Pete and Gerry’s Organics, the family-run egg farm based in Monroe that grew from humble beginnings in the 20th century to become a household brand across the nation, is being sold to a majority owner in California.
The decision, said Jesse Laflamme, came at a good time and will better position the company for future growth, while allowing Laflamme to re-focus on his love of the agricultural side of the business, which is what drew him in the first place to take the helm of the family farm more than two decades ago.
Producing free-range eggs, Pete and Gerry’s employs an upward of 80 area residents, and Laflamme said they and the community should expect little to no change, and no negative changes.
Company-wide, the operation employs hundreds of people and works with more than 130 farms across the nation to produce eggs that are sold across the country in a number of grocery stores.
The Los Angeles-based Butterfly Equity, a private equity firm specializing in the food sector, will be buying the majority stake, Butterfly announced this week.
“‘I’ve been thinking about it over the last year and a half, and it was always a possibility,” Laflamme said of the sale. “It really escalated into a process over the last seven or eight months. It got down to a handful of options, as these things go. We’re fortunate and I’m fortunate that we ended up with Butterfly. They are one of the very first we talked to in the process and they were my favorite all along. We’re in very good hands.”
In a statement Tuesday on Business Wire, Butterfly co-founder Dustin Beck said, “Pete and Gerry’s is a forward-thinking, mission-driven company that provides a better egg to consumers, a better life for hens, and a better model for America’s small family farmers. Butterfly is absolutely aligned with their mission and looks forward to supporting the team to continue these efforts.”
Butterfly is not looking to change Pete and Gerry’s in any dramatic way, said Laflamme, who retains an ownership position.
“We were able to demonstrate that we are well-run and things have been going well and the opportunity is there,” said Laflamme. “Particularly for the local workforce, there’s really no changes anticipated. What Butterfly does bring to the table is, frankly, an even broader vision than we and I could have imagined for the potential growth of this company. What that takes are network and capital. What they bring to the table is this vision, this experience in other categories and other industries, and they have the access to capital to be able to really make those opportunities come to fruition.”
He sees much opportunity ahead for accelerated growth and in entering areas Pete and Gerry’s had been looking to get into, such as selling breakfast sandwiches as well as getting into the manufacturing side of the butter that it has recently begun selling.
Having served as CEO and presiding over significant company growth, Laflamme will now be the director for Pete and Gerry’s Organics.
By the nature of any company’s growth, running Pete and Gerry’s had become increasingly more formal, said Laflamme, who noted he is more entrepreneurial at heart.
“It was the right time for the business and the right time for me personally, after having done this for 21 years,” he said. “Not that I’m stepping away entirely by any means. I instead get to concentrate on what I enjoy the most. I’m a farm boy at heart. I enjoy the animals and the machinery of the business.”
His number two man, Eric Drake, who served as Pete and Gerry’s operating officer for the past half-decade, will take the helm as CEO.
“He is very capable and experienced and has stepped up,” said Laflamme. “As I’ve been CEO in title … he’s been taking on the responsibilities of CEO for the last several years.”
There are some new Pete and Gerry’s products, including those sold in the Lebanon-Hanover area, and Laflamme hopes to expand them elsewhere.
“We have a new brand and new line of eggs that are being produced with a system called regenerative agriculture, which is cutting edge with agricultural practices,” he said. “It’s essentially taking care of the soil, not just the animals or the product. We’re building this brand. Part of it is a really innovative egg carton … We’re basically having to be the carton manufacturer, and part of that is we have patents on the carton itself and on the manufacturing process. That’s what I enjoy, those types of projects, so I get to do that full time.”
Butterfly’s involvement will also allow Pete and Gerry’s to cement its footprint nationally, said Laflamme.
“We sell across the country now so it will likely make sense for us to have an egg-packaging facility either on the West Coast or closer to the West Coast,” he said. “I can see that coming fairly quickly because we do have some farms in the Midwest that we work with.”
Details of Butterfly’s purchase, and specifically how much of a majority stake it owns, were unavailable Thursday.
“It’s going to be a good thing,” Laflamme said of the sale. “I care about our community. We’ve become a big employer, particularly in our little town. There are some incredible people who have made us successful, who made this happen, who got us to where we are. This needed to be a good thing for them and it’s going to be.”
Pete and Gerry’s Organics began in the late 19th century as the Ward Family Farm, which was run by Robert Ward, who at that time had a hen and dairy cattle farm.
After the Second World War, his son, Leslie Ward, returned home from the Navy and expanded the egg operations.
Today, Pete and Gerry’s Organics, which has become the nation’s leading producer of free-range organic eggs, has 3½ million hens on 135 partnering family farms in 12 states.
In 2003, the company became the first certified humane egg farm in the nation, under the standards of Humane Farm Animal Care.
In recent years, sales have grown above $200 million annually.
In a statement, Butterfly co-founder Adam Waglay said, “We are thrilled to partner with Jesse and the Pete and Gerry’s team to help them bring healthy, delicious and humanely raised eggs to even more homes across the country. We believe the company’s future is incredibly bright as the market leader in the premium egg category.”
According to Business Wire, the British Columbia Investment Management Corp. will become a minority investor in Pete and Gerry’s.