Sunny side up
Hunter Valley egg producer Tony Libreri is growing his business with his special brand of customer service and pride in caring for his hens.
“It’s like he has over 200,000 children,” says Westpac Agribusiness Manager Steve Pincham, referring to Hunter Valley egg producer Tony Libreri and the chooks that carry the Libreri Farm Eggs brand.
“Whenever it storms, Libreri can’t sleep, in case there’s a blackout. He’s up making sure the air conditioning doesn’t stop functioning and his hens don’t get too hot or cold.”
Libreri started out as a motor mechanic but followed his parents into egg production 40 years ago when they retired.
“Mum and Dad had a small egg business in Merrylands, NSW,” he says, “but I decided to shift it to the few acres I’d bought in Greta [in the Hunter Valley region of NSW] when I got married.”
Libreri recalls his parents being successful “in a very small way”, adding, “Back in those days you didn’t need to be big to make money.”
Today, the Libreri Farm Eggs operation runs 180,000 caged and 45,000 free-range chickens. Libreri’s caged hens live in an air-conditioned shed and he has just spent close to $1 million building a new barn for his free-range chooks.
“I have a very modern farm and 11 modern trucks and I want to continue expanding,” he says. “I’m 69 and people sometimes say, ‘Go overseas on a holiday.’ I tell them I don’t want to—I’ve got everything I want here in Australia.”
Pincham marvels at Libreri’s attitude. “He lives and breathes his business,” Pincham says. “As for his customer service, that’s second to none.”
Libreri’s dream of a small egg business has grown into an operation that employs 25 people and provides 1300 businesses throughout New South Wales—IGA stores, cafés, restaurants and retailers—with fresh eggs.
At the moment Tony is happy with his current customer base—he likes the freedom that comes with his current set-up. “I enjoy being my own boss, having my family around me and deciding on my own hours,” he says. “It’s my passion.”
His son Michael, daughter-in-law Heidi and wife Marie work alongside him as part of the backbone of Libreri Farm Eggs.
Libreri’s days begin at 4am. He’s hands-on 12 to 14 hours a day and he sets aside two days every week to personally deliver to established customers.
“He’ll get behind the wheel of a truck and drive for hours and hours to deliver them,” says Pincham. “He doesn’t want to transport all his eggs using couriers because he wants to meet the retailers and the customers. He wants to be the face of his company, the man out there delivering the product.”
Libreri admits that regulations pertaining to health, animal welfare and council, while necessary, have come close to crippling his business over the years. For example, his local council requested that he ensures no smells travel beyond his fence line. “That makes it hard,” he says.
He began with 89 acres but bought out his neighbour, specifically to comply with council requests and regulations. He now operates on more than 200 acres.
Libreri was the first free-range egg farmer in the Hunter Valley—a fact that was headline news 40 years ago in the local paper.
“In those days I used to sell eggs with manure on them because people wanted them that way,” he chuckles.
Today, however, regulations about preventing salmonella mean every egg must be scrutinised by his staff. He insists his eggs are in top condition when they leave his farm.
“It’s all out in the open. We do everything right,” Libreri says. “It’s intensive farming, but our chooks are all in government-approved cages—seven chooks per cage.”
To facilitate the transparent and audited process of producing caged or free-range eggs, every egg at Libreri Farm Eggs travels along the one conveyor belt but the staff establish a gap between the caged and free-range varieties.
On the subject of caged versus free-range, “We get up to 98 per cent production in the cages, and in the free-range we’re lucky to get 80 per cent,” Libreri says.
As Pincham says, “Tony and his whole family are completely passionate about their business.”
Words Jill Fraser
Reproduced from the Spring 2015 edition of Westpac’s Agribusiness publication "Produce"
The articles represent the views of the authors and not necessarily that of the Bank. You should seek independent professional advice before acting on any matters set out in the articles.