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Cracking a bigger market

By Chelsea Boyle

[email protected]

He took a run-down caged chicken farm and turned it into a thriving cage-free national egg business, now Graeme Napier says it’s time for him to step back.

Mr Napier will be staying on as a director, and welcoming Michael Jamieson into the role of chief executive.

The role is another feather in the cap for Mr Jamieson who has held senior leadership roles with Icebreaker, Nike Asia Pacific and Lion Nathan.

Henergy Cage-Free has already steadily grown over the past 25 years and Mr Jamieson is keen to expand it further.

Mr Jamieson said he was drawn to the business because of its ethics and sustainable business model.

Mr Napier’s story certainly is a goodie in Wairarapa.

“When Lorna and I started the business, it was a run-down caged egg farm,” Mr Napier said.

“I didn’t know anything about chickens. I didn’t have chickens in my backyard.”

He was passionate about turning that all around, drawing on his animal husbandry experience running a sheep and beef farm.

“I’ve always had a farming background and a love for animals.”

First and foremost, he wanted to ditch the cages.

Another motivating factor was improving quality control.

Mr Napier said he would often discover a bit of muck or a feather or two on top when he opened egg cartons on supermarket shelves.

He was determined to make sure the eggs that reached the family home were clean.

“This is a food product that is going into someone’s kitchen.”

The goal was simple: “We wanted to produce the best eggs at an affordable price.”

Those first chickens were almost like pets, said Mr Napier despite the fact he was outnumbered 11,000 to one.

“We made sure we did our homework,” he said of the new endeavour.

Massey University became the first port of call where he sought advice regarding chicken welfare and industry.

In 1999, the SPCA awarded the business the Blue Tick certifying that Henergy Cage-Free met high animal welfare standards.

“They could see that cages are a horrible thing,” Mr Napier said.

The company now produces 90,000 eggs a day, supplying about 70-75% of New Zealand’s barn-laid eggs.

It also exports a small number to Singapore and the Cook Islands.

Looking back, he said his success was achieved by picking off one thing at time and surrounding himself with the “best people”.

As a director, he still had ideas for the business and was keen to see multi levels established in the barn environment to give chickens more space to move around.

One good thing was that he would have more time for sailing.

He said the company needed someone with Mr Jamieson’s skills to “take that next leap”.

And it is a challenge Mr Jamieson is keen to take on.

“It’s an exciting stage of its growth,” he said.

He believes there is a lot of potential for the cage-free egg industry because consumers are more aware about where their food comes from.


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