A Good Egg
Inc.|Winter 2020 - 2021
For building a kinder, more sustainable hen-laying ecosystem.
By Kate Rockwood

Chicken Out

Though sold nationwide, Vital Farms eggs are laid on farms in the pasture belt— southeastern states with mild climates, where the chickens can graze on grass year round.

In 2007, serial entrepreneur Matt O’Hayer was at a crossroads. He had spent the past five years living on a charter catamaran, ferrying clients from Maine to Grenada with his diving instructor wife, Catherine. Now the familiar itch to try something new had resurfaced. O’Hayer traveled to northern Indo nesia for a diving trip with an old friend, Whole Foods co-founder and CEO John Mackey (who is featured in Inc.’s Founders Project on page 34), mulling his next move.

At the time of the scuba trip, Mackey was working to improve the animal welfare standards of Whole Foods’ meat and poultry suppliers. He’d recently invested in a hen-laying operation in Austin, and described to O’Hayer a future in which chickens wandered freely outdoors, grazing on grass, rather than being squeezed into indoor cages and fed corn.

Coincidentally, O’Hayer had a history with eggs. A native of Rhode Island, he started selling them from a cart on the campus of Brown University in 1968 because the gig was more lucrative than his paper route. In the ’80s, he even raised backyard chickens.

So when he met with Mackey, O’Hayer was ripe for the plucking. In 2007, he bought 20 Rhode Island Red hens and the 27 acres of land in South Austin he would name Vital Farms. “Every company I’d started before, I always focused on the exit, the exit, the exit,” says O’Hayer, who also ran a successful travel business in the 1990s. Now he was looking for a reason to stay.

Some 13 years later, his devotion to that mission—to scale humane practices that create better-tasting eggs while providing a viable business model to farmers— has resulted in a company with products in more than 14,000 stores, annual revenue north of $140 million, and, thanks to a blockbuster July IPO, a market capitalization of $1.2 billion.

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