The bar is rising for what’s considered a happy chicken, sparking the hottest trend in the market: the pasture-raised egg. Pastured eggs come from hens that spend most of their time outdoors, dining on bugs and taking dust baths while also indulging in their favorite activities, like scratching and perching. That’s a step up from cage-free, a label that consumers are finding is slightly less idyllic than they may imagine.
October 23, 2017 –A national supplier of pasture-raised eggs celebrated the opening of its Springfield processing facility this month.
A decade ago, Matthew O’Hayer started a pasture-raised egg business with 20 hens in Southeast Austin. Since then, the company has grown to a network of 100 family-owned farms in seven states, and its eggs are sold in 49 states. Now, the company is getting ready for another wave of growth after receiving an $11.1 million private equity investment from Sunrise Strategic Partners, based in Boulder, Colo., and other individuals.
For decades, most American egg producers have kept their hens inside, claiming outdoor access isn’t feasible at scale. Two companies behind an emerging “pasture-raised” standard say they’ve figured out how to sell millions of eggs with the barn doors open.
Most of us can spot a company’s mission statement from a mile away. They communicate the values of a company. We’ve seen mission statements emblazoned on the walls of our workplaces, the products we buy and the websites we visit. When a mission goes beyond just a statement, is executed upon and embedded across a company’s operations, it becomes a key force in value creation.
Vital Farms works with over 90 independent, family-owned farms across the United States from Georgia to California. They work closely with each and every farmer to ensure they have the greatest chance at success, promoting a business model that is not only about scale, but also about sustainability and support.
On a farm in a corner of northwest Arkansas, the maples and sycamores are starting to change color, their gold and rust contrasting with the lush, emerald pasture. The midmorning sun, already high over the rolling hills, tempers the late October chill. From outside the chicken house door, 24-year-old farmer Daniel Webb can hear—even feel—the anticipation.
While it’s well-documented that industrial egg farming is a controversial business (cue Food Inc), and there are a slew of egg purveyors who are rushing to do better with USDA organic options, there’s still a lot of murkiness around how laying hens are actually treated, and the conditions in which they are raised.
In 2006, Michael Cox, a chicken farmer in northwest Arkansas, faced a choice that many farmers do: Grow or die. His family had been raising chickens for three generations, first for agriculture behemoth Cargill and then for themselves. Even with 800,000 laying hens, Cox was not big enough to compete: “If you’re growing or dying,” he said, “we were planning our funeral."