US and China Key To NZ’s Organic Export Growth Expert
Posted by Fleur Revell
US & China Key to NZ’s Organic Export Growth-Expert- FRENZ founder says organic and free range foods are critical to the food industrys future in New Zealand
One of New Zealand’s most respected organic egg pioneers says the future of local industry growth lies in expanding the lucrative US and Chinese markets.
Founder of The Free Range Egg Poultry Co (FRENZ), Graeme Carrie says; organics, free range, sustainability and natural foods are areas that are critical to the future of the food industry in NZ.
Carrie has exported more than 20 million eggs under the FRENZ banner over the last quarter century and says FRENZ is the largest organic and free range egg supplier in New Zealand and still the only New Zealand business exporting eggs to the US.
The success of his US business has seen the likes of Frank Sinatra’s chef, former James Bond actor Roger Moore, Arnold Schwarzenegger and the chef of the Beverly Hills Hotel all fans of FRENZ eggs.
Today FRENZ exports thousands of certified-organic eggs per week to the US and more recently Hong Kong and China. While Carrie sites the company’s foray into these markets as a key brand success, he says it’s now time to take back seat although he promises to remain a fervent advocate for the New Zealand food export industry.
“I really passionately believe New Zealand has a great future in the world’s food basket if we stick with these particular areas, where we’re different and better than the rest of them. Having looked around the world a couple of times I can see that New Zealand has a huge future in those markets, particularly in the US and China.”
Carrie says it’s a little easier to step back knowing the business is in the hands of close friend Rob Darby with whom he formed the Company back in the 1980s.
The FRENZ brand has a great deal of integrity equity, says Carrie, largely due to its founders’ passion for treating all FRENZ animals as pets. Carrie says in the late 1980s there was no such thing as free range eggs, just those that looked and tasted better than what he was eating in the US, where he travelled regularly with his previous export business (making and selling wetsuits to the US Navy).
“The good-looking eggs came from the six pet chooks my then-high school-aged son Glen was rearing. He’d adopted the hens from the son of my good friend Rob Darby, a free range Pukekohe poultry farmer,”
“I quickly recognised that the taste difference was due to what the chickens ate and their freedom to move around, and my marketing and export background enabled me to recognise the business potential in differentiating the eggs as ‘free range'”, says Carrie.
Carrie teamed up with Darby, who agreed to increase his 1000 free range hens in his small operation, and FRENZ was born.
The early days weren’t without their hiccups says Carrie. Exporting eggs turned out to be a tricky business.
No one had exported eggs from New Zealand before, so the company was forced to fill out dairy exporting paperwork. Unsurprisingly, US authorities refused to believe that cows had laid the eggs.
“A list of 21 requirements was issued and immediately fulfilled over one busy weekend including blood tests on a full third of the free range flock (“We had to sneak into the laying barn in the middle of the night,” laughs Carrie).
Next, FRENZ’s first two shipments about 400 six-packs of eggs had to be given away; following a comedy of errors involving the US FDA’s labelling requirements and an over-eager truck driver!
The trip From Auckland to LA seemed an easier task, and a Beverly Hills retailer was found which launched the beginnings of the FRENZ export business with 25% of egg sales going to California, Texas and Hong Kong.
“The strength of the business at this point was due to the fact that I had a degree in marketing and Rob was already a successful egg and poultry farmer so the credentials were there from the outset in terms of us being able to make the business a winner,” says Carrie.
After successful trials in Auckland supermarkets, the pair looked to move the eggs around the country. No distributor wanted the liability of transporting eggs to Wellington, so the fledgling business had to think laterally. “We hired a furniture carrier,” explains Carrie. “He wrapped the eggs up in blankets, like furniture carriers do, and when he got there the eggs were all in one piece.”
The South Island wasn’t so easy. “By the time we’d gone on the railway trains and crossed the channel, then got down the Christchurch, we ended up with scrambled eggs down there.”
Carrie says today most FRENZ eggs are sold in New Zealand, where the company was first to market free range eggs, instigating consumer awareness of animal welfare issues in the egg industry.
As that awareness has grown over the past decade, FRENZ has stayed ahead of its competitors by refusing to compromise its standards. FRENZ farmers have never practiced de-beaking, a common process in poultry farming, even on free range farms.
“We were always keen to make certain the bird was ‘natural’,” says Carrie. “As free range has become almost mainstream, FRENZ has always taken the position that if you buy a FRENZ free range egg, you get a genuine free range eggs, because not all free range eggs these days are genuine.”
The company’s reputation as the industry leader in New Zealand is now so well established that many cafes and restaurants promote their use of FRENZ eggs on their menus.
Although he has officially retired, Carrie says he likes to keep his brain ticking over, so mentoring, consulting and lecturing are all on the agenda for the future along with some well-deserved R&R for the keen Piha-based surfer. “The kids gave me a large paddle board for Christmas, so I’m looking forward to spending a bit of time on the water,” he says.