Known for producing some of the most beloved seafood dishes served at American restaurants, the Brunswick-based King and Prince Seafood Corporation has capitalized on its easy access to sweet local shrimp by selling it to food-service professionals and consumers alike. Founded in 1924, the company has been successful largely because of its innovations, including the first breaded shrimp and the first seafood dip for mass retail.
The company’s beginnings were humble. Brunswick native Gerald Beach, working as an operator for fuel docks owned by Ocean Oiland Gasoline Company in 1924, saw an opportunity for himself in seafood wholesaling. At the time, Savannah, some seventy-five miles to the north, was the nexus of the southern fishing industry, with annual gross sales of fish, oysters, and shrimp at more than $2 million. Shrimp alone netted $800,000 a year. Encouraged by the successes of companies like L. P. Maggioni and Company and Cannarella Brothers, both located in the commercial shrimping town of Thunderbolt, Beach began buying shrimp from local fishermen, freezing them, and shipping them off in large barrels to Chicago and New York City’s famed Fulton Fish Market. Overtime, Beach did his own shrimping, too, and little by little his business—then known as the King Shrimp Company—began to thrive.
After World War II (1941-45), the company sold its fleet of shrimp boats and took advantage of new technology that allowed it to process, package, and sell large quantities of frozen breaded shrimp purchased from local and regional fishermen to restaurants and retail outlets. The decision was a boon for business; in 1960 the company reached $1 million in sales for the first time.
As the demand for quality seafood products grew, King Shrimp Company realized that it needed to accelerate its research and development efforts to remain competitive. In the late 1960s its new research and development facility created Heat 'n Serve Shrimp, the first frozen breaded shrimp that could be reheated at home. After that, other products were developed, including the first frozen breaded oysters, the first breaded crawfish, and the first seafood dip. As it dabbled with coatings, flavors, and other refinements, the company was able to develop such popular dishes for its clients as Red Lobster’s Coconut Shrimp Bites and Olive Garden’s Spinach and Artichoke Dip. The company changed its name to King and Prince Seafood Corporation in 1986.
In the meantime, the company focused on environmental conservation, harvesting shrimp with nets equipped with escape hatches for sea turtles. It also began buying most of its shrimp from farms in Asia and Central and South America so that it would not contribute to overfishing in U.S. waters
In the late 1980s King and Prince was bought by Clearwater Fine Foods, a subsidiary of Hillsdown Holdings Company of London, England. When Hillsdown sold its seafood holdings in 1991, King and Prince’s workers bought their company through an employee stock ownership plan. In 2005, after years of growth, the company was acquired by Gorton’s Inc. of Gloucester, Massachusetts, for a reported $148 million, becoming part of one of the nation’s largest suppliers of frozen seafood. Gorton’s, an icon of the breaded seafood world, is a subsidiary of the Japanese company Nippon Suisan Kaisha Ltd. (Nissui). King and Prince had 400 employees at the time of the deal.