Strong branding, robust marketing and bold decision-making have helped one Hampshire egg producer continue developing throughout difficult times. Poultry World reports

Phillip and Melanie Shepherd have been keeping free-range layers at their Kitts Merries Farm, Romsey for the past decade.

In the industry first as an intensive egg producer, Mr Shepherd decided to switch to free range in response to changing market demand. “I decided to convert one of my battery sheds and, before the finishing touches were complete, we could already sell more eggs than we could produce.

“We then converted what used to be a piggery, and have since replaced two other buildings with a big shed.”

The flock now numbers 5,000 Lohmann Browns, with plans to add another 2,500 birds.

But what really sets Mr Shepherd apart was his decision to run a packing station and build a brand alongside his laying farm.

“It’s an awful pun from an egg packer, but I didn’t want to put all my eggs into one basket,” he says. “So I looked around for other independent free-range farmers. Now we buy in, grade, stamp and pack eggs from more than five local producers, all of which are marketed as Claytons Free Range Eggs.”

Bold and bright

“One of our best decisions was to not skimp on the Clayton’s branding,” says Mr Shepherd. “We wanted something that would stand out and look professional. So we went for a logo in bright colours, produced in a three-colour process and the best-quality cardboard, which gives a smart, glossy finish.

“Our logo, branding and packaging sells itself, wherever it is seen. We are also members of the Hampshire Fare association and the New Forest Marque.”

With three vans delivering to independent businesses in and around Hampshire, Dorset and Sussex, Clayton’s bold, bright branding literally goes a long way.

“We supply farm shops, local shops and independent supermarkets, all under the Claytons brand,” says Mr Shepherd. The company is also involved in the Co-op’s Local Flavour Scheme.

“They choose the stores this range goes into – smaller ones where they make a feature of local producers. In general, the stores sell their standard range alongside ours as a premium range – fresh, local eggs from a local supplier. And they’re certainly selling a lot of ours, so it seems to work.”

But it’s not just about free range, and the company also buys in from a couple of intensive suppliers to meet demand for cheaper eggs.

“Almost all the farm shops we supply only sell free range, and our free-range sales have remained steady. But our intensive sales have gone up slightly in this economic climate. If a supermarket or a hotel wants a cheaper egg – for baking, for example – we still want to be the ones supplying them with that choice.”

Quality service

Meeting demand and living up to the Claytons brand is a top priority. “Delivery timing is pretty much spot on, and people are happy with our service – so much so that we seem to get a lot of our new business by word of mouth. We have seen the business growing year on year.”

Continued expansion, backed by strong branding, is an ongoing theme. “At the moment, we are completing a new packaging store to house our packaging cardboard: it needs to be light-proof and vermin-proof – cardboard is expensive stuff,” says Mr Shepherd. “And then we can start on the new shed to house 2,500 birds. After that, we’ll take it as it comes.”

Feeding and rearing

Mr Shepherd works closely with both Humphrey Feeds and Humphrey Pullets in managing his flock.

“The birds are locally reared at Lymington,” says director Martin Humphrey. “This means that the whole delivery process takes no more than a couple of hours from start to finish, keeping stress levels low for the birds and ensuring they arrive in great condition.

“For Phillip, having an in-depth knowledge of his flock at such an early stage is a huge advantage when it comes to the advice and support that we go on to offer throughout the laying cycle,” he adds.

Claytons Free Range Eggs

  • 5,000 free range birds
  • Lohmann Browns
  • Tree-lined ranges
  • Natural feed : no hormones, artificial flavours or colouring
  • New packaging storage: light- and vermin-proof
  • Plans for an extra shed – 2,500 more birds

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