INDEPENDENT egg packer and producer Bird Bros has said it will phase out colony egg production by converting sheds at its home farm to barn units.

The £26m-turnover business packs over 4 million eggs a week from 800,000 hens and supplies retailers, wholesale and food service businesses across the UK.

Set up in 1969 by twin brothers Carl and Peter, the farming enterprise supplies 65 different SKU (stock keeping units, or products) to about 350 regular customers each week.

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Cousins, Matt and Stuart (sons of the company’s founders Peter and Carl respectively) are speaking to Poultry.Network about ambitious plans to transition away from colony egg production to barn.

About half a million of the hens in the supply chain are company-owned and reared, with the balance made up of contracted producers across East Anglia and the south of England supplying the Bedford headquarters.

And from there, eggs are sent to a diverse mix of businesses from small to large.

Vibrant sales mix

“It’s fair to say we have a very vibrant sales mix,” explains Matt. “We have lorries that go out the door to one customer and have a three-case minimum for some customers.

“I think a lot of people in our industry over the years moved away from that sort of work – we maintained that – some customers we have supplied for 30-40 years.”

Stuart adds: “We have got very good transport links to London and Birmingham, so it’s worked well for us – we spread our risk and have not become too tied to any one particular party.”

On our radar

But with no major retailer contract that comes with commitments made to NGOs to end caged egg production, why do it?

“It’s long been on our radar,” says Stuart. “But it’s fair to say five years ago there wouldn’t have been the same interest in the market – it didn’t fit between colony and free range.

Now, the family firm feels there is a place for barn: a value egg with higher welfare credentials and has bit the bullet on investing.

The plan is called “Vision 2028”, signifying the fact that by that year, Bird Bros will have exited colony production following significant investment.

The first barn eggs will roll off graders by the end of this year, and pullet-rearing shed conversions are already underway with Big Dutchman Natura Systems on order for those units.

The right producer

What about the contracted free-range producer base? “We’re always open to conversations and looking for the right producer,” explains Stuart, who emphasises farmers can always have a direct conversation with him – an owner of the business – about their relationship.

It’s this, and “always trying to offer amongst the best [egg cheque] available,” he adds, with Matt suggesting the broad spread of customers offers more resilience as a packer than one tied up with fewer, bigger contracts.

“With our customer base encompassing many different channels, we see a huge opportunity for barn eggs, and it is the key driver behind our decision to move decisively into barn egg production.”