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Aaron Oosterhoff is bringing quail eggs to the mainstream

When Oosterhoff took over his uncle’s quail farm in Saint Ann’s, Ont., he set out to make quail eggs widely available on grocery store shelves
3/6/2024
Aaron Oosterhoff stands in front of crates of quail eggs
Photography by Christie Vuong

Aaron Oosterhoff’s childhood was all about farming. Growing up in the Niagara Region, his family had a hog, pig and poultry farm. As a teenager, he worked part time at Spring Creek Quail Farms, which was owned by his uncle Clarence. “I grew up collecting quail eggs, feeding quail, cleaning pens and packaging eggs,” Oosterhoff explains. 

While he pursued a career in the trades as an electrician, in 2016, Oosterhoff felt drawn back to life on the farm. By then he had met his wife, Lyndsay, and the two started growing their family (they now have five kids). “The farming life beckoned to us,” he says. So, Oosterhoff approached his uncle, who was considering retiring from his quail farming business, and asked if he’d be interested in becoming business partners. His uncle agreed.

Learning how to run a quail farm wasn’t all smooth sailing. Oosterhoff recalls a cold and muddy February in 2017, just a year into the partnership with his uncle, when they were building more barns but the weather wasn’t co-operating. “The ground was not frozen, so the yard was muddy and everything was getting stuck,” he recalls. “We were knee-deep in mud.” 

But they persisted. And by 2018, his uncle felt confident enough in Oosterhoff ’s abilities to step back from the business, leaving Spring Creek fully in Oosterhoff’s hands. 

When Oosterhoff took over the company, he had just five full-time employees. Spring Creek’s quail eggs were being sold in a handful of specialty, independent retailers in Ontario and parts of the Northeastern United States. But Oosterhoff made it his mission to increase the farm’s capacity so it could stock major grocery stores. “We’d seen a huge uptake in North America, especially with a younger demographic of people trying new flavours and cuisines from other countries,” he explains. “Quail eggs fit very well with that.” The product also suits those who are allergic to chicken eggs.

By the spring of 2019, Oosterhoff landed his first major grocer – appearing in about 130 Metro Ontario stores. “It was very cool,” Oosterhoff says. “But, we were unsure if our customer base would come through and drive sales in those stores.”

To help increase awareness about quail eggs and how to use them, Oosterhoff launched social media and online marketing campaigns, worked alongside nutritionists and shared recipes on Spring Creek’s website for dishes such as tuna poke bowl, baked pumpkin doughnuts and beet hummus toast, all made with quail eggs.

The campaigns worked and by the fall of 2020, Spring Creek had launched in 70 Sobeys and 30 Farm Boy locations in Ontario. The next big break came when its quail eggs landed on the shelves of a dozen-odd Costco locations in Ontario and Quebec in the spring of 2021. “It was a pretty big step for us,” says Oosterhoff. 

That year saw another boost for Spring Creek with the launch of its hard-cooked quail eggs. “Up to that point, every time people wanted hard-cooked quail eggs, they were importing them in cans from overseas,” Oosterhoff explains. “Yet, we have a great supply of fresh quail eggs. It’s also a great opportunity for people to use them in foodservice.” In 2023, Spring Creek expanded further with the launch of three flavours of hard-cooked pickled quail eggs: salt ‘n vinegar, scorching hot, and garlic & jalapeño. Currently, Spring Creek’s fresh and pickled quail eggs can be found in about 3,000 stores in Canada and the United States. The company’s team has also grown to more than 20 fulltime and 20 part-time employees.

Looking ahead to the rest of 2024, Oosterhoff has found himself in what we’ll call a “quail or egg” conundrum: do you increase capacity to meet future demand or wait until the sales come in, which may hinge on having capacity? Oosterhoff has chosen the former strategy. “We’ve just built about 25,000 square feet of capacity that we’re not sure the market can bear,” he says. “We’re taking a bit of a bet on it.” His goal is to expand further into the United States and bring quail eggs onto even more shelves in North America.

Regardless of how Spring Creek’s latest expansion plans go, Oosterhoff says his uncle Clarence is amazed at the company’s success since passing the torch. “He’s extremely proud,” Oosterhoff says. “Working with big retailers like Costco is something he never dreamed of. He’ll come by the farm and say, ‘I can’t even believe this is happening.’” 

And while his children are still young – Oosterhoff’s eldest is just 11 years old – he’s already giving them a taste of the farm life and hoping they might carry on the legacy. “They like to come check out the barns with me,” he says. “I hope that farming is in their blood.” 

This article first appeared in Canadian Grocer’s February 2024 issue.

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