MEAN­WHILE, BACK AT THE EGG FARM

Free-range egg pi­o­neer FRENZ is busy in­creas­ing both egg pro­cess­ing ca­pac­ity and ex­pand­ing ex­port po­ten­tial into Asia.

NZ Business - - CONTENTS - BY ANNE GRAY AN­NIE GRAY IS EDI­TOR OF MAN­AGE­MENT.

Some very clever lat­eral think­ing went into FRENZ’s first mar­ket­ing foray into the US 22 years ago. Rob Darby, a co-founder and now sole owner of New Zealand free range egg pioneers, FRENZ, ex­plains that when the com­pany be­gan ex­port­ing to the US it started in Cal­i­for­nia, a place known for its vast egg pro­duc­tion ca­pac­ity.

“We were told no one sends eggs to Cal­i­for­nia – it’s like send­ing sand to the Arab mar­kets,” he re­calls. “And the state was lit­tered with bill­boards mar­ket­ing lo­cal eggs, pro­claim­ing: ‘If it ain’t Cal­i­for­nian, it ain’t fresh’."

Darby says the com­pany coun­tered this with po­ten­tial Cal­i­for­nian buy­ers by telling them that their New Zealand eggs would get to Cal­i­for­nia “be­fore they had been laid”. With New Zealand one day ahead of Cal­i­for­nia the eggs would be on a plane to the US be­fore they had ac­tu­ally been laid… in the West Coast time zone at least.

That type of in­no­va­tive, lat­eral think­ing has, 30 years af­ter the com­pany was founded, seen it grow to where it now sup­plies 15 to 20 mil­lion free range and or­ganic eggs a year do­mes­ti­cally – into the US, Ma­cau and Hong Kong and emerg­ing mar­kets like South Korea, Tai­wan and Sin­ga­pore.

Cur­rently about 20 per­cent of FRENZ’s eggs are ex­ported and that’s in­creas­ing all the time as Free Trade Agree­ments come to fruition. But Rob points out that not all FTAs in­clude eggs. He would like to see at least 40 per­cent of the com­pany’s sup­ply ex­ported in the next three to five years, in­clud­ing the 30 per­cent rise in pro­duc­tion he fore­sees for the com­pany, as it brings more farm­ers on­board.

FRENZ cur­rently has 20 farm­ers that sup­ply eggs, in­clud­ing Rob’s own farm. These 20 sup­pli­ers use 15 per­cent of the land that poul­try is farmed on in New Zealand but pro­duce only two per­cent of the New Zealand egg sup­ply.

FRENZ has re­cently opened a new, state-of-the art egg grader, in­creas­ing both egg pro­cess­ing ca­pac­ity and ex­pand­ing egg ex­port po­ten­tial into Asia. The com­pany says the new grader in­creases the num­ber of eggs that can be checked, sani­tised, sorted and pack­aged, from 8,000 eggs per hour to 45,000.

“In terms of ex­port po­ten­tial, this grader gives us the abil­ity to fill a 20-foot con­tainer with eggs ev­ery two and a half hours,” the com­pany says in a state­ment.

Although Asia is the world’s largest egg pro­ducer the demand for high qual­ity, free-range and or­ganic eggs in Asian coun­tries is in­creas­ing. As well as ex­ports to Ma­cau and Hong Kong, the com­pany has re­cently con­firmed its first or­der from Tai­wan and is work­ing with NZTE to achieve mar­ket en­try into Sin­ga­pore and South Korea.

The new grader can safely “sani­tise eggs, which are hy­gien­i­cally washed, dried and UV-sani­tised to pro­duce a germfree ex­te­rior. Fi­nally eggs are coated in a nat­u­ral oil to pre­vent bac­te­ria en­ter­ing the in­ter­nal egg through the por­ous shell.

“Our sani­ti­sa­tion meth­ods give our eggs a longer shelf life of up to 60 days, ver­sus the usual 35, which makes it more vi­able for FRENZ eggs to be shipped over­seas.”

Rob says the sani­ti­saton process also means that for New Zealand con­sumers eggs can be safely han­dled dur­ing cook­ing. He says the bac­te­ria left on an un­sani­tised egg can be as harm­ful as raw chicken.

The com­pany mod­i­fied the grader to in­clude a washer, as this is re­quired in the US. The Dutch man­u­fac­turer was un­able to pro­vide that com­po­nent so FRENZ de­cided to use a lo­cal

en­gi­neer­ing com­pany to de­sign and build that por­tion of the new ma­chine and in­cor­po­rate it into the grader.

The new grader has other fea­tures the com­pany be­lieves will help it se­cure in­ter­na­tional or­ders, such as the abil­ity to sort eggs based on shell colour and to dig­i­tally print on eggs in a mul­ti­tude of lan­guages, in­clud­ing Man­darin.

To date all the FRENZ egg ex­ports have been air freighted but the new grader, along with newer tech­nolo­gies to keep food fresh, means they can now look at sea freight. That, he says, cre­ates a huge back­yard. “Our goal is to send eggs any­where in the world for the same cost as get­ting them to Hamil­ton.”

THE GREAT OUT­DOORS

Eggs tend to taste of what the hen eats and Rob says science shows that hens with un­lim­ited out­door ac­cess to a pas­ture diet pro­duce eggs with higher nat­u­ral pro­teins, higher Omega3 and less sat­u­rated fat. All hens on FRENZ sup­plier farms have 24-hour ac­cess to the out­doors; there’s a max­i­mum 500 birds per acre and a max­i­mum of 2000 birds per flock.

The com­pany’s cer­ti­fied or­ganic eggs (where the hens' feed is 100 per­cent or­ganic) are in­de­pen­dently cer­ti­fied by BioGro and in­spected by the Min­istry of Pri­mary In­dus­tries.

Rob is con­cerned that as food safety be­comes a big is­sue glob­ally and free range and or­ganic eggs grow in pop­u­lar­ity, these terms can be used more as mar­ket­ing terms. In some ju­ris­dic­tions pro­duc­ers can self-cer­tify their eggs as free range or or­ganic with no reg­u­la­tion around this in the coun­try where the ex­ports are headed.

He says glob­ally when FRENZ sells eggs off­shore, “we are sell­ing New Zealand’s im­age. Peo­ple in Tai­wan don’t know FRENZ. They are buy­ing New Zealand and that rep­u­ta­tion.” And he is keen to en­sure that New Zealand’s rep­u­ta­tion is main­tained.

Con­sumers buy­ing FRENZ eggs can trace the egg back to the farm and the pro­ducer through a Flock Num­ber on the egg car­ton that will give off­shore buy­ers ac­cess to the farmer that pro­duced their eggs. Through the FRENZ web­site the code will lead the buyer to the ex­act flock and the farm where the eggs came from.

One of the chal­lenges when Rob and his orig­i­nal part­ner Graeme Cur­rie started the busi­ness, was that there were no free range or or­ganic eggs in lo­cal su­per­mar­kets. They had to get peo­ple to re­alise there was now an al­ter­na­tive.

The fu­ture chal­lenge for FRENZ is to head down the value-add road, and they have a “few things” on the ta­ble, that he isn’t pre­pare to dis­close as yet.

As for ad­vice to other ex­porters, in 2015 Rob es­tab­lished an in­de­pen­dent board of di­rec­tors. One of the main rea­sons he did so is be­cause he has seen so many busi­ness own­ers do­ing ev­ery­thing them­selves and wear­ing so many dif­fer­ent hats.

He came to re­alise that a busi­ness must have wise heads on board and ad­mits he’s had to ac­cept a few de­ci­sions from the board that he didn’t like at the time. But in hind­sight the calls the board made turned out to be the right ones.

He says a board brings dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives into a com­pany and it will only make de­ci­sions that are in the best in­ter­ests of the com­pany.

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