New innovator: O’Egg
Being innovative with egg production is not easy but the Farrellys have always tried to push the boundaries
Margaret Farrelly of O’Egg. The company’s operation involves around 160,000 hens. photograph: seán curtin
Margaret and Leo Farrelly have been producing and packing free-range eggs under the Clonarn Clover brand since 1988. They started with 150 hens on their farm in Co Cavan. Today, they have 9,000 laying birds and their operation, which includes satellite egg producers, has roughly 160,000 hens producing eggs at any one time. The company employs 33 people directly, including three family members.
Being innovative with egg production is not easy but the Farrellys, who are both in their 60s, have always tried to push the boundaries. They were the first producers in Ireland to trial Omega-3 enriched eggs in the early 2000s and the first to come up with a white-egg only pack in 2009 in response to consumer (and particularly ethnic demand) for white-shelled eggs. The majority of eggs on sale here have brown shells. To differentiate their new products from their traditional boxed eggs they launched their new O’Egg brand in 2011.
The couple’s latest products are two types of liquid egg selling under the O’Egg label. One is whole egg in liquid form and the Farrellys are expecting its convenience to go down well with the hospitality, food service and bakery sectors as well as with companies producing ready meals, mayonnaises and rich sauces. The other product is egg whites only and this is aimed at health-conscious consumers watching their cholesterol as well as home and commercial bakers.
“It is quite difficult to be creative in this business and when you do come up with an idea it can take a long time to bring it to fruition,” Margaret Farrelly says. “I’d say the liquid egg product took about nine years of thinking and planning to get across the line and into production. What got us there in the end was being accepted on to the cross-border Fusion programme which links companies in the South to academic knowledge providers in Northern Ireland. We were partnered with the University of Ulster Coleraine and were allocated a graduate who worked with us on developing the egg in a bottle.”
The idea for the liquid egg products was driven by consumer tastes, albeit indirectly. “For some reason people think that free-range eggs are bigger than other eggs. In fact about 50 per cent of free-range eggs are big and the rest are medium and small but consumers tend not to buy smaller free-range eggs. That left us with a problem,” Farrelly says.
“Having come up with the liquid egg solution we then had to set about developing the product and ultimately building a breaking and pasteurising plant. In total I’d estimate the cost at around €1 million. We financed the research and development out of cashflow as we went along but then there was the cost of premises and equipment. We had support from Enterprise Ireland but the lion’s share of the project was self-financed.
“The whole liquid egg product is completely new to the market here. The egg white product has to compete against imports but we hope consumers will choose the Irish option now that they have it.” The liquid egg products are available in SuperValu, Tesco and Dunnes as well as other smaller outlets.
“We have always enjoyed a challenge,” Farrelly adds. “When we discovered there were issues around the sustainability of fish oil supplies for our Mega (Omega-3 enriched) eggs, we began looking for a suitable alternative and have substituted linseed. Our intention is to extend the O’Egg range but at the moment our focus is on promoting the new liquid egg products and getting them to reach their full potential.”