Weekend Herald - Canvas


Five years on, the move to free range eggs is benefittin­g farmers, consumers...and Mcdonald’s.

- To find out more: https://mcdonalds.co.nz/whats-in-it

There’s an old saying – don’t put all your eggs in one basket, wisdom that free range chicken farmers and Mcdonald’s New Zealand are glad they ignored. Mcdonald’s crack about 13 million eggs annually in their restaurant­s and, for the last five years they have all been free range eggs sourced from the likes of Otaika Valley Free Range Eggs. That’s about 65 million free range eggs in total – a staggering amount, illustrati­ng the runaway popularity of eggs emanating from hens free to roam around barns and fields.

William Sandle, account manager at Otaika Valley and a member of the family which establishe­d their free range farms in Whangarei and Kaharoa (near Rotorua), says the family and Mcdonald’s recognised early that the consumer push for free range eggs would be permanent – and insistent.

“We have never been able to keep up with demand,” says Sandle, who estimates that Mcdonald’s makes up about 20 per cent of Otaika Valley’s business. “The hunger for free range eggs has just grown and grown and we have just continued to try and keep up and make sure we always have a quality product.”

In 2015, Mcdonald’s became the first major egg user in New Zealand to announce it was moving to serve 100 per cent free range eggs in all its restaurant­s. Sandle says the chain’s far-sightednes­s has probably helped fuel the fastgrowin­g national preference. In the same vein, Sandle’s father Peter was a former caged chicken farmer before divining the trend and switching to free range farming in 2007.

Otaika Valley, along with Mcdonald’s other key egg supplier, Zeagold, needed to invest in and expand infrastruc­ture to meet Mcdonald’s demand, with the transition taking 12-18 months to complete.

The rewards for doing so are not just from riding the wave of public opinion. A few years ago, the Sandles took a video of some of the 45,000 chickens they have at Whangarei leaving their barn in the morning. The video showed the birds streaming out of the barn, heading for a day in the open.

The video went viral – ending up on news bulletins internatio­nally. Sandle fields a dumb question (how do you get all the chicken back in the barn every night?) with aplomb: “They are creatures of habit. In the morning, they lay their eggs and then head out for the day about 9am.

“They head back to the barn when it gets dark, settle down and then head out to forage again. Some don’t leave the barn – they prefer to stay in sometimes, some stay out at night but most of them are out every day, even when it’s wet.”

The definition of free range includes a bird-peracre measure. Officially 1000 birds per acre is enough for free range status; Otaika Valley has 750 chooks per acre.

“They have a lot of room in which to roam, scratch, forage and peck,” he says. “They get to do what chickens normally do.” They are fed with grain with no chemical additive and he says the farms produce eggs with a firm, rich yolk.

Mcdonald’s NZ spokespers­on Simon Kenny says the decision to move to free range in 2015 showed not only that the company had a finger on the pulse of New Zealanders’ preference­s but also that it realised how those preference­s could change.

“Some of our franchisee­s began serving free range eggs through a group of South Island restaurant­s back in 2008. At the time, there weren’t enough free range eggs produced in New Zealand to supply the specificat­ion and volume we required for our menu items.

“More customers began to ask for a free range egg option and, by moving away from caged eggs completely, we answered those calls. Our franchisee­s knew our move would help create scale and surety for our suppliers to invest, and ultimately more overall supply of free range eggs for consumers.

“We’re proud to source more than 85 per cent of our ingredient­s from local Kiwi suppliers. We realise there’s always room for improvemen­t and we’re constantly looking at ways we can adapt.”

Covid-19 and lockdown provided all members of the food industry with challenges and a worried Otaika Valley applied for the wage subsidy – but paid it straight back. Sandle says baking saved their bacon – as householde­rs in lockdown responded with activities like teaching the kids to bake as well as providing food for the household.

When lockdown ended and those unforgetta­ble pictures were taken of cars jamming streets for long-denied Mcdonald’s food, Otaika Valley went into overdrive to help meet the demand.

Sandle says the move to free range is continuing and that cage farming is beginning to die out as some farmers get closer to retirement and see what they have to do to keep up with new regulation­s governing the caging of the birds.

A thriller set in Auckland and Lake Tarawera, it explores the risks of “letting certain forms of surveillan­ce into our lives and our homes”. While he’s cautious about writing “a political novel”, Pomare says his perspectiv­es as a Maori author inform his writing.

“If I have the opportunit­y to point out the implicatio­ns of being Maori in New Zealand, and some of the attitudes, with the ways characters interact, then you know by all means I’m going to do that and try to demonstrat­e these things as best I can.”

Pomare is fascinated by the tech world and how ideas that were once sci-fi are becoming reality (AI, automation, memory augmentati­on). “I’m really interested in the way that this will only enhance the divide between the rich and the poor, and between historical­ly oppressed groups.”

Class is also an “over-riding interest” for Renée, who was raised by a Maori mother but had a “largely European” upbringing. “When I was little, that was the era when the largely Pakeha population thought Maori were going to die out,” recalls Renée, who feels that she herself is culturally “standing on a bridge and I’ve got one foot on one side and one foot on the other”.

For Manawatu, who both Renée and Pomare praise as a “fantastic author”, the desire for her and her family to have more contact with their own Maori culture is one of the drivers of her writing, including with Aue. “There’s some desperatio­n in there in the characters to have some link to Te Ao Maori in their lives and around them, and the lack of it is an undercurre­nt of the story.”

While Manawatu doesn’t write “unapologet­ic crime fiction” like Pomare or the likes of Attica Locke, she also believes having more Maori, Pasifika, and other writers of colour flowing into genre/popular fiction along with poetry, short stories, or literary novels like hers, is a very good thing.

“To have a wider range of perspectiv­es and more Maori writers published takes the weight off all Maori writers’ shoulders that they have to be representi­ng something, for everyone.”

Aue’s listing for the Ngaio Marsh Awards raised some eyebrows among those who take a classic view of crime fiction. But our local awards were modelled after the Hammett Prize in North America (whose winners include Margaret Atwood) and celebrate “literary excellence” in tales by New Zealanders that are entwined with crime. As the internatio­nal judging panel said, Manawatu “doesn’t use crime as a plot device but shows it woven into the fabric of her characters’ lives, defining them, sometimes destroying them, and serving as a perverse unifier”.

Like Once Were Warriors, a book to which Aue has been compared, Manawatu’s novel is dosed with domestic violence and gang life, subjects that strike close to home for the author and which did cause her concern in the writing and since. Would another violence-tinged portrayal of Maori characters amplify real-life prejudice? “I didn’t think about the people who could come to my story without the compassion or understand­ing of history, or of the damage of colonisati­on.”

That ongoing concern illustrate­s why Manawatu believes having a greater number and range of Maori writers published is so vital — not just as role models “so that people like my daughter have people to look up to”, but to showcase a broader range of stories and diffuse any singular representa­tion that may be wrongly generalise­d as emblematic of Maori culture.

With overseas university studies having shown that reading fiction is a vehicle for empathy, having a diverse range of voices published is vital. Particular­ly in popular genres like crime fiction, which reach so many readers.

“I think what reading does, whether it’s a crime novel or whatever, is that we learn about other people,” says Renée. “And while a crime novel may be more carefully structured around a certain type of event, like a murder, it doesn’t really alter the fact that we’re talking about people in the same way perhaps as the authors who regard themselves as more literary writers do. We’ve just chosen this different form.”

The winners of the 2020 Ngaio Marsh Awards will be revealed on October 31 as part of the Word Christchur­ch Spring Festival. Becky Manawatu and Renée will be appearing at multiple events during the festival.

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Photos/ Supplied
 ?? PHOTO / TIM MANAWATU ?? Ngaio Marsh Awards finalist Becky Manawatu.
PHOTO / TIM MANAWATU Ngaio Marsh Awards finalist Becky Manawatu.

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