極品蛋專家

邱石崇的雞蛋夢工廠
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2012 / 11月

文‧陳歆怡 圖‧隆昌牧場提供


誰說,每顆雞蛋都長得一樣?身為蛋農就注定辛苦一輩子?

18年前,彰化囝仔邱石崇接手蛋雞家業,用他原本從事藝術經紀、善於管理行銷的頭腦,逐步將蛋品琢磨成精品,帶動牧場自創品牌的風潮,也改寫了蛋雞產業的遊戲規則。


走進位在彰化北斗鎮、占地2.5公頃的隆昌牧場,啁啾的鳥鳴取代了預想的雞叫聲,眼前是一片花木扶疏的景象,還有兩匹駿馬在圍起的廣闊綠地內悠閒踱步,透露主人的「樂活」趣味。

放眼望去,庭園中有三排高7公尺、寬15公尺、長各約80及100公尺的工廠式建築,白色封閉的外觀看不出端倪,必須抬頭細瞧才會發現,在兩兩相隔30公尺的廠房間,有一條高架的輸送帶,正將一顆顆雞蛋平穩規律地由後兩棟「雞舍」運往前棟「洗選蛋廠」。

這裡是全台灣第一家引進現代化密閉雞舍與洗選設備的牧場,也是台灣第一個牧場自營的雞蛋品牌「鮮力蛋(Sunny Eggs)」的孵夢地﹔牧場主人邱石崇的住家,就建在牧場內,從早到晚與雞舍比鄰,無言宣示「務農也可以很有格調」。

「我的志願:絕不養雞!」

1964年次的邱石崇,外表高大斯文,談吐直率從容,平日常受邀至大專院校、公司行號暢談行銷管理之道,他還擔任台灣優良蛋品發展協會理事長、台灣優良農產品發展協會董事,提攜同業之餘,也經常為政府農業部門獻策。

這樣一位對雞蛋投注無比熱情的人,卻透露自己從小立志「絕不養雞」!

邱石崇的父親早年在彰化永靖從事肉用種雞的培育改良,1969年牧場遷至北斗鎮現址後,轉而飼養蛋雞,規模最大到6萬隻,雞舍共二十幾棟。

父親的蛋雞事業算是小有成就。邱石崇出生那年,蛋雞的專業飼養才剛引進,彰化西區由於土壤貧瘠,不適合種稻,農村人口多以家庭式、小型養雞場起家,如今飼養規模多在1~3萬隻,全縣年產量占全國年產量(65億顆)的48%。

然而,從小幫忙鏟雞糞、撿雞蛋的邱石崇,對充滿雞屎味、雞毛滿天飛的雞舍沒有好感,也深知雞農用勞力換取微薄收入的辛勞;不想讓自己的未來也被養雞套牢,刻意負笈北上唸書,就讀淡水工商觀光科,畢業後擔任領隊遨遊世界,接著又投身藝術經紀工作,一路妄想遠走高飛。

30歲那年,他獲悉父親苦等「傳人」無望,擬結束心心念念的養雞事業,在母親、姊姊的親情勸說下,做出跌破友人眼鏡的歸鄉決定,「當時的同事都說我是從天堂掉到地獄,還打賭我3個月就會受不了回台北。」

從傳承到改革

然而,邱石崇自信「做什麼像什麼」,返家的前6年,他完全遵循傳統飼養模式以磨練功夫,期間還被推舉接任彰化縣蛋雞產銷班班長,因為常跟產官學界開會,讓他更深入了解產業脈動,進而思索突圍策略。

邱石崇發現,傳統雞寮都是開放式的養殖,一旦病毒入侵就容易發生大規模雞瘟,難怪傳統養雞戶都慘澹經營,且必須依賴藥物防疫﹔其次,雞蛋產銷制度長期採「包銷制」,即由蛋商主導,飼養者雖不必負擔通路的營運風險與成本,卻失去議價權,更因為各路雞蛋最後都混在一起出售,蛋農更無動力提升品質。

在取得父親認同後,邱石崇決定放手改革,首要任務是:引進現代化密閉雞舍,藉由提升飼養環境的舒適度及人道管理,創造優質好蛋。

「父親常說,不是我們養雞,是雞把我們養大的;我只是換個思維,不再視蛋雞為生財工具,而是將牠們當成事業夥伴,希望每顆蛋都是值得驕傲的佳品。」

改革需要勇氣。邱石崇猶記,2000年改建雞舍時,正值蛋價低迷,他們引進的德製密閉式環保溫控蛋雞舍,從設備、拆除、整地、施工到買進8萬隻雞,總共投入五千多萬元,資金全靠農委會低利貸款及親友借貸,還得承受半年無收入的空窗期。

「肩頭壓力很大,父子倆一邊看怪手鏟除舊雞舍一邊掉淚,心想這真是不歸路了!」

還蛋清白

隆昌牧場先後引入2棟密閉式環保溫控蛋雞舍,最大優點是,具水簾環控及負壓式抽風系統,可有效過濾病媒蚊與病原,且雞舍內空氣維持清新涼爽,因此雞隻不再生病,也就不需要使用任何預防性或治療性藥物。

此外,雞舍空間立體化,每棟共8層、可飼養8萬隻雞,且採大籠飼養,每隻雞的平均活動空間提升至458及580平方公分(傳統格子籠雞舍約250平方公分),降低雞隻緊迫感,產下的雞蛋更健康。

隆昌牧場也首開電腦自動化洗選蛋的做法。洗選是指洗掉蛋殼外面的汙染物並加以挑選,「因為雞下蛋和排泄都通過雞屁股、也就是『泄殖腔』,蛋殼表面難免會沾到細菌,洗選可以把沙門氏菌等的汙染風險降到最低。」

隆昌牧場最新引進的丹麥製洗選機,擁有1小時處理3萬6,000顆蛋的高效率,洗選流程包括外觀檢查、洗淨消毒、風乾、紫外線殺菌、照蛋檢查剔除血蛋與破蛋、聲納裂紋檢驗、分級包裝以及冷藏運輸儲存等一貫化作業。

邱石崇解釋,洗選是門技術,因為蛋殼有氣孔,洗選設備、水溫和相關操作若稍有差錯,就可能把病菌、汙水、消毒劑吸進蛋裡。「至於坊間有些不專業的蛋商,標榜用水浸泡、用布擦拭,反而會讓汙染更加擴散、深入蛋裡。」

雕琢極品蛋

安全之外,營養美味也是邱石崇追求的目標。

將隆昌牧場的雞蛋拿在手上,感覺沉甸甸、蛋殼也較厚,雞蛋打開後,蛋黃膜很有彈性,蛋黃飽滿、挺實,甚至可以完整抓起來在手上滾;濃稠厚實的濃蛋白與清透稀薄的稀蛋白,則是層次分明,不會稀糊散開。這樣的蛋表示濃度較高,營養及風味都更好。

然而,雞蛋雖有「天然濃縮營養庫」的美稱,相對較高的膽固醇含量卻是事實。為此,邱石崇積極研發飼料配方,2004年他獲得神農獎殊榮的原因之一,正是「提升雞蛋營養,同時降低膽固醇含量。」

邱石崇樂於向同業分享他的飼料配方:飼料添入β-胡蘿蔔素、綠藻、蒜頭粉等生物製劑,可提升營養;添入乳酸菌等活菌,可促進腸道吸收率,兼能降低糞便臭味;以牛樟芝等中草藥萃取而成的精油,稀釋後投入飲水,可顧好雞隻的呼吸道,提升免疫力;近年他還在飼料中投入鳳梨酵素,發現效果就像天然的抗發炎劑。

「自動化設備只能做規律性工作,照料雞隻還是要用心。」邱石崇能夠快速進入狀況,也得感謝父親要求他親身參與每個生產環節,讓他深諳雞性。

現在他到雞舍,第一件事是閉上眼睛靜聽:「雞群是否有活力?或是過於慵懶?」也能從雞糞中觀察出雞隻是否微恙,還能隨著節氣變化,調整飼料配方。

走出品牌大路

以雕琢精品般的用心打造的好蛋,當然所費不貲。邱石崇在2001年註冊商標的「鮮力蛋」,每顆售價9元(現在是11元),雖忠實反映成本,卻必須接受市場的考驗。

台灣的蛋價長期以來價格多在3元左右,波動不大,因為產業門檻低、供給量大,且蛋價掌握在蛋商手裡。為了突圍,邱石崇的行銷策略是自定售價、建立經銷體系,先鋪貨於台北的高檔百貨公司、生機飲食店,再鋪貨於一般賣場,塑造蛋品優質形象,蛋盒上還有牧場標示、二維條碼、生產特色以及售後服務電話。

此外,隆昌牧場更是全國第一批取得CAS台灣優良農產品及TAP產銷履歷認證的蛋場,也陸續通過ISO 22000及HACCP等國際安全認證,2008年一舉取得歐盟國家盛行多年、亞洲國家尚無的OVN營養認證,進一步強化品牌形象。

在雞蛋品牌堪稱稀奇的年代,「鮮力蛋」推出即獲媒體青睞,許多消費者是從「鮮力蛋」開始認知到如何辨別好蛋,包括拿牙籤插在蛋黃上不會倒的招式,表示蛋品新鮮營養。

如今回看,「鮮力蛋」的行銷策略頗為成功,銷售量年年穩定成長,也是許多標榜嚴選食材的餐廳及加工業者的指名原料。例如鳳梨酥品牌「微熱山丘」、老店「福義軒」的機能蛋捲、甜甜圈專賣店「Mister Donut」、精品麵包店「Paul」等,都主動找上隆昌牧場。

「品牌不是表面的包裝,打造品牌忠誠度,自己要先忠誠,」邱石崇指出,有些品牌蛋急於擴張,偷偷收購一般蛋魚目混珠,甚至有蛋商推出的高價蛋,只重包裝與宣傳,卻完全看不出產地來源,「受害的是消費者,還有品牌的信用。」

邱石崇認為,打造品牌除了要清楚目標市場,還要推動產品多樣化與通路多元化,後者即所謂「雞蛋不能放在同一個籃子」;他打破迷思指出,與連鎖超商等強勢通路合作,或許能讓業績一飛衝天,但對方常藉由指定自家飼料廠、限制專賣及價格等,逐步收割品牌能量,合作最後可能淪為依附關係。

共創藍海

一路走來,眼見品牌蛋風氣漸盛,邱石崇不擔心同行競爭,反而相信產品品質及組織行銷上的整體提升,才能使業者獲得合理利潤。他自己也不斷進修,取得大葉大學事業經營所碩士後,更在大學開課造福學子。

邱石崇破格擔任4屆理事長(明年才卸任)的台灣優良蛋品發展協會,入會資格即是取得CAS標章,「因為這代表產品安全經得起檢驗、且有專業的洗選與分級包裝制度。」在邱石崇的帶動下,目前國內已有19家生鮮蛋品場、8家液蛋工廠(將蛋黃、蛋白分離包裝的加工業者)及3家皮蛋工廠取得CAS標章。雖然CAS鮮蛋的總產量只占鮮蛋市場的6~8%,卻是業界的領頭羊,為台灣蛋農擘劃璀璨前景。

回首從「不養雞」到「以產業升級為使命」的人生歷程,邱石崇感激剛毅寡言的父親一路支撐他,「父親示範了刻苦耐勞的務實精神,又很有氣度地放手讓我外出闖蕩,我才敢於跳脫格局,與他一起創造事業第二春。」

隆昌牧場父子同心的故事,再次證明只要注入管理與研發新思維,傳產也能出頭天。

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近期文章

EN

Hatching the Dream of “Eggspert” Stone Chiu

Chen Hsin-yi /photos courtesy of courtesy of Sunny Eggs /tr. by Chris Nelson

Who says eggs are all the same? And who says egg farmers are doomed to a life of toil?

Eighteen years ago Stone Chiu, born and raised in Chang-hua County, took over the family egg business. Since then he has applied his experience as a former art broker and his head for management and marketing to raise egg production to an art form, which has helped drive the recent trend of brand-name farms. In the process he has rewritten the rules of the game for the egg industry.


Within the 2.5-hectare Sunny Eggs estate, located in Beidou Township, Changhua County, the chirping of wild birds replaces the expected clucking of chickens. A rich expanse of vegetation opens up before the eyes, and two fine horses enjoy a leisurely graze in an enclosed pasture, revealing the operator’s outdoorsy lifestyle.

Looking into the yard, there stand three rows of factory-style buildings: seven meters tall, 15 m wide and either 80 or 100 m long. With their closed white exteriors you can’t see what’s going on inside, but if you look up you’ll find that between each pair of factory buildings, separated by 30 m, is an elevated conveyor belt, steadily transporting eggs from the two chicken sheds in the rear to the egg washing and sorting facility at the front.

This is Taiwan’s first farm with modern, fully enclosed chicken sheds and washing/sorting equipment, and is the place where the dream of Taiwan’s first farm-operated brand of eggs, Sunny Eggs, was hatched. Farm operator Stone Chiu’s residence is on the farm property. Living near the chicken sheds day and night, he demonstrates that farming is also a lifestyle.

“I won’t raise chickens!”

Stone Chiu, 48, tall and refined in appearance and frank and unhurried in speech, is often invited to give talks on marketing and management at schools and businesses. He is also chairman of the Taiwan Excellent Egg Development Association and a board member of the Taiwan Premium Agricultural Products Development Institute. And in addition to being a leader in the agribusiness community, he frequently offers advice to government agricultural agencies.

Though he now devotes such incomparable passion to eggs, when younger he once vowed, “I won’t raise chickens!”

Long ago, Chiu’s father raised broilers in Yongjing Township, Changhua County. Then in 1969 he moved his farm to its current location in Beidou Township and switched to the egg business. At the highest point, he had 60,000 hens in over 20 sheds.

But Chiu, who grew up shoveling chicken manure and gathering eggs, didn’t care much for coops choked with the odor of bird feces or the sight of feathers flying everywhere; moreover, he was aware of the meager incomes earned by toiling farm laborers. Unwilling to relegate his future to raising chickens, he flew the coop and headed north to study tourism at the Tamsui Institute of Business Administration. After graduation he served as a tour guide, traipsing around the world, and later worked as an art broker, all the while hoping to go far and fly high.

When he turned 30, Chiu learned of his father’s disappointment at his reluctance to follow in his footsteps and his determination to steer clear of the chicken farming business. Gently coaxed by his mother and sister, he returned home, a decision that shocked his friends. “My colleagues at the time said I was going from heaven to hell, and bet me that I would be running back to Taipei within three months,” he says.

From inheritance to reform

But Chiu, confident in his ability to excel in whatever he does, plunged in. For the first six years after coming home, followed traditional chicken raising methods to hone his his skills. During that time he was also chosen to take over as head of Changhua’s laying-hen production and sales cooperative. His frequent meetings with industry, government and academia showed him in greater depth the condition of the industry, and he began to give thought to solving critical problems facing the industry.

Chiu discovered that traditional chicken sheds, which are open to the outside, are susceptible to the introduction of viruses; no wonder traditional chicken farmers rely on drugs for disease prevention. Also, egg production and marketing have long been run on a system of “firm commitment offerings,” in which egg wholesalers set the conditions. The farmers don’t bear the risks and costs involved in managing distribution channels, but they lose leverage in price negotiations. Plus since all the eggs end up being sold together anyway, egg farmers are not motivated to improve quality.

After gaining his father’s approval, Chiu decided to undertake reforms. His primary task was to construct modern enclosed chicken sheds in order to improve the comfort and ease of management of the hen-raising environment and create higher-quality eggs.

Reform requires courage. Chiu recalls that in 2000, right when egg prices were at a low, they brought in German-made sealed-environment, temperature-controlled egg laying sheds. The total cost of the equipment, demolitions, ground preparation, construction and the purchase of 80,000 chickens was over NT$50 million, with the capital coming from low-interest Council of Agriculture loans and funds borrowed from relatives. Moreover, it was a six-month period with no revenues.

“While under such great pressure, tears came to our eyes as my dad and I watched the excavator tearing down the old chicken sheds. We realized there was really no turning back,” says Chiu.

White, shiny eggs

Sunny Eggs then erected two sealed temperature-controlled laying sheds. Their main advantage is that the water curtain environmental control and negative pressure ventilator system is effective at screening out pathogens and disease-carrying mosquitoes, plus the air inside the sheds is kept fresh and clean so the chickens won’t become sick and so don’t require any preventive or curative drugs.

In addition, the chicken sheds are spacious, each shed having eight stories and able to hold 80,000 chickens. The average space for the hens ranges from 458 to 580 square centimeters, far more than the 250 square centimeters of traditional battery hens. The larger enclosures reduce the hens’ feeling of confinement, producing healthier eggs.

Sunny Eggs also pioneered the use of computer-automated washing and selection. Eggs are washed free of contaminants and then sorted. “Since eggs and feces both pass through the same opening in the hen’s rear end—the ‘cloaca’—the surface of the eggshell is vulnerable to bacteria. Washing and sorting minimizes the risk of salmonella and other contaminants,” says Chiu.

Sunny Eggs’ newest egg washing and sorting machine, made in Denmark, can process 36,000 eggs an hour. The washing and sorting process is an in-house operation that includes visual inspection, cleaning and disinfection, drying, ultraviolet disinfection, candling inspection to eliminate bloody and broken eggs, acoustic crack detection, grading, packaging, refrigerated transport and storage.

Crafting fine eggs

Other goals Chiu seeks besides safety are nutrition and flavor.

When held in the hand, a Sunny Eggs egg has heft. The shells are relatively thick, and when cracked open, the yolk membrane is elastic, the yolks full and plump, even rolling around in the hand. The inner thick and outer thin albumen layers are distinct and don’t blend together or disperse. Eggs like this are denser, more nutritious and more flavorful.

But though eggs are known as natural storehouses of concentrated nutrition, it’s also true that they’re high in cholesterol. To address this, Chiu developed a feed additive that “increases eggs’ nutritional value while reducing their cholesterol.” This helped win him the Shennong Award in 2004.

Chiu is happy to share his feed additive formula with his competitors. He adds beta-carotene, green algae, and garlic powder to boost nutrition, as well as living microbes like Lactobacillus to promote digestive tract absorption and reduce fecal odor. Extracts from Chinese medicines such as stout camphor fungus (Taiwanofungus camphoratus), after dilution, are added to drinking water to improve the hens’ respiratory function and boost immunity. And recently he has also added bromelain (a pineapple enzyme) to the feed, which acts as a natural anti-inflammatory.

“Automation is all well and good, but when it comes to the chickens themselves you’ve got to really care, right from the heart.” Chiu is thankful to his father for making sure he stays in touch with the complete production process, so that now he knows how to judge for himself the condition of the chickens.

When he enters the chicken shed, the first thing he does is close his eyes and quietly listen: “Are the chickens active? Or too inactive?” By observing the chicken manure he can see if there is anything amiss with the hens, and he can make appropriate seasonal adjustments to the feed additives.

Building a brand

Like carving a fine work of art, developing good eggs incurs considerable expense. In 2001, Chiu registered the trademark Sunny Eggs and set the sales price at NT$9 (now NT$11) per egg. Though his care is reflected in the cost, the product still had to survive the test of the market.

Taiwan’s eggs have long been priced around NT$3 each, with little variation, since barriers to entry to the industry are low, there’s high supply, and prices are controlled mainly by egg wholesalers. In order to find a niche, Chiu’s marketing strategy was to set his own sales prices and establish a distribution system, first selling them through Taipei’s high-class department stores and organic food shops, and later to general markets. To mold an image of quality eggs, the cartons bear the farm name and address, a QR code, a product description, and an after-sales service phone number.

On top of this, Sunny Eggs is one of Taiwan’s first egg farms to receive Taiwan’s Certified Agricultural Standards and Traceable Agricultural Product certifications, and has also passed ISO 22000 and HACCP international safety standards. In 2008 the company secured the OVN nutrition certification long prevalent in EU countries but rare in Asian countries, further reinforcing its brand image.

In retrospect, Sunny Eggs’ marketing strategy has been quite a success. Their sales volume has steadily grown by the year, and their eggs are the chosen ingredients of many restaurants and food processing companies that flaunt their rigorous standards. For example, the pineapple cake brand SunnyHills, the venerable egg roll company Fu Yishan, donut seller Mister Donut, and gourmet bread shop Paul all use Sunny Eggs.

Chiu believes that besides having a clear target market, brand building requires a diversity of products and sales channels. As they say, “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.” But he is dubious about cooperation with convenience store chains, whose parent companies are usually big food companies, despite their superior selling power. Such cooperation comes at a price: egg farmers are required to use feed supplied by the parent companies, they don’t have a say in pricing, and the cooperation must be exclusive. What begins as a partnership may end up like a dependent relationship.

Creating a “blue ocean”

Throughout this time, the trend of brand-name eggs has been growing. Chiu doesn’t worry about competition; instead, he holds that improved product quality and organized marketing will help the industry as a whole make reasonable profits while providing consumers with superior egg products.

Under the leadership of the Excellent Egg Development Association, where Chiu is in his fourth term as chairman, currently Taiwan has 19 fresh egg product farms, eight liquid egg factories (processing plants that package egg yolks and whites separately) and three “thousand-year-old egg” factories which have received the CAS mark. Although the total output of CAS certified eggs only accounts for 6–8% of the fresh egg market, this segment is the new cutting edge in the industry, bringing brighter prospects to Taiwanese egg farmers.

In the course of his life from “I won’t raise chickens!” to his mission to upgrade the industry, Stone Chiu is grateful for his father’s quiet yet steadfast support. “My father exemplifies the true spirit of industriousness. He had the forbearance to let me go away and live an itinerant lifestyle, and because of that I had the courage to break out of the mold, so we could create a new dawn for the industry together,” says Chiu.

The story of Sunny Eggs is the story of a father and son sharing the same ideals. This once again proves that by injecting new thinking into management and development it is possible for traditional industries to achieve success.

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