Wholesome New Zealand case study

In the early 1950s, Noel Higgins founded a small farm producing eggs in the rolling countryside of rural Wanganui. More than 60 years later, Noel’s son Ian Higgins heads up Wholesome New Zealand, a cooperative of dedicated farmers producing SPCA Blue Tick approved eggs to satisfy the growing demand for barn and free range eggs in New Zealand.

Today, Wholesome New Zealand farmers produce more than 500,000 barn and free range eggs each week. The collective prides itself on producing eggs that come from chickens in barn and free range settings, something Wholesome NZ chief executive Ian Higgins says is more of a challenge than it may seem.

“Many people think you can just put thousands of chickens in a paddock and they will peck away happily producing eggs. That does happen, but it takes a lot of time, energy, expertise and money to get there,” he says.

Forty per cent of Countdown’s egg sales are currently from non-caged eggs (Free Range, Barn & Organic), and demand is growing.

Ian and the Wholesome NZ farmers are eager to help to meet this demand, but says many farmers experience significant challenges when transitioning to barn or free range, or expanding their existing free range flocks.

“One of the biggest challenges facing egg farmers is the space needed to produce the same amount of eggs as cage-farming. A typical cage-egg shed can house 40,000 birds, however 2.5 hectares is required for every 5,000 free range birds in New Zealand,” says Ian.

“Both the availability of land and money required to purchase and maintain it is prohibitive, as are the increased feed costs for free range flocks. It’s difficult for farmers to spend millions of dollars converting farms to free range, and many can’t until they have commercial commitments that ensure the eggs they produce will be purchased. That’s where working directly with Countdown has made all the difference to Wholesome NZ farmers,” he adds.

“Countdown listened to what we were trying to achieve with barn and free range eggs, and asked how they could get behind it. The most crucial part of upscaling or transitioning any farm is having guarantees your product will be bought. Countdown gave Wholesome NZ that certainty. They opened the doors to us stocking eggs in more stores, and have expanded the shelf space dedicated to barn and free range eggs to make it easier for shoppers to find and buy free range.”

“At the end of the day, it costs more to farm barn and free range eggs and there are some families for whom that additional cost at the checkout is out of reach. But, we know thousands of other Kiwis can spend a little more and want to do so. The beauty of that is, the more people that buy barn and free range the more we are able to reinvest in our farms and produce more barn and free range eggs,” Ian explains.