The Rainbow Egg Company has burst onto the poultry scene with its spectrum of coloured products, both for consumption and hatching. Marie-Claire Kidd speaks to Emma Bremner about her colourful company.
Emma Bremner is no stranger to marketing a business and balance sheets. As a business analyst in retail and distribution, it was her job to advise companies on how to maximise their performance and their profits.
But after giving birth to her daughter Amy, Emma realised she wanted to use her skills to develop something she loved which she could do from home. And the Rainbow Egg Company, a specialist hen breeder and egg producer with egg colour as its focus, was born.
She set-up the firm with her husband Andrew as co-director in 2010. The next year the family moved to an old battery farm in Oxenhope, near Bradford, and since then have been cross-breeding colourful egg layers to get the best shell colour.
Emma says: “I’ve always loved colourful birds and been obsessed with putting colours in order, but when we first got chickens as pets the obsession moved over to egg colour too.
“The company actually started when I couldn’t return to my old profession after having my daughter. I was finding it almost impossible to find a job which would allow flexibility of hours, yet earn enough to cover the cost of childcare.
“I used the money received from the employment severance to purchase a lot of the assets required to start up and became self-employed. It seemed pointless being employed by a company as a business analyst to tell them how to run a business or improve one when you could actually do it yourself. It was a big risk but so far it has been very good.”
The Rainbow Egg Company is licenced as both a producer and a packing site, selling free-range eating eggs to retail and trade customers and direct to the public under its Rainbow Egg brand. But the most profitable part of the business is the sale of hatching eggs, which Emma sends mail order to customers in the UK and abroad.
Currently there is high demand from France, Germany, Spain and Portugal, and with her eye on the future, Emma is investigating shipping hatching eggs beyond the European Union, subject to licensing and customs requirements.
The delicate nature of the product means the eggs are wrapped in tissue and packed in polystyrene containers for shipping.
“We do what we can to minimise breakages, but as soon as we hand them over it’s out of our control,” she says. “It’s very profitable compared to eating eggs as we can make £1.50 on six eating eggs compared to £1 an egg for hatching eggs. It’s a no-brainer.”
The company also sends hatching equipment and eggs into local schools and nurseries, companies, domestic customers, allotment holders and farms.
“We’ve supplied eggs for aesthetic display too,” Emma says. “And poultry clubs, decorators, crafters and professional photographers.”
Customers include the Poultry Club of Great Britain, food magazines and a large ‘poultry wall’ structure used to demonstrate different breeds and egg colour images for trade stands at BBC Gardeners World and the National Pet Show Live.
Rainbow Egg Company chicks have even hatched live on Jet2’s website, as part of an Easter marketing campaign.
“Our eggs have had a presence on local radio, via a customer of ours, and appeared in national magazines. Our feathers have gone out to jewellers and fly fishers.
“We also supply point-of-lay hens, hatch to order for specific egg colours and supply a ‘hennels’ service where we look after people’s poultry while they go on holiday.”
When breeding hens, Emma’s focus is egg colour. “In some respects, unless we’re specifically breeding a pure breed, for which there are breed standards, then the physical breed of the producing hen is not as important,” she says.
“We focus on what colour egg is produced, although we do have heritage breeds on the rare breed list which we deliberately keep as pure breed to preserve them.
“It doesn’t mean we just throw anything with anything. It isn’t as simple as that. In order to produce something for sale, you need to be able to produce it reliably. This means we have breeding sets specifically dedicated to each egg colour line and understand the genetics behind them.
“We work with a really wide range of pure, cross and hybrid breeds to provide the diversity of egg colour we require. Some are always kept as pure, others, such as really popular colours are worked on to produce hybridised versions so we get maximum egg production from a hen but still retain the egg colour.”
She has already observed trends in the market for egg colour. For instance last year the market for olive-coloured eggs was quiet, but this year there is a waiting list.
“We’re working on new egg colours and intensifying some existing ones, for example green and purple,” she says. “Some of it is natural selection, so takes generations upon generations before the end result.
“What we don’t do is breed for the sake of it by crossing anything with anything, so genetics and understanding of how egg colour works is important. If customers are buying a green or pink egg layer, we need to be confident that’s what they’ll get.”
As one of the first breeders to produce such a colourful range of eggs in both eating and hatching egg form, Emma has been careful to protect the Rainbow Egg concept and brand. “We trademarked both the phrase ‘Rainbow Eggs’ and the words and logo combined,” she says.
“The trademarks apply to all aspects of poultry, chickens, live birds of all descriptions and food production deliberately, as we knew it was likely to be a strong brand a few years back which would trigger some mimicry over the next few years.
“We won’t sell to supermarkets as we refuse to produce to a price point. We deliberately employ local part-time workers and also have a team of volunteers who come to help with the chickens.”
Their children, Amy and Adam, also get involved. Emma says: “Adam has grown up on a farm and now he’s a proper little farm boy. They are both a real help.”
As the company grows, Emma is looking into franchising eating egg sales under Rainbow Egg branding, as well as expanding the geographical reach of the hatching egg business. She is also considering running a poultry-keeping course for beginners.
“Like most small businesses it’s a case of being adaptable to the market requirements without compromising what and who you are,” she says. “It’s diversify or die.
“We also need to do some physical work here to ageing buildings. The site used to be an old battery farm and although most of the equipment and systems are now removed, the buildings are getting old.
“Some funding will be needed in due course in some parts of the farm, more so when we’re hit by the Wuthering weather coming off the Bronte moorland.”
It is challenging, but Emma believes she has found her dream job. “I love it, all of it,” she says. “Even in the rain, the wind and the mud, I love it. Falling over on the ice and chipping bones but still working, I love it.
“It’s been amazing watching other small businesses which buy our eggs grow their businesses alongside us. We’ve watched new customers become regular customers, then become long-term friends.
“I love meeting all the people we come across and forming good working relationships with local suppliers, distributors, staff, families, schools and vets.
“There is nothing nicer than helping a customer new to chickens set up a coop, get their hens and get their own first eggs, or children experiencing hatching eggs.
“I love collecting the eggs, or finding the pairing you put together some six months before has paid off with a better egg colour.”