Gray Ridge Egg Farms

All it's cracked up to be

Gray Ridge Egg Farms has been an egg grader in Ontario since 1934. Lyle and Ina Gray, parents of current President Bill Gray, established an egg grading station in the quaint agricultural town of Ridgetown, Ontario. Despite fierce competition from other stations in the community, Gray Ridge Egg Farms survived and by 1969 was the sole grading station in the area. Today, under parent company L.H. Gray and Sons Ltd., the business is a major player in the Ontario egg grading industry. Currently there are over 1.6 million dozen eggs graded in its two grading and packing facilities in Strathroy and Listowel, Ontario. This month, The Canadian Business Journal looks at what has helped keep this family-run business competitive over the changing landscape of the last 75 years.

Business growth and acquisitions

Traditionally, Gray Ridge Farms has held a significant market share in Ontario rather than nationally. This, however, is slowly beginning to shift. Affiliations in Québec (Ovale Eggs) and British Columbia (Golden Valley Foods) and investment in egg processing company Global Egg Corporation/Egg Solutions in Toronto are strategies intended to facilitate national growth.

“The result has been a steady, positive impact on market share”, says Mike Walsh, Vice President of Sales and Marketing with Gray Ridge Egg Farms. “Growth has been strong, but not rapid. The intention, of course, is to continually increase the company’s reach, modernize its facilities and grow its product range.”

Gray Ridge Farms is one of the founding members of a national egg marketing alliance called National Egg, which focuses on marketing speciality eggs and egg products (under the brand name GoldEgg/JauneDoré) on a national level. This partnership combines the forces of major egg graders for research, new product development and promotional initiatives across Canada, allowing the provincial companies to benefit from the efficiencies of national marketing. Walsh points out a recent promotion with Disney which was quite well received, noting that it “has given us a very good opportunity to market our products across Canada.”

The worth of value-added products

Much of the company’s current marketing focuses on value-added egg products; products such as Omega-3 eggs, free run eggs, organic eggs or vitamin-enhanced eggs. These products, rather than the traditional staple commodity, are getting more attention in its marketing plan. “The consumer today is looking for value-added products that offer something more, such as products which provide an additional health benefit,” says Walsh. These products have been a major focus for the company. The latest product launched is Omega Choice Eggs, which contain enhanced levels of lutein. This antioxidant has shown to aid in the prevention of age-related macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness in people over 65. Innovative, value-laden products such as this are a crucial part of modernizing a traditional product.

Gray Ridge Farms is involved in numerous health initiatives such as the aforementioned value-added products, and prides itself on innovation when it comes to processing. The company is committed to health and safety concerns and adherence to quality production practices, and is Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) recognized. HACCP recognition certification is a systematic preventive approach to food safety used to identify potential food safety hazards and qualifies food products as safe for consumption. Also, all of Gray Ridge Farms egg products have the Heart and Stroke Foundation’s Health Check—a mark of trust which consistently holds value in the eyes of the consumer.

The cholesterol connection

A major challenge for Gray Ridge Egg Farms and the egg industry in general is the public perception of eggs as being high in cholesterol. Walsh maintains that contrary to popular belief, the cholesterol content in food is not directly linked to cholesterol levels in the body. He says, “Harvard did a study several years ago that definitively proved that cholesterol in food has very little impact on a healthy human—but that stigma still exists.” The public, he explains, still views eggs as a ‘high cholesterol’ food to avoid and it’s a major hurdle for the egg industry to quash this idea. “We’re winning a little bit,” says Walsh, “but we haven’t gotten the consumer all the way there.”

Toward a promising future

So what are the future goals for Gray Ridge? Quite simply, to continue to grow. Much in the steady way it has maintained business for the last 75 years, it intends to continue doing just that. Committed to keeping costs in line while always producing a variety of safe and healthy eggs and egg products, the future of Gray Ridge Egg Farms looks promising.