By Rachael Porter
The past four years have been extremely busy and, at times, somewhat frustrating for Suffolk-based egg producer and entrepreneur Matt Havers. But his determination has paid off and he’s about to launch an egg-based protein shake – the first of its kind – to eager market anticipation.
Havers, who is a finalist in this year’s National Egg & Poultry awards, took delivery of two containers, fitted out with processing and packing equipment, in early May at his family’s 80-hectare (200-acre) pig and poultry unit, near Eye. Commercial production of PECK began in earnest. “It was a relief, particularly as sales are set to begin in a handful of local stores in June,” he says.
A considerable queue of potential customers, who’ve been patiently waiting for PECK to officially launch, will also be pleased that they can finally get their hands on the product. Some of these are retailers and distributors, and there are also US companies who are looking at the possibility of licensing to produce and sell his protein shake across the pond.
Matt, who first came up with the idea of developing and producing a dairy-free protein shake back in 2013, says it’s been a test of stamina and determination to get to this point. “It’s taken me a long time – and I’ve had quite a few setbacks,” he says.
He grew up on the family farm but, after graduating from the University of East Anglia with a degree in social psychology, he had plans to become a police officer. “But when I applied I found out that I was looking at a three-year wait to join a training programme, so I decided to go to London with my brother,” says 30-year-old Havers. “I took a job with a large food and beverages insights company and, at that point, I had decided that I did eventually want to go home to farm. But I also wanted to add a diversification to the business.”
His work in London involved looking at consumer statistics and trends, as well as new food and drink products. “I got to thinking about what gaps there were in the market and what, if anything, could I do to fill one using what we produce on the farm.”
Matt’s family – which includes father Chris and mum Sheila – runs a free-range egg producing business and ‘bed-and-breakfast’ for 2,000 fattening pigs each year, at Kings Farm. The family built the unit’s 16,000-bird free-range egg unit eight years ago and the seventh flock, of Lohmann Browns, has just started laying. Eggs are sold to Anglia Free Range, which supplies Tesco. Second-grade eggs are also bought by Anglia Free Range, but for command a considerably lower price per dozen.
Havers felt that the egg business offered potential for diversification and adding value: “Particularly the ‘second’ grade eggs – the ones that didn’t command top price and often went for liquid egg production. I knew that there was more value to be added there.”
As captain of his university rugby team, and heavily into sports and fitness, Havers noticed that most sports drinks and protein shakes on the market are whey-based. “Yet egg protein – particularly egg whites – are more ‘bioavailable’ than whey protein. So, I saw an opportunity here.”
Research was key to kicking off the development process – looking to see what was already available and if there would be demand for such a product. “I spoke to buyers and retailers. The talked about ‘switchability’ and a ‘unique selling point’. My idea had both – they felt that it would sell if it were on the shelf. I then began experimenting and formulating the egg-protein shakes.”
This was far from easy: “It hadn’t been done before and there was no rule book or template. It was very much about trial and error – and there were plenty of the latter.”
He found that adding ingredients to egg white, particularly those that changed the pH, ruined the recipe and changed the consistency of the product. He also has to use pasteurised egg whites, to meet food safety standards and to increase the shelf-life of the product.
“And to do that, using our own second-grade eggs, would have meant investing in expensive equipment and that’s not viable when you’re starting with small volumes. So, for now, we’re buying in pre-pasteurised egg white. Eventually, when the product takes off, I’d like to pasteurise egg white from our ‘second-grade’ eggs and those from other local egg producers, to ensure we get the volumes we’d need. But that’s in the future. I very much needed to get the product right first – to learn to walk before I tried to run.”
Creating and adding flavour to the product also proved tricky. Matt approached two food-tech specialist universities, who ‘promised the earth but didn’t come up with the goods’. Luckily, he then stumbled across a fruit and vegetable juice supplier on the internet. “The company has a development lab and within two days I had the three flavour combinations I’d been looking for: raspberry and blueberry, mango and passionfruit, and strawberry and lime. They were so helpful and professional, and their charges were also very reasonable,” he says.
Packaging the product was another hurdle to negotiate. So, again, after making dozens of phone calls and coming up against several dead ends, Havers found someone to produce bottles that could be sealed and heated. He then put the job of designing the label for PECK out to tender using a crowd-funding site.
“I put a detailed spec on line – I knew that I wanted to call the product PECK and I knew the rough shape of the bottle and what the label needed to say – and gave the job to the person with the design I liked the best. We had around 100 different designs and we picked a winner. It cost just £600.”
Havers now has a product and packaging and also, somewhat uniquely, a market that’s waiting with bated breath. PECK’s Twitter account, which Matt set up to both create awareness and gauge interest in the product, already has more than 2,500 followers – no mean feat when very little product has been available for sampling.
East of England Co-op is set to begin stocking PECK in June and Havers has contracts to supply some of the UK’s leading fitness brands, including Muscle Foods.
Now he’s mastered it, Havers says that production process is simple. A 700-litre mixing tank is housed in one of the containers, and both are fully lined to meet all the food manufacturing, hygiene and safety standards and regulations.
He buys in all the ingredients, including pre-pasteurised egg white, as well as soya and fruit juice. The soya serves to stabilise the egg white and each 250-ml bottle contains five egg whites. After bottling, the protein shakes are sealed and heated and they have a shelf life of six months. There’s no need to refrigerate the product.
“We have the capacity to produce 2,500 bottles a day and I want to quickly get to the point where I can employ someone to take on the production side of the business, so I can focus on marketing and generating sales.”
Havers says that he’s excited and terrified – at the same time. “I can’t wait to see people posting images of the product on social media. I think once we get it out there if will fly off the shelves.”
So far he’s invested £90,000 in bringing PECK to the market. “Some of that has been grant funding and, as part of my application, I had to include three-year projections. I’m anticipating a turnover of £50,000 in our first year of trading and by our third year this should be up to £200,000,” he explains.
Securing funding was no mean feat in itself. He made a successful application for an agri-tech growth initiative grant, from Greater Cambridge Greater Peterborough Local Enterprise Partnership. Havers describes a ‘Dragon’s Den’ style grilling from 15 people. “And I had to know my figures, my market and, of course, my product. I think they were impressed that I already have serious interest from UK, European, Middle Eastern and US markets. It’s a VAT-free product and it’s also low sugar, so avoids the recently-introduced sugar tax. And it’s a healthy product too, with the potential to be developed further for a wider market.”
Growing PECK sales to the point where the business can justify investing in egg pasteurising equipment is one of Havers’ goals. He would also like to see if he can develop a protein drink that uses whole egg – the yolk and the white. “I’ve already got a few ideas up my sleeve and a few flavours in mind. I think this kind of drink could appeal to the elderly – as well as the fitness industry. The nutritional benefits of eggs are often overlooked and this would be a simply and tasty way to improve the nutritional intake of people who are unwell, unable to cook or don’t have a huge appetite.”
Growing soya on the farm is something else he plans to look into. “I like the idea of going ‘full circle’. The free-range flock produces the eggs and we use manure from the birds to fertiliser the land and grow soya. Nothing is wasted and it’s all locally sourced. But I know that soya is tricky to grow and the crop would also need to be processed in order to add it to our drinks. But it’s nice to have dreams and goals – and something to aim for.”
Having a focus has kept Havers on track since 2014 – even when food industry advisers and specialists said ‘that won’t work’ or ‘it can’t be done’. “I have developed a ‘can do’ attitude. I’ve just carried on until I’ve found a way that something can be done and how I can make something work. And I’m on the verge of seeing that determination pay off.
“It’s an exciting time for me and I love every day. It’s hectic, juggling the free-range flock and the pigs with getting this business off the ground. But it’s enjoyable. And there’s been so much interest – a surprising amount for a product that’s not even available to buy just yet.
“That’s a huge motivator for me. I can’t wait to see what happen when we finally launch to market. I know we’re going to sell a lot of product and not just in the UK. The question is how much and will we be able to keep up.”
Official launch: June 2018
Bottle size: 250ml
Retail price: between £1.99 and £2.35 per bottle
Twitter followers: 2,750 @peck_drinks
Egg white is highest quality protein available in natural world.
Aerobic protein – it takes longer to break down in the human gut (four to six hours), so the body can absorb more of it. Anaerobic proteins break down more quickly and much of it leaves the body via urine.
Uncooked but pasteurised egg whites are a better source of protein than both cooked or raw egg whites.