Future Proof: Shelling out on tracing system pays dividends for egg firm
EU industry leaders recently visited the business to study its traceability system
Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney and MD of Riverview Eggs DJ Kelleher
Family-run Riverview Eggs is one of the largest producers and packers of commercial and free-range eggs in Ireland, with 24 employees at its Watergrasshill base in Co Cork and 40 nationally through its family-operated farms.
Supplying Dunnes Stores, Tesco, SuperValu and Centra stores throughout Ireland, it uses innovative technological methods to ensure secure traceability of its eggs from the store right back to the henhouse.
It all started when DJ Kelleher’s mother, Mary, decided to move into the egg business after taking a loan from her aunt to buy 1,000 hens for their farm in Cork. The business expanded and, in 1969, there were 10,000 hens.
The business has continued to grow from there, with a full range of products including free-range, organic, omega-enriched and commercial eggs.
Over the past 2½ years, Riverview Eggs has developed a unique system with Global Standards 1 Ireland, which develops and maintains supply chain standards.
Riverview Eggs is the only egg producer and packer in Ireland to have such a system. It can determine at the touch of a button which retailer or customer got which eggs, when they got them and from which henhouse they were produced.
The system allows for instant traceability and complete transparency regarding the origin and supply chain of Riverview Eggs within seven minutes. The system allows every stock item to be traceable in the event of a swift recall.
The details of each egg that comes in from a farm are scanned in at the group’s facility. When the egg is packed, all of that traceability information is put on the egg itself, as well as on the pack and outer case. When it leaves the premises, it is scanned out to the customer so that if a recall is needed it is possible to trace a particular batch to the customer.
DJ Kelleher studied poultry, husbandry and management in Scotland, returning to Ireland to complete a certificate in marketing in Cork.
At the age of 20, he joined the family business at production level and has been running the company for the past 14 years. His sister Mary is the financial controller while brothers Richard and Mortimer are producers who supply the company with eggs.
Kelleher attributes his strong work ethic to his mother. “If there was nothing to be done, the yard had to be brushed, she would always say,” he recalls.
His mother was involved in the Irish Egg Association since the 1970s and instigated the idea of salmonella testing on farms, which led to the Bord Bia quality assurance scheme.
Kelleher was appointed to a committee within Bord Bia for the quality assurance scheme in the early 1990s. Through his involvement, a state-of-the-art production method was developed at Riverview that he claims is the “envy of Europe”.
It was one of the first egg companies in Ireland to receive the British Retail Consortium Global Food Standard.
Last month, Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney and a delegation of European industry leaders were given a tour of the company’s Cork facility to learn best practices in the egg industry for traceability, with a view to applying similar standards across Europe.
The main purpose of their visit was to learn from the Irish experience about ensuring traceability in the egg and poultry industry, as well as to see how poultry processing and egg production are organised here.
“Minister Coveney was enthusiastic to visit us in the aftermath of the horse meat scandal as our company has a strong reputation and record for traceability,” says Kelleher.
Last year, Riverview engaged with the Bord Bia brand forum to bolster its strength as a brand. “I go around a lot of shops and supermarkets and stand by the egg unit to ask customers what they think of the eggs or what kind of product they prefer; it’s important to see what the consumer thinks.
“It helped us greatly as we’re now the second-largest egg brand in the country,” says Kelleher. “What came from the consumer groups is the trust element of the product.”
Eggs as health food
Looking ahead, he says the company plans to focus on marketing eggs as a health food, adding that a massive hurdle for the egg industry to overcome has been the perception that eggs are unhealthy.
“I was speaking to Prof Patrick Wall of the Food Safety Authority of Ireland last year and he said the egg sector should think of itself as a health food sector so that’s how we at Riverview are positioning itself. Eggs are healthy, nutritious and versatile and that’s the message we want to get through to consumers. As they say, it all begins with the humble egg.”