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March 01. 2014 12:28AM

The egg man goes au naturel for better flavor


Jesse Laflamme poses with some of the hens that have helped make Pete and Gerry's Organics in Monroe a leading producer of organic and cage-free eggs in the U.S. (JOHN KOZIOL/Union Leader Correspondent)

MONROE -- In doing right by its farmers, employees, customers and hens, Pete and Gerry's Organics LLC is also doing well in the marketplace, having established a dedicated following and a firm foothold in the growing world of organic and cage-free egg production.

A self-described "values-driven" company that uses a combination of common sense and technology that one might more readily see in an airport security-screening line, Pete and Gerry's, for lack of a better pun, is doing "egg-cellent," says Jesse Laflamme, the company's co-owner, chief farmer and, as his business card says, the C-E-yOlk.

On the brink of bankruptcy less than 25 years ago when commercial egg producers snapped up smaller operators and consolidated them into enormous facilities, Pete and Gerry's resisted and instead went into producing organic eggs.

Since then, the company - which produces Pete and Gerry's brand Organics eggs and Nellie's Cage-Free eggs - has become America's first Certified Humane egg producer and recently became the first animal-farming business to become B Corp Certified.

Pete and Gerry's earned the B Corp certification in the summer of 2013, but formally announced it only last week as part of a panel discussion about sustainable business practices held at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College.

Certified B Corp companies have their entire operations, not just individual products, regularly audited for sustainable business practices. Of the almost 1,000 worldwide in 32 countries only two others are based in the Granite State: W.S. Badger Co. Inc. of Gilsum and HomeFree LLC of Windham.

The B Corp certification effort is overseen by the nonprofit B Lab, and it measures a company's social and environmental performance. B Lab, according to its website, "serves a global movement of entrepreneurs using the power of business to solve social and environmental problems."

During an interview at Pete and Gerry's headquarters in this small town adjacent to the Connecticut River and located not far from where his family has farmed since the late 1800s, Laflamme said the B Corp certification is proof the company is on the right track.

At present, 73 family farms from nine states, all operating under the same certification guidelines as Pete and Gerry's, supply the company with organic and cage-free eggs that are sold in select stores from Maine to Florida.

Laflamme would like to see the number of contributing family farms grow to 100, adding that Pete and Gerry's is also exploring another, more stringent certification standard, set forth by the Safe Quality Food Program.

In the U.S., organic and cage-free eggs represent about 10 percent of the egg market, but demand for them is growing at about 13 percent a year, said Laflamme, which, combined with a shortage of both organic and cage-free eggs, is positioning Pete and Gerry's for the future.

That future is bright, he said, not only for Pete and Gerry's but also its family farms, noting that in the United Kingdom, 50 percent of all eggs sold are cage-free and produced by small mom-and-pop operations.

Success, at least in the case of Pete and Gerry's, begins with taking proper care of its hens, something that began more than 100 years ago at the Ward Family Farm, where Robert Ward grew up farming dairy cattle and hens.

After serving as a Navy pilot during World War II, Robert's son Les expanded the egg farming and was later joined by his brother-in-law, Rodney Stanton.

Eventually, Les Ward passed the farm on to his daughter Carol, son-in-law Gerry Laflamme and Rodney's son Peter, all of whom eschewed factory-farming in favor of cage-free, organic eggs. The enterprise later adopted the Pete and Gerry's name and is now largely run by Jesse Laflamme, Gerry and Carol's son.

A good relationship between farmers and animals helps make for better food products, happier consumers and healthier family farms, with the last, said Laflamme, becoming increasingly rare in the Granite State. In recent years, Pete and Gerry's has begun working with several in-state dairy farms that have been hit by falling dairy prices and have had to look elsewhere for their livelihoods.

Some of those dairy farms are now producing eggs for Pete and Gerry's, others are raising chicks, both of which Pete and Gerry's does on its 200-acre property, is home to about 16,000 hens that live in 10 large, long open barns.

The company's facility has about 80 employees, nearly all of them full time. They start at $10 an hour, and beginning this year, nearly all of them are covered by health insurance, paid almost entirely by their employer.

The plant can process between 900,000 and 1.3 million eggs every day. The eggs are washed, sanitized and acoustically-examined for hairline cracks. As the eggs proceed along a conveyor belt, six high-speed cameras photograph each egg at a rate of 40 eggs a second, fed into a computer program that identifies imperfections.

"It's like facial-recognition for eggs," joked Laflamme, who added that no egg goes to waste. The perfect eggs are packaged into cartons; the less perfect ones are prepared for "liquid" products that are used by food service and institutional customers; an area farmer's pigs get all the rest.

Among the many customers who use Pete and Gerry's eggs are the University of New Hampshire, Harvard University, Dartmouth and the Common Man family of restaurants.

For more information about Pete and Gerry's Organic Eggs, go to peteandgerrys.com.



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