By Treena Hein for Farm & Food Care
(St-Isidore) It’s easy to tell a Ferme Avicole Laviolette egg from others being sold in Ontario. Each one has an alphanumeric code that signifies the date of packaging, batch date and producer. Every time their customers see the stamp, they are reminded that Laviolettes take quality and accountability very seriously. The code is also an important food safety measure, helping make any product recall both fast and accurate. For being the first in the province to implement traceability that goes beyond the carton, Marcel Laviolette recently won a 2014 Premier’s Award for Agri-Food Innovation Excellence.
By 2012, the year Marcel implemented the automated egg stamping system, his business’s sales territory was quite large, including dozens of grocery stores, restaurants and food wholesalers in eastern Ontario and southwest Quebec. At that time, food safety and traceability were all over the media, and being discussed at dinner tables across the nation, within the government and within the food and agriculture industry. Marcel knew that his many customers would feel that much more comfortable if each egg was stamped, something that was being done in other jurisdictions. And for the local egg producers that use Laviolette’s grading station (and make up two thirds of his egg volume), stamping would provide added peace of mind. Lastly, having coded eggs should help increase sales, being a preferred product in terms of traceability and food safety concerns. “We wanted to stand out,” Marcel explained.
It was another brave and bold move in a long line of brave and bold moves for Ferme Avicole Laviolette in St. Isidore, a small town in Eastern Ontario. It began when Marcel’s mother Yollande founded the farm in 1977. She worked hard at the business, teaching her sons Marcel Jr. and Pascal as she went. She looked on a devastating fire in 1993 as an opportunity to build a new high-tech facility. In 1997, she and her sons boldly decided to build a new grading station at the farm and focus on retail egg distribution. Yollande passed on in 2003, and Marcel gradually took over the operation, carrying on with his mother’s courageous business leadership.
In 2011, he installed automatic cages that exceeded recommendations for bird density. At that point, he also installed a 10 KW solar power electricity generating system. Ferme Avicole Laviolette now has about 33 000 laying birds in a conventional housing system, and rents out 37 acres of cropland. They employ ten full time drivers, graders and barn maintenance and have over 250 customers. Marcel’s wife looks after the administration, and their four children all help out on the farm on weekends and during school breaks. Marcel is also a counsellor with Egg farmers of Ontario Zone 10.
In terms of implementing the code stamping system, Marcel says “The biggest challenge was in integrating the electronics. They were from two different manufacturers and didn’t ‘talk’ to each other, and it took almost a year to achieve the best results.” The project was partially funded through Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s ‘Growing Forward’ funding program. Marcel says some small producers have asked about the system since installation and he’s happy to explain. “The mechanics do need a bit of tender love and care, but it’s worth it as customers want the stamped eggs. Eggs without codes are not as good!”
When the Laviolettes were told they were receiving a Premier’s Award, it felt good. “All of us farmers work hard to earn a living and we don’t do this for a prize, but when it happens you feel proud of what you put into your operation each day,” Marcel says.
In terms of the future, Marcel says although they are a small grader, they deliver ‘Egg’cellent’ service and customers ask for their eggs all the time, so they are growing slowly. “When our children grow up, there might be expansion on the production side,” he says. “You never know!”
For more information on the farm visit www.fermeavicolelaviolette.com
This article is one in a series produced by Farm & Food Care Ontario. The stories highlight innovative initiatives in the areas of animal welfare and environmental stewardship in Ontario agriculture. To submit a profile idea, email firstname.lastname@example.org.