Extraordinary Farmer, Extraordinary Eggs
Last fall, Trey Braswell was named a trailblazer by Business North Carolina. The 35-year-old is forging new paths for Braswell Family Farms and making his mark as president of the North Carolina Egg Association. In this episode of Farms, Food and You, Braswell discusses how he’s building on long-held family values to lead the fourth-generation agribusiness into the future.
Dee Shore (00:09):
Last fall, Trey Braswell was named a trailblazer by one of North Carolina’s leading business publications. The 35-year-old is forging new paths for Braswell Family Farms and making his mark as president of the North Carolina Egg Association.
Dee Shore (00:27):
I’m Dee Shore of North Carolina State University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and in this episode of Farms, Food and You, Braswell talks about how he’s building on long-held family values to lead the fourth-generation agribusiness into the future.
Trey Braswell (00:51):
I hear the story often when, I guess it was in the ‘60s or ‘70s, we had a few hogs, and this was before hogs were in hog houses, so they were on a wooded lot that was fenced in. And I would hear the story of my great uncle and my granddad coming back in the office at like midnight one night. It was a cold, wet day, and they’d been out in the hog lot feeding the hogs and making sure they’re all right. But they said, “You know what? There’s got to be a better way to make money.” And I think that was the end of our foray into the hog business.
Dee Shore (01:25):
Trey Braswell relates this story because, for him, it conveys a lesson.
Trey Braswell (01:31):
I think that the moral of this story was always be looking to improve and try to find a better way.
Dee Shore (01:38):
Because Trey’s forebears looked ahead, they were able to build one of the East Coast’s leading feed-milling companies. At the same time, they expanded into egg production, processing and marketing. And today they have egg sales from North Carolina to Pennsylvania.
Trey got a start in the company as a teenager.
Trey Braswell (01:59):
I’ve done a lot of sweeping. That was a really important orientation, indoctrination. My uncle, I’ll never forget this, he said, “If you don’t have anything else to do, you ought to have a broom in your hand because there’s always sweeping to be done.”
Dee Shore (02:16):
Braswell also worked at the company’s mill in Nashville, unloading rail cars, cleaning up and keeping the ingredient bins full. From there, he went to NC State University where he studied business, taking agriculture courses along the way. He returned to the family business in 2008 and began learning the management ropes. At the same time, he balanced responsibilities with the company with weekend studies toward an executive MBA from the College of William and Mary in Virginia.
Dee Shore (02:48):
When his father Scott stepped down in 2017 due to health concerns, Trey became the company’s president. One of his first orders of business was to lead a rebranding effort. The business has gone by a number of names – Braswell Foods, Carolina Egg, and Braswell Milling. Trey chose the new name, Braswell Family Farms, to give customers and employees a clearer idea of what the company does and what it values.
Trey Braswell (03:18):
Consumers didn’t really know who we are at all. We recognized we’re missing the opportunity to connect with our consumer, we’re missing continuity in the market.
Dee Shore (03:29):
The addition of the word “family” to the company’s name reflects the reality of a business that’s been owned and operated by the family for more than 75 years. The addition of the word “farms” reflects the pride the family and its employees have in producing food and feed, and it reflects the company structure.
Trey Braswell (03:50):
The way our business is set up is that we have a large farm where conventional eggs are produced and packed, and then we also partner up with small family farms and provide them birds and pay them to take care of the birds and use their facilities. That gives small family farms around the state the opportunity to be a part of our business and for us to support them. We pay them to house the birds and follow our practices and take care of them.
Dee Shore (04:15):
Braswell Family Farms was an early investor in Eggland’s Best, a company that focuses on producing nutritionally enhanced eggs. Eggland’s Best is now rated by consumers as the most trusted egg brand in the United States, and Braswell Family Farms is its second-largest franchisee. It was born in the 1990s, amid a slump in U.S. egg production.
Trey is continuing Braswell Family Farms tradition of monitoring and responding to changing consumer preferences.
Trey Braswell (04:50):
Consumer preference and demand and the landscape of the egg industry is certainly how we evolved into our current little niche market. Maybe that whole thing about my great uncle and my granddad saying there’s got to be a better way than slopping around in the hog lot in the middle of the night was what led us to take a risk on investing in Eggland’s Best and investing in organic eggs and these things that the bulk of the industry said, “Yeah, an egg’s an egg.” We try to stay on the leading edge of “what can we do different, what can we do better and how can we meet a need that’s in the market?” And that’s what’s led us to be a value-added egg producer.
Dee Shore (05:31):
With consumer preferences in mind, Trey decided to add pasture-raised organic eggs to the suite of products offered by Braswell Family Farms. That addition means the company offers a full spectrum of the types of chicken eggs available in today’s marketplace.
Trey Braswell (05:50):
We produce all types of eggs. We produce commodity conventional eggs, which are perfectly safe and healthy, and they come from birds that are in cages. We do those well, but we also produce branded nutritionally enhanced eggs. Eggland’s Best would be the major one that we do. And those have just a higher operating standard than a conventional egg, but also the feed that the birds eat enhances the nutrition of the egg. Really most anywhere that you go in North Carolina and Virginia and the Mid-Atlantic, if you buy, say Eggland’s Best, it’s probably ours that we produced right here in North Carolina and Virginia.
And then we also do eggs that are what we would call welfare enhanced – so cage-free, organic, free-range and pasture-raised. Each of these systems are different. The bird might have an opportunity to run around inside of the house, or they might have an opportunity to go outside of the house. They might have a little yard, and they might have a really big yard. We do this because, one, we think that each types of production are perfectly safe and healthy and acceptable, and we strive to do very well in those. But consumers all have different sets of values, whether it’s financial values or social values, so we want them to have the choice of what fits into their family’s lifestyle when they get to the grocery store.
Dee Shore (07:04):
Each day, Braswell Family Farms produces a total of about 1.4 million eggs and sells more than that because it buys some eggs from other companies. You’re more likely to find the company’s eggs in grocery stores than in restaurants.
Trey Braswell (07:22):
You would typically find us in most of your major retailers like Food Lion and Harris Teeter and Walmart, Publix and Lowes Foods and MDI and your independents. Because of the nature of our business being specialty eggs, we do a little bit of business with a lot of customers, where some producers that might do all commodity eggs, they might do a lot of business with one or two customers.
It’s a gift to be able to have the relationships with so many different people because that’s the space that we feel like we do a good job in.
Dee Shore (07:53):
Braswell also prioritizes the health of his customers and the health of the chickens that his operation depends on.
Trey Braswell (08:02):
Bird welfare and food safety are probably the two most important topics that we address in our egg production because we’re very concerned about the health and wellness of the birds and we’re very concerned about the health and wellness of our consumers. The old cliché is, “I’m not willing to produce something that I’m not willing to feed my children.” And that’s our standard. It’s cleanliness, and it’s air quality, and it’s feed and water and light and all those things. We’re constantly auditing ourselves and being audited by outside third-party organizations. We’re constantly monitoring each and every chicken house in the plant and trucks and everywhere in the supply chain.
Dee Shore (08:46):
Ensuring food safety and animal welfare is important to Braswell in part because it’s consistent with his religious values. Such values pervade the culture at Braswell Family Farms.
Trey Braswell (08:59):
Our first and foremost objective is to make sure that we honor the Lord with the way that we run the business, and that’s taking care of our people, respecting them, our customers, anybody that we come in contact with. We want to run our business on biblical principles of respect and honor and love and integrity. We want to put out the best product that we can, and we don’t cut corners. My goal is that we continue and never lose that family feel, that culture of we love and respect and appreciate each other, but as an entity that we learn how to do what we’re doing better. We’re more efficient, we’re more competitive, so that we can supply jobs and grow. You can do both of those.
Dee Shore (09:47):
Thanks for listening today, and I hope you’ll join us again for the next episode of Farms, Food and You. To learn more about the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and our podcast, visit go.ncsu.edu/farms. While you’re there, share your thoughts. We’d love to get your ideas and to hear what topics you’d like for us to explore in the feature.
About Our Guest
Trey Braswell is a native of Nash County, North Carolina, where he lives with his wife and three children and serves as president of Braswell Family Farms. He holds a bachelor’s degree in business from NC State University and an executive Master of Business Administration from the College of William & Mary. He serves as president of the North Carolina Egg Association and a member of the national United Egg Producers’ board of directors.