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Producing Excellence

Steve Nichols

Colton, CA

Chino Valley Ranchers

Products: Specialty eggs

Size of Operation: 600 million eggs

In Business Since: 1959

Farm Credit Partner: American AgCredit

Working with Farm Credit Since: 1998

Americans consume 6.2 billion eggs in a year, whether they are scrambled on a breakfast platter or used to make pasta, bread, ice cream or cake. Chino Valley Ranchers produces 600 million of those, exclusively specialty varieties: those raised to meet dietary or other consumer preferences such as being cage free, enriched Omega 3 or organic.

Steve Nichols has been involved in the egg business since he was a child. “I was eight or nine when my father took over a small egg route in 1959,” he says. “Back then everything was done by hand – he had to clean, weigh and candle each egg by hand.” Candling is a process to check the interior and exterior of each egg, the interior for size and blood spots (in which case the eggs are removed from the lot), and the shell for cracks, which can be extremely small.

When Steve took over managing Nichols Egg Ranch in 1986, the operation sold 5,000 – 6,000 cases of eggs weekly, with each case holding 30 dozen eggs; today, they sell between 22,000 and 26,000 cases per week and are still growing. This growth is supported by the company’s 250 employees, who Steve believes are critical to its success. “We employ good people in our company,” he says. “We all do the very best we can to give our customers the best eggs we can produce at all times.”

The other big change since Steve started running the family operation is its conversion from conventional eggs to specialty eggs. Initiated with the purchase of Chino Valley Ranchers in 1989, the company started attending natural food trade shows and established a relationship with a natural foods distributor. Sales started to climb and the company has since expanded its initial offering to include many specialty varieties. Some of these may have a broad appeal, and some are determined by smaller markets. For example, they’ve formulated a new diet to feed a small number of chickens for people who are allergic to soy, which is included in the typical chicken diet. “That’s part of the fun of our company,” Steve says. “It’s evolved into different types of fresh eggs, not just white or brown eggs.”

Another reason behind the decision to transition to specialty eggs is that while conventional egg pricing is determined by the market, profits in the specialty egg market remain steady because as costs increase, prices can increase to compensate. Since production costs are quite a bit higher to begin with, this is an important consideration for a company that owns one million chickens across four farms in California and Texas, supplemented with another million chickens raised to their exacting standards by numerous contract chicken farms.

With plans to expand into the liquid egg market – like the cartons of pre-scrambled eggs found in grocery stores but made with cage-free or organic eggs – Steve appreciates Farm Credit’s support over the years. “They’ve brought new ideas to me in order for me to expand my business in the direction I need to go,” he says. “They’ve been there for us when we’ve needed them, and they’ve helped me achieve my goals.”

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