Free range egg pioneer FRENZ is busy increasing both egg processing capacity and expanding export potential into Asia.
By Annie Gray.
Some very clever lateral thinking went into FRENZ’ 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’ 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 germ-free 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 un-sanitised 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 realize 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.
150 years of exporting
New Zealand has a proud history of exporting eggs. FRENZ’ Rob Darby says that as far back as 150 years ago eggs were shipped to England along with flax and timber mainly because in England the hens stopped laying in the winter.
The New Zealand eggs would be covered in duck fat to prevent them breathing and, after the three or four month ship journey, “fresh” New Zealand eggs would be gracing English dining tables.