Pete & Gerry's Organics
Sometimes the path forward means you have to go back. For
Pete & Gerry's Organics
egg farm, this is exactly what happened in order for the farm to survive.
CEO Jesse Laflamme, 35, is a fourth-generation farmer who transformed his family's farm (Pete is his cousin and Gerry is his dad) into the organic and cage-free egg farm it is today. The company sells two brands of eggs: its certified organic eggs and Nellie's cage-free eggs (named after Laflamme's childhood pet chicken).
The company has experienced exponential growth of roughly 35% a year over the last 13 years, Laflamme says.
But the company wasn't always doing so well.
Laflamme's grandfather started the family's original egg farm, Ward Poultry (a spin-off from the family's larger diversified farm), shortly after returning from World War II. Hens were able to roam where they liked. It wasn't until the larger agriculture industry began using cages in the mid-1960s that his grandfather also installed them, Laflamme says.
"It was about efficiency and it was about scale and in order to keep up, he had to implement and adapt and put cages in," he says.
By the time, his father took over the farm in the early 1980s, the industry was rapidly consolidating.
"Instead of selling to Mom-and-Pop stores, we started to sell to chains. And chains wanted to streamline. If you were smaller, it made it difficult to compete," says Laflamme, who has two children ages three and five.
Add in other egg farms that were producing eggs in less than ideal conditions and the business almost shuttered completely over the bad press the industry was getting. But Laflamme's parents revamped the company to represent the exact opposite -- a small, trustworthy egg farm, which evolved under Laflamme into organic and cage-free egg farming.
"We made the philosophical choice to not keep a single hen in battery[-operated] cages," he says. "We're the first egg farm to be
, which carried through from animal welfare to how we treat workers."
Pete & Gerry's answers a growing trend by consumers who want to know where their food is grown. It's also supporting the local farming community by partnering with nearly 60 small egg farmers in the Northeast -- a concept that is near and dear to Laflamme.
The partnerships are mutually beneficial because Pete & Gerry's can produce more eggs without having to build more barns, Laflamme says. The farmers can either own or essentially "rent" hens from Pete & Gerry's, but are subject to raising them by the same company standards. Pete & Gerry's takes care of the packaging and marketing of the eggs.
"The last thing we want to do is imitate [big agri-business] by having a gigantic concentrated farm," Laflamme says. "A small commodity egg farm has a million hens, a bigger one has 10 million. We are about 160,000 hens in nine different barns. When we got to that size we blew the whistle -- we are not building anymore."
Pete & Gerry's says marketing, communication and, of course, technology, gives the company a chance to tell its story.
"We do have a story to tell," he says. "The agri-business for the last 40 years has been hidden away. We want to be exactly the opposite. We want consumers to know about our farmers. ... and how our hens are treated and there's no better vehicle to do that [than] the Internet."