Local sourcing is a popular subject among consumers and has proved to be a great opportunity for the Tonks and Morris families, who together run a free-range egg farm in Tregony, Cornwall.
Having recently started to supply eggs to more than five of Asda’s most westerly stores, all situated near to the egg farm, the families think that it’s a good time to launch into the market.
Mrs Morris’s father, Richard Tonks, is the first generation farmer of the family and nearly 40 years ago, set up the business as a dairy farm, with his wife Christine. But later Mr Tonks took the decision to diversify into eggs.
And in 1982, Mr Tonks turned the dairy house into the first hen house and since then all the other poultry sheds on the farm have been purpose built.
The first shed that was originally converted from dairy is now used as a rearing house for day-old chicks. And today, the farm has 18,000 free-range hens in five poultry houses. There are four flocks in total that work on a continuous cycle.
Shortly after the business converted to an egg farm, the family began selling eggs in a franchaise to a variety of different packers over the years.
More recently Mrs Morris and her husband Andy returned to the farm to join the family business after a number of years in the pub trade.
“Before joining the business, my husband and I were running pubs but pub life wasn’t ideal for the children, so we had the opportunity to move down here again and we took it. We have been back involved in farming for two-and-a-half years now.”
And having started up the poultry side of the business, Mr Tonks has created a good opportunity for both families.
Together they have set up a new packing plant and branded the eggs themselves. Mrs Morris came up with the idea of using the imprint of chicken’s feet in the sand for the logo and a local designer created the design adding a church spire.
The eggs are now being sold under the name of St Ewe Free Range Eggs and are packaged in distinctive blue boxes.
Launching into the market
Introducing their own brand at the retailers began when Mr Tonks wrote a letter to the head of local sourcing at Asda. Within two days of receiving the letter, he contacted Taylors Regional Foods, who organise both regional food and sourcing for the West Country. “Taylors approached us and it started from there,” he explains.
“It happened quite quickly to begin with but it still took over a year as the stocking and forecasting at the supermarket can take time,” says Mrs Morris.
“The unit needed to be obviously Lion branded for Asda and our packing room had to meet the required specifications. An environmental health officer from the Food Standards Agency came to check the packing station and farm met the requirements.”
Reducing food miles
“There has been a lot of press about the food miles issue and offering companies something local, so it seemed like the right time. And it makes more sense to buy your eggs locally.
“If you watch people in the supermarket, they pick things up and look at where food has come from a shopping conscience has been born with the every day shopper,” says Mrs Morris.
As well as supplying Asda, the family also supply eggs to a large Cornish catering business, Doble Quality Foods, and have just seen their orders double with the company.
Their branded eggs will soon supply several regional Countrywide stores. It will also be a new venture for the retailer as selling food will be a first. The St Ewe brand was launched in the Countrywide Cirencester store on 29 July.
Supporting local producers
But the family is keen to support local dairy producers in the area, as in recent times many have gone out of business or have faced difficult times. Converting to poultry farming could therefore provide them with a suitable alternative, making good use of their land while working with the staff they already have.
“We hope to encourage dairy producers nearby to look at the possibilities of rearing poultry for eggs, by trying to show the positive aspect of egg farming,” explains Mrs Morris.
“Another thing we would like to do is to try and promote packing ourselves to other producers.”
To attract local producers and smallholders, one of the plans for the future is to hold an open day. The idea behind this is to explain how the egg company runs on a day to day basis.
Mrs Morris explains that they are looking for a different set of producers and would like them to take on something that they can see as manageable and that makes use of their land rather than just having a commercial business.
“The idea is that potential producers will come to the open day. Any new producers will have to adhere to the Lion code. They will sell their eggs to us and we will then pack them at the farm under our brand,” she says.
Another advantage to using local producers is that the transport costs would be minimal, she adds.
“We are looking for people with 2000-3000 birds that may well be too small for some of the larger packers, but there could be an opportunity for them with us,” says Mr Tonks.
Plans for the future
For the time being it’s a case of all hands on deck for the family at the present time. “We pack all the eggs ourselves at the moment, but we might well need some help in the way of staff in the not too distant future, adds Mrs Morris.
“We are still quite green and we have lots to achieve but we are learning fast. You choose your path and hope there are not too many holes along the way.”
The business is gradually expanding and we wouldn’t say no to further expansion plans in the future, says Mrs Morris.
St Ewe Free Range Eggs
- Approached head of local sourcing at Adsa
- Supplying St Ewe Free Range Eggs in local Asda stores
- Doubled orders with Doble Quality Foods
- Launched St Ewe brand at Countrywide Cirencester store – 29 July
- Opportunities for local dairy producers wanting to diversity
- Hope to attract smaller producers
Want to be a part of Asda’s Local Sourcing?
Poultry World contacted Asda to find out more and this is what it said:
- Local sourcing is all about making the relevant products and ranges available in our stores. Products that are grown, reared or produced in a specific region will be considered.
- An egg producer would need to be Lion coded and cannot be producing cage eggs.
- Asda can be approached through their local store or by calling Asda House and asking for a member of the local sourcing team.