Writing jingles for a radio station is not something you would expect to see in a poultry job specification, but for Dan Wood it has proved to be a successful marketing tool.

Blackacre Farm prides itself on being a local West Country brand and the company has just launched the latest phase of its marketing campaign to promote its free-range eggs.

This comes as the firm celebrates 30 years in egg production, having been established by Dan’s parents, Tim and Judy.

“We are already an established brand for eggs, but now we want consumers to see us primarily as a free-range company,” said Dan.

In the past 10-15 years, all the growth has been in the free-range side with cage egg numbers largely remaining the same. This growth led to an increase in turnover from £2.5m in 2007 to £3m in 2008 and an expected £4-4.5m in 2009.

Growth in free-range is set to continue as the family phase out their cages by the 2012 deadline and go 100% free-range.

Currently, Blackacre has 80,000 free-range layers, 21,000 on its own unit and the remainder on three local contracted units. Pullets are sourced from a local rearer.

When Dan started out in free-range, he opted for a mobile shed-based system and currently uses Morspan 1300-bird sheds.

Range management involves occasionally topping pasture with a topper plus sheep. Sheds are moved onto new ground for each new flock and birds have access to traditional hedgerows for cover.

Mortality is typically 5-6% and the latest flock had a housed hen average of 310 eggs to 72 weeks with production peaking in the early 90s.

“Our plan is to double the size of our own free-range unit to 40,000 and switch to a system of larger, fixed sheds.”

Being a family firm, Blackacre actively supports local independent stores, such as Londis and Spar and supplies nearly 700 stores in an area stretching south from Swindon to Portsmouth in the east right through to Cornwall.

A fleet of five 3t sprinter vans carry out the huge task of delivering to the 700 shops and as Dan admits, is probably the toughest job in the company.

However, in the past few weeks the Blackacre brand has appeared for the first time in one of the big four retail chains. “Seven Asda stores are now taking the brand as part of its local sourcing initiative through Taylors Foods, a local food hub.”

He sees much of his future growth coming from the mainstream stores on a local basis.

Dan is currently rebranding the Blackacre image with a new pack design with a picture of himself on the pack with a strong emphasis on localness with the phrase “Laid in the West Country”.

The launch is coinciding with Heart FM’s “Have a Heart” appeal with 2p from each pack going to a local charity with the aim to raise £5000 in three month run.

Blackacre already has close ties with Heart Fm with a series of six fun, catching and jovial jingles emphasising the family nature of the business and provenance of the eggs.

“Our website typically gets about 8000 hits a month. But after the Radio jingles first appeared on the radio, this rose to 25,000 hits in March.”

Dan sees the website as a crucial part of his marketing. Shoppers can also learn more about how eggs are produced by visiting the “meet the farmer” section of the website and by taking a virtual video tour of the packing station.

Marketing includes on-shirt sponsorship of the Somerset County Cricket team and the Club’s new online radio service which broadcasts all matches live.

Another way of spreading the message is by working with the wider industry at local and county shows. For the past 10 years, Dan and his father, Tim have being involved with the “chicken ‘n’ egg” NFU initiative.

“This allows us to meet people and dispel the myths about the industry. They can ask questions such as how are eggs produced?

“This year, we have a food chain emphasis with kids invited to get a cup of corn from the arable area, feed it to a few hens, take an egg from a nest box and then watch it being cooked by a chef.” Dan also goes into local schools.

So by getting tomorrows consumers interested in free-range eggs, Dan is hoping to secure continued growth the next 30 years of the Blackacre brand.

Farm facts

  • 90,000 cage hens
  • 21,000 free-range birds
  • Packing 1m eggs each week
  • Supply 700 independent shops in south west
  • Just launched in seven Asda stores
  • 17 full time staff

What the judges liked

  • “Dan has a strong vision and is moving the business to become fully free-range by 2012.”

Three achievements

  • Increased turnover by £2m in two years
  • Established free-range unit
  • Built a customer base of more than 700 local shops and restaurants