How Happy Hens Farm reached Rs 8 crore revenues with its free-range eggs

Manjunath Marappan and Ashok Kannan set up India’s first free-range farm in 2014. Their Happy Hens Farm, with a daily production of 20,000 eggs, partners with small farmers in three states. The organic Omega 3-rich eggs are priced at Rs25 per piece

Chandhini R
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Manjunath Marappan and Ashok Kannan (sitting) and a farmer collecting free-range eggs

Manjunath Marappan and Ashok Kannan (sitting) and a farmer collecting free-range eggs

Manjunath Marappan and Ashok Kannan have reimagined traditional free-range poultry farming, breaking away from the conventional format of raising chickens in cages for egg production. 

Their Bengaluru-based Happy Hens Farm is India's first free-range farm where chickens and hens roam around freely and produce nutritious organic eggs rich in Omega 3, proteins and vitamins.

It was destiny that brought together Ashok and Manjunath. In 2010, when they had not met each other, both began free-range farming on a couple of farms near Madurai and Bengaluru, respectively. They connected in 2012 and found common ground.

Since Ashok lived in a tier II town, he needed market support, which could be provided by Manjunath, based in Bengaluru, Karnataka. Manjunath was searching for someone knowledgeable in production and shared values in welfare, humane farming, and clean and nutritious eggs. 

They decided to establish a sustainable model of free-range poultry farming by collaborating with family farmers and empowering them through Happy Hens Farm. 

“We partner with small poultry farmers and train them in the production of organic eggs without the use of any antibiotics,” says Manjunath. Happy Hens Farm also prepares its bird feed to build immunity and shares it with the partner farmers. “We then procure the free-range eggs, providing the farmers with a sustainable livelihood opportunity,” he says, adding that rural entrepreneurship and empowerment are at the core of their production model.

Hens at a 2-acre free-range partner farm. Pic: Happy Hens Farm

Why free-range poultry farming

Protection of farm animals and their welfare became an important issue in the late 1990s and early 2000s in the European Union. “We too felt compelled to implement stricter standards, particularly for chickens. India's rich history of domesticating chickens made free-range farming a natural choice. We decided to reintroduce humane practices amid the trend towards westernization," says Manjunath, who handles the branding, marketing, and finance divisions of Happy Hens Farm. 

Also Read: How Assam’s techie entrepreneur built Rs 22 crore egg business

Ashok says he wanted to set up a free-range farm to provide nutritious food for his family after the birth of his second child. 

"I was inspired by a BBC documentary showcasing free-range farming in Cotswolds, the UK,” Ashok says. 

Before beginning free-range farming, Ashok was into the medicinal plant trade. “I used that experience to strengthen the immunity of birds naturally and created a healthy feed and ecosystem for them,” he says. Happy Hens Farm supplements the hens’ feed with flax seed to enrich the eggs with Omega 3. It also uses natural ingredients obtained from cow to prepare panchgavya, an organic antibiotic that boosts immunity. 

Preparing pachangavya (a natural immunity enhancer) for hens. Pic: Happy Hens Farm 

Free-range eggs franchisee model

“We work on a franchise model and have partnered with 11 farmers across Maharashtra's Nashik, Telangana's Hyderabad, and Tamil Nadu's Trichy, and Perambalur," Manjunath says.  

Ashok trains the farmers, manages the production system, and looks after the preparation of bird feeds. Happy Hens ensures consistent nutrition for the birds by providing them with a stable composition in the feed. 

“Our mix includes seasonal disease-fighting herbs, and all feeds undergo testing to ensure they are free from antibiotic residues. Our feed is certified antibiotic-free, maintaining high standards of health for birds," adds Ashok. Happy Hens procures eggs from only three indigenous breeds -- BV380, IndBro and HiLine. 

Also Read: How this teacher-cum-urban farmer built a successful microgreens business in Gujarat

Revenue and Growth

In 2014, Happy Hens Farm produced around 500 eggs daily, now surging to 20,000 eggs per day. Manjunath says while regular eggs are priced at Rs 60-70 for a pack of six, Happy Hens’ eggs are priced at Rs 150.

"Through subscription, we offer up to 40 percent discount and deliver across Bengaluru. Our annual revenue is just a little less than a million US dollars (Rs 8.3 crore).

Despite facing many ups and downs in the business, our bottom line remains robust and we are positive about the future," Manjunath adds.  

happy hens
Happy hens at a free-range farm. Pic: Happy Hens Farm

Free-range and cage-free farms

Free range, a form of backyard poultry, had waned due to migration to urban areas where space was a constraint and there were threats from predators. The duo sought to revive it, emphasising the importance of the bird’s mental health in the quality of eggs. The free range allows hens to roam around freely in large open green spaces.

Contrary to the cramped cage, which is usually the size of an A4 size sheet, cage-free birds enjoy spacious barns with ample room to move, fly, and access nest boxes, water, and food. 

They also feed on a variety of naturally-grown greens, which improves the quality of produce. This results in eggs that have less cholesterol, higher levels of vitamins, especially Vitamin D, and are enriched with protein and carotenoids. 

hens nesting
Nesting area for hens. Pic: Happy Hens Farm

Currently, 40 percent of Happy Hens Farm's production is free-range, primarily for domestic consumption (B2C model), while 60 percent is cage-free, aimed at the commercial market (B2B model). While free-range chickens roam around in the farms, cage-free birds are not in cages but don’t necessarily have open outdoor spaces for themselves.

Also Read: Coimbatore’s Sparrow Man brings back birds with nesting boxes

Fortified Eggs

Happy Hens currently offers two varieties of fortified eggs. Fortified eggs are different from the standard eggs as they are enriched with high amounts of nutrients. 

The eggs are fortified with Omega-3 and FOLA+, a natural form of Folic Acid (vitamin B9), for enhanced health benefits. 

Omega-3 promotes heart health, regulates blood pressure, and boosts brain development. FOLA+ aids in cell and RBC production improves heart health and reduces cognitive decline. Happy Hens Farm is the first brand in India to introduce Folate enriched eggs.

fortified eggs
Two varieties of fortified eggs from Happy Hens Farm

Happy Hens Farm looks for tie-ups with farm owners who prioritize humane farming and the nutritional value of eggs. "Being a superfood, eggs are packed with essential nutrients, and serve as a quick and nutritious option for consumers. By supporting our brand, consumers contribute to empowering farmers and promoting sustainable sourcing practices,” says Manjunath.

Their target consumer base includes young mothers, children, fitness enthusiasts, bachelors, and elderly individuals residing in urban areas. “We also collaborate with corporate clients such as Taj, Marriott, Four Seasons, Novotel, and Hyatt, catering to their demand for cage-free eggs as part of their commitment to sustainable sourcing," he shares. The duo now aims to broaden their reach, capitalising on the rising demand for quality food in tier II cities.

(Chandhini R is a Kerala-based journalist specialising in human interest, entertainment, and art and culture stories)

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