Many consumers had MPS Egg Farms to thank for the delicious breakfasts they continued to enjoy when a spring demand surge had several retailers scrambling to keep eggs in supply.
The challenge provided the North Manchester-based company an opportunity to showcase a superior level of service despite adverse circumstances, which MPS owners expect will help grow its market share.
Headed by CEO Bob Krouse, the company formerly known as Midwest Poultry Services is a sixth-generation, family-owned and operated supplier of shell eggs to leading grocery retailers, food distributors and food service companies.
Its history dates to 1875, and it employs a nationwide workforce of 650, including about 450 employees who work out of its headquarters and three farms in North Manchester. In addition to Indiana, it has farms in Ohio, Illinois and Texas.
More people began staying in, working remotely and cooking meals at home after the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic March 11. With eggs among the easiest items to cook, demand for them doubled in mid-March.
“MPS Egg Farms was well-prepared for this increased demand because we were already ramping up for increased demand that typically occurs at Easter,” Sam Krouse, its business development vice president, said in an email.
Following the March increase, demand held at about 30% higher than usual for the next two months, then returned to seasonal averages, he said.
Without expanding its workforce, MPS boosted production as “our valued employees stepped up and worked additional overtime to allow us to continue providing a high level of service for our retail clients and the eggs our consumers needed during this challenging time,” he said.
Measures the company took to keep its workforce healthy also helped it keep egg production levels elevated. Krouse said it put several employee protections in place immediately after the pandemic hit.
Among the precautionary measures taken to reduce COVID-19 risk at its facilities, MPS:
• Increased social distancing by staggering start and break times and by providing additional space for employees to take breaks.
• Implemented a paid sick leave policy for anyone experiencing COVID-like symptoms.
• Increased disinfection of all facility contact surfaces, in addition to deep cleaning and sanitation performed on a regular basis to maintain food safety.
• Encouraged any employees who could to work from home.
In April, the company also began requiring every employee and visitor to wear a face mask at all times.
The measures covered most workers involved in MPS egg production because 90% of its eggs originate on its own farms, where they “flow directly from the hen houses into our washing and packing facilities in a way that maximizes quality, efficiency and food safety,” Krouse said.
“An additional 10% comes from trusted contract farmers in the region, with whom we’ve worked for many years,” he said.
As a private label producer, MPS was not directly affected by an easing of packing regulations related to branding because it does not maintain any consumer-facing brands of its own.
The company made its retailing customers look good by keeping the private label eggs that MPS supplies them on store shelves even as shortages developed in some parts of the country when other suppliers ran out of branded egg cartons, which were legally required for supermarket sales.
Some of those egg shortages occurred at the same time that consumers were noticing meat shortages.
“Through the coronavirus outbreak, we were able to maintain sufficient supply of our regular cartons, so we did not need to start using unlabeled or unbranded packaging,” Krouse said.
To avoid constraining supplies unnecessarily, the federal government eventually allowed eggs to be sold during the demand surge without branded packaging, as long as refrigerated case labeling in supermarkets identified suppliers properly.
“In a commodity market like shell eggs, producers generally compete on price or service. In a situation like coronavirus, where extraordinary demand stresses the entire supply chain to its limits, service becomes even more important to retail clients,” Krouse said.
“Not having any eggs on the shelf in the middle of a pandemic is simply not acceptable. MPS Egg Farms has always worked to deliver superior service as the highest value egg producer,” he said.
“The satisfaction of our retail clients throughout the pandemic reflects that commitment to superior service and will drive the increase in our market share in the long term.”
With a recent expansion into the Texas market, MPS already has grown from a small North Manchester company to the 9th largest shell egg producer in the United States.
Business disruptions resulting from the pandemic took the nation into a recession, which increased demand for nonprofit group relief services and multiplied donation requests by organizations that address community needs.
“MPS Egg Farms partners with an organization called HATCH for Hunger to donate 22,000 dozen eggs to food banks and pantries each month. These organizations have a difficult time sourcing fresh proteins, like eggs, and HATCH serves the role of connecting producers with those organizations who need eggs,” Krouse said.
The company’s first opportunity to offer this kind of help during the pandemic, he said, came when it was contacted by HATCH requesting an emergency load of eggs from an Indianapolis school, which needed them as early as possible that morning before students went home.
“Not going home with food that morning could have meant meals missed and families stressed by the burden of extra mouths to feed. Happily, we were able to get the eggs to the school in time. Throughout the pandemic, MPS Egg Farms has continued to donate eggs to benefit families throughout Indiana,” Krouse said.
“MPS Egg Farms also saw an opportunity to help kids in our local community. North Manchester Community Schools provided school lunches for families from the time they were sent home due to COVID-19 until the end of the school year,” he said.
“We partnered with the schools to contribute one dozen eggs each week, per family, with those lunches to ensure these families had the quality protein to keep everyone full and healthy. We have contributed about 19,000 dozen eggs to our local community through that program.”