Successful Ian Taylor is Fodder Top Seller with his Free Range Eggs

Ian Taylor is ready to celebrate amazing success with his free range eggs that were part of his awarding-winning shop at the Great Yorkshire Showground in Harrogate at it’s opening nearly 5 years earlier.

In turn, Fodder has given a huge boost to Ian’s business, which began when he was a teenager selling eggs from his bicycle, becoming his biggest customer.

Later this month, Fodder’s sales are on target to reach a milestone – the 100,000th box of six eggs from Ian’s farm. Those 600,000 eggs are in addition to hundreds of thousands more used in Fodder’s kitchen in products like quiches, cakes and sandwiches.

And for one lucky customer, there will be a prize of £50 in vouchers to spend at Fodder if they find the Golden Egg that will be in one of the boxes Ian delivers in the week commencing April 21.

He will paint a single egg gold, and put a message in the box congratulating the winner who buys it. When the eggs are checked for breakages at the till, and the Golden Egg discovered, the vouchers will be handed over.

To celebrate the impending 100,000th box of eggs sold, Ian will be at Fodder on Easter Saturday, April 19 from 11am to 2pm, with some of the hens from his flock, as part of the shop’s Easter Eggstravaganza, giving customers the chance to meet the man who produces their eggs for breakfast, lunch or baking.

Ian’s eggs, laid on his family farm at Burton Leonard, near Harrogate, still sell at 99p for half-a-dozen medium-sized – the same price as when Fodder opened. Half a dozen large eggs are the shop’s best-selling product, and Ian has recently introduced Extra Large, which he says is “the fillet steak of the egg world”.

Ian, 37, has quite a story to tell customers who meet him on Easter Saturday. He was aged just five when his parents, Lesley and John, gave him half-a-dozen hens to look after. “I think they thought that if I was given something I could call my own, it gives me my own interest and responsibility,” said Ian.

Ian became fascinated by the hens, and his flock kept on growing. By the time he was in his teens, he was selling eggs around Burton Leonard from the pannier on his bicycle.

Ian said: “I think I’d be 12 or 13 when we got 25 day-old chicks and reared them, and we did up an old hen shed that had been on the farm forever and that was really the start of it. Twenty-five became 50, and I was selling eggs off my bike.

“I asked a lad on the school bus if his mum wanted any eggs, and she asked everyone in the village, so it suddenly snowballed, and I was selling 30 dozen a week just on my pushbike in the village.

“By the time I left school I had probably 300 hens. Soon after, that figure had doubled. I didn’t know the egg business was going to take off, it was just like a hobby.”

After studying animal husbandry at Askham Bryan College, Ian went into business at the age of 20, with the help of a £1,500 grant and an interest-free loan from the Prince’s Trust.

He’s never looked back. Ian now has 14,000 hens of his own, and takes eggs on a contract basis from a further 9,000, which come into his farm to be graded and packed. All those hens have complete freedom to roam outside, and are fed a premium diet to ensure their eggs are of the highest quality – and also have the golden-coloured yolk that is a trademark of Ian’s.

Those 23,000 hens lay 144,000 free range eggs every week. That means very long hours. Ian and his partner, Rita, work seven days a week, putting in more than 80 hours, which is double the length of most people’s working week. Ian’s parents also help in the business.

Ian has worked out that across those 80 hours, his hens are producing a box of half-a-dozen eggs approximately every 10 seconds.

Ian said: “Because I’m used to hard work, I don’t really think about it. I don’t take a wage out of the business at the end of the month, I just take from the business what I need.”

All the eggs are packed within three days of laying. Ian’s packing machine – which he describes as “a bit like something from Wallace and Gromit” – can handle 30,000 eggs an hour.

The eggs are then delivered to a network of independent retailers, restaurants and hotels across North and West Yorkshire that Ian has built up. He still does 90 per cent of the deliveries himself.

Fodder is Ian’s biggest customer, and its success has been a crucial factor in his own success – a perfect fit with the shop’s ethos of supporting Yorkshire producers. All profits from Fodder go to fund the work of the Yorkshire Agricultural Society, the charity at the heart of the county’s rural life.

Ian said: “Fodder is just amazing. They haven’t been able to do enough for me. It’s like, ‘What have I done to deserve this?’.”

Quality and high standards are the keys to Ian’s success. The hens are subject to the highest possible standards of welfare and hygiene.

“I don’t think people realise what goes in to getting an egg from that bird to the shop shelf,” he said.

Quality also results in the trademark golden yolk. “If you give them that bit extra in the diet, you get it back in the egg. You can tell, and that shows in your baking as well, you get richer colours in your baking.

“We feed our birds better than we need to, so that the quality of our egg is better.

“People say, ‘Haven’t you done well?’, and people ask how I’ve got all these customers. A lot of it is word of mouth.

“Because I’m involved with every stage of the process, I know that my eggs are nigh on perfect in that box, and because I deliver 90 per cent of my eggs to the retail outlets, they know my face, and they know that if there’s a problem I can rectify it right away.”

Ian’s commitment to excellence has been recognised by several awards. He was the Dairy category winner in the 2010 Yorkshire Post Taste Awards, and last year won the Best Rural Business title in the Ackrill Business Awards. Earlier this year, he was a finalist in the Northern Farmer Awards for outstanding achievement.

Where does he go from here? A new house for the hens went up at the farm last year which has helped production, and all profits are ploughed straight back into improving the business.

Ian is determined that quality and maintaining the personal touch are paramount as his business grows.

“From the point of view of ambition, it would be great to have a couple of articulated lorries on the road, but then you’re not supplying independent retailers, you’re into a different market. Do I want to go there? No.

“I want to keep the personal touch.”