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December 14, 2023
Sponsored by Farmer Focus
In today's marketplace, consumers prioritize animal welfare and sustainability. While many brands try to adapt to these expectations, Farmer Focus excels, offering unparalleled commitment to these values alongside traceability.
Growing up on a farm, Corwin Heatwole experienced the challenges many farmers face when raising flocks for other companies. Recognizing the impact on his family and the chickens, he founded Shenandoah Valley Organic, now Farmer Focus, asking, “What can we do to improve generational family farming– today, tomorrow and always?” Farmer Focus champions a holistic, sustainable approach benefiting birds, the environment, farmers and consumers.
Today, demand for organic chicken is growing rapidly in the U.S. and worldwide. In fact, the global organic poultry market is expected to grow from $9.78 billion in 2022 to $10.34 billion in 2023 (5.8 percent). The organic poultry market is expected to grow to $12.65 billion in 2027. Farmer Focus, with 19 percent growth, is outpacing the entire category.
Heatwole shares, “Our mission is to promote and protect intergenerational family farms, which is what I am most passionate about. I spend every moment ensuring that as a company, we are positioning farmers to be successful for generations.” At first, Heatwole sought to evolve the business model and organic poultry farming methods to make his own farm more sustainable for himself and his children. He quickly realized that his true calling was to revolutionize the model for as many family farms as he could, “sharing the proven model of our farm with others.” That calling became Farmer Focus.
Heatwole designed the Farmer Focus model based on farmers' ideal business partnerships. This model emphasizes fair rates, farm-level decisions, chicken ownership and supply chain collaboration, allowing farmers to innovate and produce superior organic chicken. Heatwole explains, “Virtually all of the poultry companies use the same vertically integrated model...They don't have the flexibility we believe belongs to the farmer.” He adds, “Empowering farmers with ownership incentivizes quality care resulting in higher quality at a lesser cost.”
Transparency in action
In the retail environment, consumers want more from brands. They look for things like eco-friendly packaging, clear details about ingredients and proper certifications that support brand claims. In fact, NIQ’s FMI, Transparency, Health & Well-Being: In an Evolving Omnichannel World, 2022 report revealed that 72% of respondents viewed transparency as crucial. Consumers are increasingly seeking detailed product information, such as ingredients, nutrition, allergens and certifications, whether on packaging, via QR codes or brand websites.
Under the guidance of our Founder and Chairman, Corwin Heatwole, Farmer Focus is pioneering a shift in its supply chain by introducing regeneratively grown organic soybeans. These soybeans are cultivated on select farms, not all, where the chickens will consume them. This innovative approach not only shortens the feed supply chain but also substantially reduces our greenhouse gas impact, given that feed represents over 60% of our total emissions. By fostering more localized feed sourcing, Farmer Focus ensures stability for both the company and our collaborating farmers.
Pioneering their “Meet your Farmer” initiative, every chicken package is marked with a unique Farm ID. When consumers input this ID on the website, they can delve into the story of the exact farm and farmer responsible for their chicken. They even have the opportunity to personally connect by leaving a note for the farmer—a feature unique to Farmer Focus. A 2022 report by NIQ’s FMI underscores this demand for transparency, revealing that 64% of shoppers would switch brands for better product information, underscoring Farmer Focus's alignment with market trends. Other impressive stats include over 150,000 consumers having utilized the "Meet Their Farmer" feature.
The connection and passion the farmers feel for their farms and flock is palpable even through a screen. Consumers will even get a glimpse of specific farmer’s farming practices in action while visiting these pages. Farmer Brett Fansler shares that he likes that his birds can “roam outside in the fresh air and eat good quality feed.” He is grateful to Farmer Focus for allowing him to grow for them, despite having older housing with curtain ventilation. Fansler explains, “As a grower, I have control of my farm, but with the support in place to raise a happy, healthy bird.”
Given the farmers’ commitment to benefiting the birds, their families and consumers, obtaining certifications aligns perfectly with Farmer Focus’s push for transparency. Every Farmer Focus product holds certifications including USDA Certified Organic, non-GMO, Free Range, Certified Humane and Gluten Free. Though all USDA organic products are required to be non-GMO, Farmer Focus goes the extra mile by involving an independent non-GMO certifier.
Innovation and current market trends
At the heart of Farmer Focus lies an unwavering commitment to innovation, fueled by direct insights from its farms. "We're witnessing groundbreaking changes at every level, from the individual farm to our broader product offerings," declares Heatwole. This spirit of innovation seamlessly blends age-old, sustainable farming traditions with cutting-edge technologies.
Commitment to the welfare of the birds is paramount. This commitment is highlighted through the provision of USDA organic and non-GMO feed, extensive outdoor access and essential amenities such as shade, fresh air, sunlight and clean water. These measures ensure birds thrive in spacious areas, enjoy optimal shelter conditions and engage in enrichment activities.
Beyond offsetting an astounding 18,628+ metric tons of carbon dioxide, Farmer Focus has made significant strides in eco-friendly initiatives:
Packaging Evolution: Transitioning to recyclable packaging with 50% post-consumer content, reducing plastic usage in retail trays by 20%.
Chemical-Free Farming: Annually eliminating over 2 million pounds of synthetic fertilizer—a leading contributor to GHG emissions and water contamination.
Protecting the Biosphere: Preventing the application of over 172,000 pounds of synthetic herbicides annually, safeguarding pollinator habitats and reducing chemical toxins in our environment.
Farmer Focus was named a 2021 New Hope Network NEXTY Award finalist in three categories, winning in two: Best New Organic Food for its Rich Red Curry Organic and Free-range Chicken Thighs and Best New Meat, Dairy or Animal-based Product for its Toasted Lager Organic and Free-range Half Chicken. “It's a testament to the quality of leaders we have driving that innovation.” The farmers’ autonomy over their farms grants them the freedom to make tailored decisions that best serve their flocks. On a broader scale, Farmer Focus products persistently evolve to cater to consumer needs. Their unique approach was acknowledged when Farmer Focus’s model was hailed as a Fast Company World Changing Idea in 2021, underscoring that the model itself epitomizes innovation.
Recognizing the global palate of today's consumer, Farmer Focus is set to tantalize taste buds with a collection of globally inspired flavors. In response to the ever-evolving culinary landscape, the group has updated its pre-seasoned product lineup, transitioning flavors across different cuts such as Caribbean Jerk Boneless Skinless Breasts and Honey Jalapeno Wings. Moreover, the Artisanal Butcher Style Ground Chicken remains a standout in their diverse offerings. Beyond flavors, Heatwole emphasizes a deeper purpose, sharing, “We're not just in the business of poultry; we're in the mission of safeguarding family farms for generations to come.”
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