In its $90 million purchase of Willamette Egg Farms, Post Holdings, Inc. is buying one of the Pacific Northwest’s leading egg producers and a leader in the industry’s adoption of cage-free hen housing.
Post Holdings, a St. Louis-based company whose products include the Post brand breakfast cereals, announced Sept. 23 it is buying Willamette from family owners Gordon Satrum and his son, Greg Satrum.
Willamette Egg raises Leghorns and Rhode Island Reds and produces approximately 2 million eggs a day from its facilities in Canby, Ore., and Moses Lake, Wash. They’re sold throughout the Northwest, into Northern California and as far as Hawaii, Guam and Saipan.
In a news release, Post said Willamette Eggs will be folded into its Michael Foods division, which makes “value added” egg products, cheese, refrigerated potato products and other dairy case items.
In a prepared statement, Post President and CEO Rob Vitale said the purchase fits well with Michael Foods.
“Willamette Egg will further increase our leadership as the country’s largest provider of cage-free egg products and contributes to additional geographic flock diversification,” Vitale said in a news release.
In May, the company reported roughly 20 percent of its egg supply had been impacted by a deadly bird flu outbreak that hit the Midwest, according to The Associated Press.
In addition to the bird flu problem, U.S. chicken and egg producers have been criticized for keeping chickens in cramped cages. Led by Greg Satrum, Willamette Egg has been a leader in adopting larger cages and what are called “enriched colony systems” that allow hens to engage in natural behavior such as perching, nesting and scratching.
In recent years, Willamette Egg has built highly automated cage-free facilities in which chickens are able to perch, hop down to the floor to mingle with the flock and retreat to nesting boxes. Eggs are carried from the building on a conveyor system, while special lighting calms the birds and simulates day and night patterns.
Greg Satrum in 2011 struck what some viewed as an unusual partnership with the Oregon Humane Society. The two supported Oregon and Washington legislation that increases cage sizes over a 15-year period, giving the industry time to phase in expensive infrastructure changes.
Satrum also has supported greater transparency in the industry, saying producers should reach out to a public that is a couple generations removed from farm life and doesn’t understand agricultural practices.
The harshest critics would dismiss the industry’s viewpoint, Satrum acknowledged in a 2014 interview with the Capital Press.
“But you’ve still got that 80 percent who are rational people and will give us some consideration if you show them some respectful information and respect their intelligence,” he said,
It’s not clear how Willamette’s operations will change under the new ownership. Greg Satrum, who could not be reached for comment, reportedly was telling employees and key business partners about the purchase Wednesday.
A news release quoted Gordon Satrum as saying that joining Post’s Michael Foods is an “incredible opportunity for sustained growth and leadership in our rapidly evolving industry.”
Questions about the purchase were referred to Post Holdings. A company spokesman did not immediately respond.