On a sunny afternoon at a 25-acre family farm near Paris, Texas, Matt O"Hayer is crouching in the mud to play through the hens. As he pets one, dozens sheat about him, clucking and cooing. He coos right ago. "Hey, girl," he whispers. "Good girl." O"Hayer, the 62-year-old founder of Vital Farms, is checking in on among the independent ranches in his netjob-related of 120 that produce eggs to Vital"s exacting specifications.

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Moving inside the farm"s chicken barn, O"Hayer meets thousands more hens, each of which lays an egg eextremely 28 hrs inside her own personal nesting box. A conveyor belt runs underneath the boxes to capture the eggs, and also as O"Hayer points out proudly, there"s a dark curtain in front of each box: "Girls prefer their privacy," he states. At Vital 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 provided to tell me that. They love it."

Early on, O"Hayer lured farmers by telling them they would earn as much as 35% even more than conventional egg farmers while raising around 75% fewer hens. "We"re not going to nickel-and-dime them," O"Hayer states. "We desire to construct a partnership." Today he regularly turns dvery own farmers who desire to sign up with his netoccupational, many type of bereason they live outside a swath of land also that stretches from northern Texregarding Missouri and eastern to Georgia where livestock deserve to be increased in grass year-round.

After the farmers collect the eggs, Vital Farms packs them right into black cartons with a chalkboard typeconfront. Each comes via a copy of Vital Times, a tiny newsletter that features a bird of the month and also is topped with quirky headlines prefer "Our Girls Get the Munchies!" The marketing and a creative financing system have allowed O"Hayer to carve out a niche in the more than $5 billion egg market. When O"Hayer began in 2007, he committed to creating "pasture-raised" eggs—the accepted standard being 108 feet of outdoor space per hen (conventional eggs come from hens crammed right into tiny cages; "cage-free" just means there are no cages; "free-range" can intend approximately 20 square feet per hen). It was one of many kind of decisions he made understanding it would likely limit his company"s growth. Back then, pasture-elevated eggs stood for much less than 0.1% of the sector. Now it"s 2.7%, and also O"Hayer"s Austin-based Vital Farms has actually about 73% of that. The agency, which employs 110, hit sales of $100 million last year, up virtually a third from 2016. It has grvery own beyond Whole Foods and figured out exactly how to get mainstream consumers—in chains like Amazon Fresh, Kroger, Walmart and also Target—to pay artisanal prices, as much as $8 a dozen (more than 4 times as a lot as the cheapest carton at Walmart). "It"s a lot larger than any type of of us imagined," says Whole Foods president A.C. Gallo.

Cultivation up in Rhode Island, O"Hayer supplied to hear his uncle talk around paying his way through college by marketing eggs door-to-door. Just prior to his 13th birthday in 1968, O"Hayer started his very own egg service. And then, as soon as it came time to go to college, he decided to attempt entrepreneurship instead, launching a series of ventures that he hoped would take off. He moved to Houston to open up a firm that cleaned structures, marketing it in 1980 for a couple of hundred thousand dollars. With the cash, he bought a farm and raised hens for three years before offering the acres to fund a agency that aided little organization owners save money by bartering solutions through each other.

Next, in 1995, he began a discount take a trip company, Grand Adventures Tour & Travel Publishing, for airline employees, who often need to book hotel rooms at the last minute. It went public in 1998 and hit $50 million in revenue. But then, during a Manhattan fundraising pilgrimage in 2001, O"Hayer watched the twin towers of the World Trade Center fall—and also then saw booking cancellations begin rolling in. Within hours he had chose to lay off even more than 100 employees. The next month he sold the agency in a friendly foreclosure that left him via one takeaway: "Almeans be over-capitalized." He spent the following five years living on a catamaran wbelow he and also his girlfrifinish, currently wife, marketed vacation charters.

Hens inside their barn at one of more than 100 ranches that O"Hayer has partnered via.

Jamel Toppin for neurosoup.org

In 2007 they relocated to Austin—home of John Macvital, O"Hayer"s good frifinish and the founder of Whole Foods. Throughout a scuba-diving trip to Indonesia with Whole Foods executives the following year, O"Hayer claims he heard a lot about raising food humanely. Recalling exactly how a lot better the eggs had actually tasted once his hens were fed grass, he determined to take another swarm at the organization. He purchased 20 Rhode Island also Red hens and a 27-acre plot of land also in Austin and also started selling the eggs to neighborhood restaurants and farmers" industries. He wound up donating the majority of of the eggs to a food financial institution because few human being would certainly pay the price he demanded. "I wasn"t all set to sell them cheap," states O"Hayer, that delivered the eggs from a 2005 Subaru he still drives. "I wanted to develop what they really would certainly price irreversible." In 2008, Whole Foods began marketing his eggs in the Midwest. "They took a large threat putting us on the shelf," he states. "They"ve championed it in their stores and created a category."

O"Hayer had the excellent fortune to launch Vital Farms as customer awareness of farming practices was turning into a motion. As sales boosted, O"Hayer concluded he would certainly carry out better marketing eggs than farming them, and he began structure his netjob-related of farmers. "There are only a few grocery chains in the nation that do not offer pasture-elevated at this allude," he claims. After a 2013 flood damaged O"Hayer"s Austin farm, he concentrated on marketing, ultimately marketing the land also. The marketing campaigns included hiring a veteran wildlife videographer as director of brand also, staging exclusive dinners via social media influencers and also producing campaigns like a 2017 YouTube series on "Bullsh*t Free Eggs" (viewed 2.4 million times) and "Bullsh*t Free Kitchens" (regarded 7.1 million times). The primary goal, says O"Hayer, is to connect with Millennials: "That"s wbelow the growth is in any category."

Vital Farms" expansion has actually been sustained by $25 million in personal equity O"Hayer has increased, many recently at a company valuation of $136 million, as approximated by Pitchbook. Much of the capital has actually gone towards buying trucks—and more Subarus—and structure a $17 million washing-and-packing facility in Springarea, Missouri, that opened up last loss and is recognized at Vital Farms as Egg Central Station. The financing scheme O"Hayer employed has provided him the best of both civilizations, allowing him to raise the capital he necessary to grow while preserving control of his organization. He did this by picking the right investors and also by offering constant liquidity occasions for investors to sell some shares.

Namong his 6 private equity investors, O"Hayer says, are in it for a quick profit. They are willing to wait for their returns, and also they had no objection as soon as he registered the agency as both a B corporation and also a advantage corporation—both of which require carriers to pursue priorities, such as eco-friendly sustaincapability, that can limit earnings and also valuations. "You don"t have to sell to the greatest bidder," states O"Hayer. The liquidity events insulate O"Hayer, that continues to be the company"s biggest shareholder, from potential interference and also the push to sell by giving investors the possibility to offer some shares as the worth of the stock increases with resources rounds. "I do not understand of any kind of other company who has done this," O"Hayer claims. "The idea of providing liquidity to existing shareholders came from wanting to build a socially conscious service that would certainly endure, not simply a get-in-and-get-out format. That required me to provide our shareholders alternatives to offer all or part of their shares without pressuring for a sale of the enterpincrease." So far, none have actually marketed out.

Matt O"Hayer holds a cprice of pasture-elevated eggs inside his Egg Central Station in Springarea, MO.

Jamel Toppin for neurosoup.org

Even currently that Vital Farms ships 5 million eggs a week, it continues to try to mitigate prices to entice even more conventional consumers. Egg Central Station, for instance, which trucks eggs practically every day from its network-related of farmers, all within a day"s drive, will assist Vital Farms cut its prices 20 cents a carton. The agency has also hosted down prices by offering a line of eggs that are not certified organic—the hens are increased in organic, pesticide-cost-free pastures, yet their feed is supplemented with GMO corn (Vital Farms wasn"t impacted by the recent salmonella recall).

Pricing and organic certification have actually loomed bigger as Vital Farms has attracted rivals. One is Handsome Brook Farm, which sells organic, pasture-increased eggs. Founded in upstate New York the same year as Vital Farms, Handsome Brook produces an estimated $18 million in revenue each year while marketing in some 4,000 supermarkets, including Kroger and Publix.

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Many Handsome Brook eggs are organic, and among its investors, Gary Hirshberg, argues that Vital Farms" branding might mislead customers. "Vital Farms will need to carry out more in organic," says Hirshberg, cofounder of Stonyfield Organic, the yogurt service now owned by Lactalis. "That"s what the consumer desires. Companies slap a barn on a label and it suddenly turns "natural." "

"We are exceptionally careful to be as clear as possible," O"Hayer responds. "If we were enabled to say "not organic" on the label, we would." He adds that Vital Farms is thriving its organic line. "We began out as 100% organic," he says, "yet as we thrived, we realized that to reach even more lower-income and also price-aware consumers, we"d need to take some price out. The industry has actually prcooktop this to be the right decision."

O"Hayer claims sales were up 47% in the initially quarter. He has actually plans to expand also the sale of butter from pasture-increased cows, and also he grins at the assumed that Vital Farms has actually currently gone beyond his expectations. "When I quit trying to find the payoff, the massive bucks," he states, "that"s as soon as I had the biggest success I"ve ever before had."


Chloe Sorvino leads coverage of food and farming at neurosoup.org. Her salso years of reporting at neurosoup.org has actually brought her to In-N-Out Burger’s secret test kitchen,

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Chloe Sorvino leads coverage of food and also agriculture at neurosoup.org. Her salso years of reporting at neurosoup.org has actually carried her to In-N-Out Burger’s key test kitchen, drought-ridden farms in California’s Central Valley, burnt-out nationwide forests logged by a timber billionaire, a century-old slaughterhouse in Omaha, and also a cocoa croissant manufacturing facility designed prefer a medieval castle in Northern France. She manages a team of 50+ expert contributors, in addition to the 30 Under 30 Food and Drink list and also the neurosoup.org Ag Tech Summits. Her book on the fight for the future of meat is forthcoming from Simon & Schuster’s Atria Books in 2022.