Irvin & Johnson

Still going strong

Approaching its centenary in 2010, fishing and food processing giant Irvin & Johnson looks set to endure for another 100 years. We took a look at the history and workings of this iconic food brand to find out how it has continued to thrive for so long.

Irvin & Johnson (I&J) is one of the best recognised and popular food brands in South Africa, trusted by consumers for consistently producing premium quality frozen foods in tune with today’s lifestyle patterns. Now a household name, I&J’s humble origins go back to 1910, when George Irvin and Charles Johnson formed a modest fishing enterprise in Cape Town which pioneered the hake trawling industry in South Africa.  Today, I&J is a major corporate food producer and employer with a multi-billion rand turnover.


I&J’s major shareholder with a 75 per cent shareholding is branded consumer goods group AVI Limited. Twenty per cent of equity is held by strategic empowerment partners and five per cent by I&J’s black employees.


I&J’s venture into frozen foods began in the early 1950s when the company introduced the technique of individual quick freezing (IQF). This technique revolutionised the company’s future and in 1952 the first frozen fish product, hake fillets, was packaged and sold under the I&J brand. In 1955, I&J introduced fish fingers to the South African consumer. The company’s acquisition in 1963 of Fresh Frosted Foods served as the springboard for its rapid product range expansion into other frozen foods.


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.


I&J is one of the few seafood companies in the world with a vertically integrated operation that owns, controls and manages all of the processes associated with its finished products. 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.


I&J first began exporting fish back in the 1940s when it supplied the US with Cape whiting and fishmeal. Today, the company exports to the US, Australia, the Far East, the Middle East, Africa, the Indian Ocean Islands and the whole of Europe. Back in 1997, I&J Australia (Pty) Ltd merged with Simplot’s Seafood, Snacks & Meals Division in Australia and the I&J brand is now the second largest retail seafood brand in that country.


Product quality and safety are paramount to I&J and stringent quality control procedures remain vital to the company’s success. All of I&J’s vessels and processing facilities are internationally certified to the highest food quality and safety standards and these certifications allow I&J to export its products on a worldwide basis.


Although I&J remains the largest fishing company in South Africa, over recent years the redistribution of hake quotas in the local fishing industry has meant that, with less of the total hake quota, innovative value added strategies have been a vital component of the company’s business success, enabling it to continue flourishing and prospering.


The South African hake trawl fishery is a proud holder of Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification. As one of the first fisheries in the world to be MSC certified, the fishery remains committed to operating in a responsible and sustainable manner. I&J places great emphasis on responsible fishing practices and is also a signatory to a pioneering initiative, the Responsible Fisheries Charter. With the aim of implementing an even more ecologically sensitive fishing approach, WWF and major fishing industry players have joined forces to achieve a common goal of responsible fishing and the implementation of an Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries Management.  This alliance is yet another important step towards the ongoing securing of healthy, clean and productive oceans for generations to come.


I&J is also a key player in the beefburger market, in both retail and food service. Complementing the company’s fish and beef products, a range of retail prepared chicken products is also produced by the company, making the I&J brand a focused protein provider.


Nowadays, it is not enough simply to produce a wide range of premium quality, innovative goods at the right price for consumers. I&J has recognised an evolving dimension in brand building, which sees the ever increasing importance to consumers of the social values associated with a brand and its products. This extends to the employees of manufacturers or suppliers of goods who are also concerned about a brand’s values; most will be more comfortable and productive working for a company they can be proud of, which has integrity and a set of social values they can identify with. 


Continually changing trends and the varying requirements of customers and consumers worldwide present challenges to all South African companies who are globally active. I&J is meeting those challenges and remains constant in its resolve to produce and market premium quality, innovative frozen food products to local and international markets in line with the company values and the I&J brand’s intrinsic values.