Granja Mantiqueira (Mantiqueira Farm), located primarily in the Mantiqueira Mountains in southeastern Brazil, started as a small family farm in 1987. Over the next three decades, it has become the largest egg producer in South America – and the 12th largest egg producer in the world.
Leandro Pinto, founder and co-owner of Mantiqueira Farms, believes it was his destiny to become a poultry farmer. As a child, Leandro’s family raised chickens in the backyard, and his father sold eggs and made fertilizer from the chicken waste to sell to nearby families and businesses.
But Leandro had an entrepreneurial spirit and looked for other ways to make a living. As a young teen, he worked as a shoe shine boy and messenger, and at the local car wash. At 17, he started a small agricultural machine shop, but closed the business two years later because of his lack of experience and the economic unrest of the mid 80s in Brazil. That’s when he saw an opportunity to operate an egg laying business.
A friend in a nearby town had a heart attack and offered Leandro the option of taking over his egg farm. Leandro didn’t have money to buy a farm, but he sold his car and truck and purchased the friend’s 30,000 chickens and signed a contract to rent his barns. Leandro was in business with a few nearby restaurants and bakeries already established as clients.
Like most budding entrepreneurs, Leandro did everything on the farm, from taking egg orders, feeding and taking care of the laying hens, and loading the eggs onto the delivery trucks. His wife, Rogéria, a physiotherapist, helped in her spare time, but Leandro worked day and night to build his business.
“I didn’t get much rest those first two years,” says Leandro. “In fact, it took three days to fill up one little egg truck.”
In 1989, political instability and an economic crisis in Brazil put many farmers out of business. Food production dropped off, and food shortages resulted. Leandro was one of the few farms to survive and thrive, thanks to his already lean operations. Mantiqueira Farm took over the market share of egg sales and used the increased revenue to expand his operations.
By 1990, Mantiqueira Farms had 100,000 laying hens on the farm still run on a non-automated system. But Leandro was interested in the latest and most modern techniques and facilities for his barns, so in 1996, after visiting equipment manufacturers in Europe, Leandro introduced a new automated production system that would speed up egg production. “From the moment, the chicken lays the egg through to the final packaging, no one on the farm had to touch the egg,” says Leandro.
In the mid 1990´s, when Carlos Cunha, the owner of a supermarket chain in Brazil started buying Mantiquieras’ eggs, Leandro felt he was in a good place with his business. But Cunha sold the supermarkets a few years later, and Leandro had no guarantee that sales would continue to grow for his largest client. Undaunted, Leandro convinced Carlos to invest in his company, and three years later, his farm went from laying 400,000 eggs a day to 2.4 million eggs a day. Leandro and Carlos have been partners ever since.
The next step for the partners was to introduce a cage-free system. “We also look for ways to introduce innovations and follow world trends in the egg industry,” says Leandro. “We saw the importance of switching to a cage-free production system since that is what consumers want.”
While researching cage-free operations, Leandro came across Humane Farm Animal Care and the Certified Humane® program. “We felt Humane Farm Animal Care could guide us in setting up a cage-free system,” he says. “We also see the value of their program in validating our program. By becoming Certified Humane®, we could offer even more guarantees and assurances to the consumers about how our chickens are raised.”
The portion of Mantiqueira Farms that is currently Certified Humane® will produce eggs for the Happy Eggs brand and Taeq, the brand produced for Pão de Açúcar supermarkets in Brazil. “Under this system, the birds are calm and docile with freedom to move around and express their natural behaviors, such as climbing on perches,” says Leandro. “The achievement of the animal welfare certification makes us very happy because it ensures we are on the right path in our cage-free production system.”