Gregor Fyfe is an animal welfare advocate, keen environmentalist and passionate about ethical business and consumption. He and brother Cameron have set up an ethical consumer brand, Freedom Farms, to farm happy pigs the natural way.
100% New Zealand owned and operated, the Freedom Farms philosophy is all about farming the natural way, raising happy pigs that are free to do the things that pigs like to do. This means no warehouses with pens on hard concrete floors, no sow crates, no farrowing crates and no cages. Freedom Farms pigs are free to enjoy a life where they are always able to run about, play, and enjoy fresh air and sunlight in plenty of open space.
Before the Freedom Farms story began, Gregor and his brother Cameron played a pivotal role in taking the phenomenally popular, environmentally friendly brand, Ecostore, to the mass market.
Having provided household solutions for the environmentally conscious, the Fyfe brothers then turned their attention to a new challenge - providing top quality, naturally farmed food products for this fast growing group of ethical consumers.
A true foodie and firm believer that Kiwis are becoming more ethical in their food choices, Gregor researched the pork industry looking for more sustainable and welfare friendly farms.
Committed to finding an alternative to intensively farmed pork, Gregors search led him first to the SPCA. He asked them to establish a certification system and a code of welfare standards for pig farming in NZ. This means consumers can now choose SPCA approved pork products that guarantee the compassionate treatment of livestock, with the highest welfare standards in the industry.
From there he searched for like-minded farmers, who could see the commercial potential in farming free-range pigs to provide a consumer-focussed pork solution. They did, and today Freedom Farms works with a group of farms, nestled at the foot of the Southern Alps, on the Canterbury Plains, who produce” happy” pigs on SPCA audited properties.
Available nationwide in supermarkets,specialty food stores, butchers, cafes and restaurants, Freedom Farms is the only SPCA approved pork brand in NZ and is fast becoming a “happy” household name.
For more information visit www.freedomfarms.co.nz
Happy pigs, an interview by Christine Nikiel
Are you trying to start a revolution?
We are actually. The brand is ‘Freedom Farms, naturally farmed food’ and we believe there is an increasing number of consumers looking for naturally farmed products. A lot of farms these days are more like intensive production units than farms, and with that you get questions about the impact of intensive farming — questions about animal welfare, the excessive use of growth hormones and antibiotics. That sort of thing isn’t often communicated to the public, and in New Zealand, because we come from a clean, green, natural environment, we just assume it’s all natural clean, green, farming, but we’re actually moving away from that.
Is yours a philosophy being applied to other businesses?
Yes, it’s not just in food. We believe there’s a growing worldwide consumer consciousness of raising the bar, wanting companies to say, ‘we’re not an anonymous corporate; we’re real people with real values and we’re prepared to say what the standards are’.
What sparked the idea?
My family sits around the table and thinks about where their food comes from. We were able to buy free-range chickens and eggs, but couldn’t find any pork that could be traced back to where it had come from, and how it was raised. And the more reading you do the more you want to find out.
What convinced you that it would work?
International trends. Free-range eggs are our best parallel and they’re in every supermarket now. In Europe you can buy free-range and organic produce in all categories. Also, in New Zealand nearly 45% of pork is imported so farmers here have to compete with the world commodity price for pork, as well as the huge economies of scale the international market has. We said to farmers, ‘if it’s produced this way, we can pay you a premium and you don’t have to compete with intensively farmed pork from a country that has untraceable systems’.
What were the challenges involved in setting up the business?
Supply lines. To be truly successful you have to convince all consumers this is an issue they should be addressing. Supermarket groups were supportive of the concept and brand, but we had to convince them that we’d have ongoing supply. They needed to be sure we weren’t fly-by-nighters. Also, there was an assumption that all piggies were raised in open fields, like all our sheep and beef. When they read facts about how production of pork is now, they did understand there would be a niche market.
Another challenge was getting consumers to recognise that we offer products that are better than the other products in the supermarkets and that by spending a little more they could make a difference. There’s a huge awareness of the plight of the laying hens and a very low awareness of the huge number of pigs farmed in the world in similar conditions.
Why did it take two years to source enough farms?
All farmers were open to the idea, but it was a whole new brand for them. How would I put this? I think farmers are quite defensive about the way they’ve always done things. Traditionally the pork industry has not been very public, because it’s become an intensive industry, and we wanted to open things up.
Most of the drivers for producing meat [come down to] price. If all farmers have ever been told is ‘make it cheaper’ then animal welfare can be compromised.
How profitable a business is it?
All our investment is in advertising, promotion and people. If we stopped promoting we’d make money straight away. When you start a brand with unknown potential it’s sensible to build from the resources you have and grow them rather than spend several million dollars on a factory on day one.
What is your business model?
We outsource from farms in the South Island — we don’t own them. We have a supply partner who manages the farm production and owns an abattoir so we can trace the meat from the farm to the cutting room to the bacon factory.
Have you been successful?
I think it’s a success that we’ve had such support from supermarkets. They’ve given us shelf space that far exceeds our brand share. Our market share is absolutely tiny; we’re in roughly 50% of supermarkets now. But Foodtown will tell you that 50% of its egg sales now are free-range.
Who’s your local competition?
All other bacon and ham suppliers. An Australian company just started bringing in free-range bacon and ham. But the key point of difference is the SPCA certification. The SPCA monitors the animal welfare issues, and we have an independent vet consultant who monitors control of tricky chemicals, growth hormones, and antibiotics.
What are the costs for farmers in traceability certification?
It’s relatively small but the key to all this is having enough consumers say it’s important and so the market niche is significantly large for enough farmers to say it’s worth them paying the extra.
Are you organic?
No. I believe you’ve got to be verified by a third party. We’d have to import grain and we think that’s fundamentally wrong. Some of the farmers grow the grain on their own properties and that’s got to be better than importing it. Of course, we encourage our farmers to grow their grain as organically as possible, and we monitor exactly what goes into the feed.
And how did you prepare your Christmas ham?
You should always glaze it. Fiona Smith from Cuisine magazine kindly gave us a recipe of hers: Monteith’s beer, mustard, grated ginger and brown sugar.
When Gregor Fyfe couldn’t find out the origin of the pork he ate, he spotted a gap in the market: a free-range pork-sourcing company that could prove its product came from happy, healthy pigs. So he and younger brother Cameron set up Freedom Farms, which sources pork from seven pig farms, and asked the SPCA to write a code of welfare for its porkers, and to monitor their health and wellbeing. Fyfe’s background in sales and marketing make him especially brand savvy: in the 1980s he brought sportswear brand Puma and fast food operator Kebab Kid to New Zealand. And the brothers Fyfe helped make environmentally friendly products retailer EcoStore a household name.