterns.

I&J’s head office, main fishing fleet, and processing factories are located in Cape Town, with an additional fishing fleet based in Mossel Bay and a successful abalone farm in Gansbaai, on the Cape south coast.

The company’s products include natural hake cuts such as fillets, steaks, loins and medallions; value-added crumbed, battered and sauced products and a range of high-value seafood and abalone products.

George Irvin & Carl Johnson, founders of I&J

In order for us to understand the story of how I&J became South Africa’s leading fishing company and multi-national processor and marketer of an extensive range of branded frozen and chilled convenience foods, let’s take it back to the year 1910, when George Irvin, an English businessman who had financial and technical resources behind him, formed a partnership with Carl Johnson, a Swede with knowledge and experience of trawling operations, together they launched a small fishing business called Irvin & Johnson in Cape Town.

In 1949, AVI, goods conglomerate which houses many of South Africa’s leading and best-loved brands, bought a controlling shareholding in the company. Today AVI holds a 75% shareholding in I&J, another 20% equity is held by strategic empowerment partners while the remaining 5% is held by the company’s black employees.

In the early 1950s, I&J ventured into frozen foods after the introduction of a technique called individual Quick Freezing, or IQF in short, which revolutionised the company’s future.

In 1952, the first frozen fish product, hake fillets, was packaged and sold under the I&J brand followed by fish fingers in 1955. The company acquired Fresh Frosted Foods in 1963, which helped springboard its rapid product range expansion into other frozen foods.

The company first began exporting fish back in the 1940s when it supplied the United States with Cape whiting and fishmeal. Today, I&J exports to many more markets including Africa, Australia, Middle East, the Indian Ocean Islands and the whole of Europe.

Having been in the seafood business for 100+ years, I&J is one of the few companies with an integrated system that owns, controls and manages all of the processes associated with its finished products.

The company’s freezer trawlers have an onboard factory below deck to process the hake they catch. Processing involves cleaning, skinning, filleting and packaging the hake then freezing it down to -25°C, ready for sale on return to port.

I&J’s main target species is hake found only in South African waters. Other species caught and landed are horse mackerel, mackerel and monk.

The wet fish vessels spend up to 9 days at sea and bring their fresh catch back to shore packed in ice in especially designed plastic bins.

This packing ensures that Irvin & Johnson’s high standards of quality and freshness are upheld. After offloading, the fish is sent to Irvin & Johnson’s Woodstock plant for grading and processing for either the local or international markets.

The company catches fish with its own fleet of first-rate vessels; products are researched and developed in-house; processing takes place at its own world-class factories and the company’s marketing teams market its products locally and internationally.

In 1997, following years of research, I&J began commercial farming of Abalone at Danger Point and today exports a variety of Abalone products to various countries.

The company fishes in Mozambiquan waters for crab, deep sea pink prawn, white prawn, and langoustine, most of which is shipped to customers globally.

I&J’s prepared foods division produces and markets a comprehensive range of frozen vegetables, pastry and pastry products, processed meats, and bottled pickles and condiments.

The roots of Irvin & Johnson are steeped in the history of South Africa’s trawling industry. From its beginning as a humble two-boat fishing venture operating out of Cape Town Harbor in the early 1900s, I&J today is both South Africa’s leading fishing company and principal frozen foods manufacturer, marketer and distributor.

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