Farmers Hen House looks ahead

Those eggs you’re about to crack? Getting them to your kitchen took years of planning

By Cheryl Allen
Posted 11/21/23


If Farmers Hen House wanted to refresh their egg packaging, how long do you think that process would take, from concept to store shelves?

a) Two months

b) Six months

c) One …

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Farmers Hen House looks ahead

Those eggs you’re about to crack? Getting them to your kitchen took years of planning



If Farmers Hen House wanted to refresh their egg packaging, how long do you think that process would take, from concept to store shelves?

a)Two months

b)Six months

c)One year

d)Three years

If you guessed c, give yourself a point.

One year may seem like a long time to make a small change, but that’s what is required when the perception of millions and millions of eggs is at stake.

A narrow band of carton, about 1.5 inches by 11.75 inches, is all a customer has to go on when selecting eggs at the grocery store. A slim label placed here has to cover a lot of information in a clear, instantly-absorbable way: the brand name and egg type are needed at a minimum. Should a brand miss the mark on either of those items, consumers may choose a different carton from a different company, and that, ultimately, could cost a brand its spot in the grocer’s refrigerator.

A lot rides on that packaging.

Last year at this time, Farmers Hen House decided a more streamlined approach to its egg packaging was in order.

“I found these cartons as an option,” president and co-owner Ryan Miller says, pointing out the new carton that is just now starting to reach stores. “We have a lot more space right here,” he says, indicating the front flap that affords at least another half-inch deep of label space.

The company procured a few different graphic designs for the cartons, then commissioned market research studies to find out which look had the most positive impact on consumers. They learned that egg type was the most important piece of information needed on the side of the package, so they made that prominent. They also thought that cute images of hens would make the product more attractive, but an eye-tracking study revealed that consumers failed to focus on the art, so those labels didn’t make the cut.

The new packaging that hit the shelves at Target last month and is currently in production at the Kalona plant is bright and eye-catching. The colors associated with each egg type – Kelly green for Free Range, orange for Free Range Organic, purple for Free Range Omega 3, blue for Pasture Raised, and spring green for Pasture Raised Organic – are consistent with what the company has used in the past. The hope is that customers will recognize the product they’re accustomed to purchasing.

“I’m excited to switch,” Miller says.

Most stores only carry two or three different egg types from Farmers Hen House; it would be rare to find all five options in one refrigerator case. And what matters to consumers doesn’t always hold steady; Omega 3 eggs are losing market share, Miller says, but Pasture Raised eggs are gaining.

The Pasture Raised option is one Farmers Hen House has only offered for the past year or two; pasture raised hens are allotted 180 square feet per bird outside, as opposed to the minimum of two square feet given to free range hens. The demand for Pasture Raised eggs is high enough that Farmers Hen House is putting in new farms to accommodate higher sales in the future.

It’s not just packaging changes that have to be planned for years out; almost everything at Farmers Hen House requires significant lead time.

“Flock cycles are 14 months, so you’ve really got to plan ahead,” Miller says. “You can’t just flip a switch and in five months have a new farm, you really need to be looking out 12-18 months all the time.”

As we near the close of 2023, Miller has his eyes on the next three years.

“Once a farmer says, ‘Yeah, I want to do it,’ you want them to have at least nine months of prep,” he explains. “I plan out my flocks and what I’m expecting egg-flow wise out three to four years. Right now I have my chart out through the end of 2026.”

Farmers Hen House ships their eggs to grocery stores in all 50 states, although their distribution is mainly in the lower 48. This year, they added the Publix Super Markets chain to their growing roster, which has 1380 store locations across the Southeastern states of Florida, Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Virginia.

Keeping the chain stocked means a lot more eggs shipping out of Kalona. To keep up, Farmers Hen House has added “a handful” of new farms to their production, including a couple in Missouri, one in northeast Iowa, and a couple locally, including a new 20,000-bird free-range farm on Highway 1 that will be up and running in January 2024.

Even getting eggs into a new grocery store chain takes significant time. Once a year, Miller explains, a retailer will review their product lines and open themselves up to meetings with producers. Farmers Hen House might get 30 minutes to an hour to pitch their eggs. If they succeed, the following year their eggs will land on the shelves.

You might think that a simple thing like a price change would not require so much advance planning. After all, a year ago consumers watched egg prices change on the daily; wholesale prices for conventional eggs went from $3.30 in October 2022 to $5.23 in December 2022, for example. But the rules that govern conventional egg pricing don’t apply to the specialty eggs Farmers Hen House sells; they must give retailers a 90-day notice when changing prices.

While the prices for conventional eggs rose steeply as avian influenza decimated flocks, then fell once flocks recovered, prices for Farmers Hen House eggs have stayed more consistent. They did raise prices a bit, but those increases were the result of higher feed and labor costs and a paper shortage that drove up the cost of egg cartons and cardboard boxes.

But things are looking up. “I think we’re entering a period now where it’s going to be pretty level,” Miller says.

That is great news for holiday bakers and cooks, who will crack millions of eggs into Thanksgiving custards and Christmas morning quiches. And great news for Farmers Hen House, for whom this is the most wonderful time of the year.

“Our sales really jump, that beginning part of November through the end of the year,” Miller confirms.

Farmers Hen House, Kalona, Iowa, poultry, eggs, pastured, packaging, new, 2023