On a sunny afternoon at a 25-acre family members farm close to Paris, Texas, Matt O"Hayer is crouching in the mud to play v the hens. Together he pet one, dozens swarm about him, clucking and cooing. He coos appropriate back. "Hey, girl," that whispers. "Good girl." O"Hayer, the 62-year-old founder of an essential Farms, is check in on one of the independent ranches in his network that 120 that produce eggs come Vital"s exacting specifications.

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Moving within the farm"s chicken barn, O"Hayer meets thousands an ext hens, each of which lays an egg every 28 hours inside her very own private nesting box. A conveyor belt operation underneath the boxes to capture the eggs, and as O"Hayer points the end proudly, there"s a dark curtain in former of every box: "Girls like their privacy," he says. At crucial Farms both the chickens and their farmers are treated differently. "People say chickens don"t eat grass," laughs O"Hayer, clad in red flannel and jeans. "I"ve heard that for years. Whole Foods supplied to tell me that. They love it."

Early on, O"Hayer lured farmer by telling them they would certainly earn as lot as 35% an ext than conventional egg farmers while raising about 75% fewer hens. "We"re not going come nickel-and-dime them," O"Hayer says. "We want to construct a relationship." this particular day he regularly turns under farmers who want to join his network, many since they live outside a swath that land that stretches from northern Texas to Missouri and east come Georgia whereby livestock can be raised in grass year-round.


After the farmers collect the eggs, vital Farms package them into black cartons through a chalkboard typeface. Every comes v a copy of an important Times, a small newsletter that attributes a bird the the month and is topped v quirky headlines choose "Our Girls gain the Munchies!" The marketing and a an innovative financing scheme have allowed O"Hayer come carve the end a niche in the much more than $5 billion egg industry. Once O"Hayer began in 2007, he committed to developing "pasture-raised" eggs—the accepted standard being 108 feet of outdoor space per hen (conventional egg come from hen crammed into tiny cages; "cage-free" just method there are no cages; "free-range" can mean as much as 20 square feet every hen). It to be one of numerous decisions that made discovering it would likely limit his company"s growth. Ago then, pasture-raised eggs represented much less than 0.1% of the market. Currently it"s 2.7%, and also O"Hayer"s Austin-based an important Farms has about 73% that that. The company, which employs 110, fight sales of $100 million last year, up practically a 3rd from 2016. It has actually grown past Whole Foods and figured out just how to obtain mainstream consumers—in chains prefer Amazon Fresh, Kroger, Walmart and Target—to pay artisanal prices, as lot as $8 a dozen (more than four times as lot as the cheapest carton in ~ Walmart). "It"s much bigger than any type of of united state imagined," says whole Foods president A.C. Gallo.

Growing increase in Rhode Island, O"Hayer offered to listen his uncle talk about paying his means through college by offering eggs door-to-door. Just before his 13th date of birth in 1968, O"Hayer started his own egg business. And also then, once it come time to go to college, he made decision to try entrepreneurship instead, launching a series of ventures that he hoped would take off. He relocated to Houston to open a agency that cleaned buildings, selling it in 1980 because that a few hundred thousand dollars. Through the cash, the bought a farm and also raised hens for three years prior to selling the acres to money a agency that helped tiny business owners save money by bartering services with each other.


Next, in 1995, he started a discount travel company, cool Adventures tour & travel Publishing, for airline employees, who regularly need to publication hotel rooms at the last minute. It went publicly in 1998 and hit $50 million in revenue. However then, throughout a Manhattan fundraising pilgrimage in 2001, O"Hayer watched the twin towers the the human being Trade facility fall—and then saw booking cancellations start rolling in. Within hours he had decided to lay off an ext than 100 employees. The next month he marketed the firm in a friendly foreclosure that left him v one takeaway: "Always it is in over-capitalized." He invested the next five years life on a catamaran wherein he and also his girlfriend, now wife, marketed vacation charters.


hens inside your barn in ~ one of much more than 100 ranches that O"Hayer has partnered with.

Jamel Toppin because that neurosoup.org

In 2007 they relocated to Austin—home of man Mackey, O"Hayer"s good friend and the founder of whole Foods. Throughout a scuba-diving pilgrimage to Indonesia with totality Foods executives the following year, O"Hayer claims he heard a lot around raising food humanely. Recalling exactly how much better the eggs had actually tasted as soon as his hens to be fed grass, he chose to take one more shot in ~ the business. The purchased 20 Rhode Island Red hens and also a 27-acre plot of floor in Austin and started selling the eggs to neighborhood restaurants and also farmers" markets. That wound increase donating many of the eggs to a food financial institution because few people would certainly pay the price that demanded. "I wasn"t ready to market them cheap," states O"Hayer, who delivered the egg from a 2005 Subaru that still drives. "I want to create what they really would cost long-term." In 2008, totality Foods started offering his eggs in the Midwest. "They took a big risk putting us on the shelf," he says. "They"ve championed that in their stores and also created a category."

O"Hayer had actually the good fortune to launch critical Farms as consumer awareness of farming practices was transforming into a movement. Together sales increased, O"Hayer break up he would certainly do far better marketing eggs 보다 farming them, and he started building his network the farmers. "There are just a couple of grocery chain in the nation that don"t offer pasture-raised in ~ this point," that says. ~ a 2013 flood damaged O"Hayer"s Austin farm, he focused on marketing, ultimately selling the land. The marketing initiatives included hiring a veteran wildlife videographer together director of brand, staging to exclude, dinners through social media influencers and creating campaigns like a 2017 YouTube series on "Bullsh*t totally free Eggs" (viewed 2.4 million times) and also "Bullsh*t cost-free Kitchens" (viewed 7.1 million times). The main goal, says O"Hayer, is to affix with Millennials: "That"s whereby the expansion is in any type of category."

Vital Farms" development has been fueled by $25 million in private equity O"Hayer has actually raised, most recently in ~ a agency valuation the $136 million, as approximated by Pitchbook. Much of the funding has gone toward buying trucks—and more Subarus—and structure a $17 million washing-and-packing facility in Springfield, Missouri, that opened last fall and is known at critical Farms as Egg central Station. The financing plan O"Hayer employed has given him the best of both worlds, enabling him come raise the capital he required to prosper while maintaining regulate of his business. The did this by choose the appropriate investors and also by offering constant liquidity events for investor to offer some shares.

None of his six personal equity investors, O"Hayer says, space in it for a fast profit. They are willing to wait for their returns, and they had actually no objection when he registered the firm as both a B corporation and a advantage corporation—both of which require service providers to pursue priorities, such as environmental sustainability, that deserve to limit profits and valuations. "You don"t have to sell to the highest possible bidder," claims O"Hayer. The liquidity events insulate O"Hayer, who continues to be the company"s largest shareholder, from potential interference and also the pressure to offer by providing investors the chance to market some shares as the worth of the stock rises with capital rounds. "I do not recognize of any kind of other company who has done this," O"Hayer says. "The idea of offering liquidity come existing shareholders come from wanting to build a socially aware business that would endure, not merely a get-in-and-get-out format. That required me to give our shareholders options to sell all or component of their shares without pressuring because that a sale of the enterprise." so far, none have actually sold out.


Matt O"Hayer stop a crate that pasture-raised eggs inside his Egg central Station in Springfield, MO.

Jamel Toppin because that neurosoup.org

Even currently that crucial Farms pearl 5 million egg a week, it proceeds to try to reduce prices to attract an ext conventional consumers. Egg main Station, because that example, which van eggs virtually every day from the network that farmers, every within a day"s drive, will help vital Farms reduced its price 20 cent a carton. The agency has also held under prices by offering a line of egg that space not certified organic—the hen are raised in organic, pesticide-free pastures, but their feed is supplemented with GMO corn (Vital ranches wasn"t influenced by the current salmonella recall).

Pricing and also organic certification have actually loomed larger as vital Farms has attracted competitors. One is Handsome Brook Farm, which sells organic, pasture-raised eggs. Started in upstate brand-new York the exact same year as crucial Farms, Handsome Brook to produce an estimated $18 million in revenue annually while marketing in part 4,000 supermarkets, consisting of Kroger and also Publix.

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Most Handsome Brook eggs room organic, and also one of its investors, Gary Hirshberg, says that an important Farms" branding may mislead customers. "Vital farms will have to do an ext in organic," claims Hirshberg, cofounder that Stonyfield Organic, the yogurt business now owned by Lactalis. "That"s what the consumer wants. Service providers slap a barn on a label and also it suddenly transforms "natural." "

"We are extremely cautious to be together clear as possible," O"Hayer responds. "If us were allowed to speak "not organic" ~ above the label, we would." that adds that vital Farms is cultivation its organic line. "We started out together 100% organic," that says, "but as we grew, we realized that to reach much more lower-income and also price-conscious consumers, we"d need to take some cost out. The market has actually proven this to it is in the right decision."

O"Hayer says sales were up 47% in the first quarter. He has actually plans to increase the revenue of butter from pasture-raised cows, and also he grins in ~ the thought that crucial Farms has currently exceeded his expectations. "When ns stopped in search of the payoff, the big bucks," he says, "that"s once I had the best success I"ve ever before had."


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Chloe Sorvino leader coverage the food and agriculture at neurosoup.org. Her 7 years of report at neurosoup.org has brought her come In-N-Out Burger’s an enig test kitchen,

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Chloe Sorvino leader coverage of food and agriculture at neurosoup.org. Her seven years of reporting at neurosoup.org has lugged her to In-N-Out Burger’s secret test kitchen, drought-ridden farms in California’s central Valley, burnt-out national woodlands logged by a hardwood billionaire, a century-old slaughterhouse in Omaha, and even a coco croissant factory designed prefer a middle ages castle in northern France. She manages a team of 50+ professional contributors, in addition to the 30 Under 30 Food and Drink list and also the neurosoup.org Ag technology Summits. Her publication on the fight because that the future the meat is forthcoming from Simon & Schuster’s Atria publications in 2022.