As eggs are declared a great food to keep you fighting fit, North Yorkshire farmers the Potter family say nice homes and woodland to roam in keep their hens happy. And music by Egg Sheeran, of course

When you think of the Mediterranean diet, you probably don’t think ‘eggs’ but that’s about to change thanks to the Pioppi Plan sweeping the nation. Pioppi in Italy has been dubbed the ‘world’s healthiest village’ where residents can live to 100, with little diabetes or heart disease.

Leading cardiologist, Dr Aseem Malhotra puts this down to their diet. One of his top 10 diet tips to achieve Pioppi’s good health is this: ‘Eat 10 eggs a week’.

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Two brothers who definitely hit this quota are Adrian, 40, and James Potter, 42. Not only is their free-range egg business fighting fit, but they are too. “We’re exercise mad,” says James.

The pair are often out running and biking around their 400-acre farm in Catton, amongst their 300,000 free-range hens. They have turned James Potter Eggs, the family business near Thirsk, into a major player which now supplies Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda, Morrisons and the Co-Op. Sister Rebecca supplies their eggs via The Locally Sourced Food Company.

They’ve just finished filming a new ITV ad, which is due to hit our screens this August, to tell their remarkable story, which all began with their mum, 67-year-old Sue. In the late 1970s, Sue became the first farmer in Yorkshire to enter the commercial free-range egg market.

“I was just a mother of three baby boys at the time,” she says. “I used to go shopping with my friends and they could afford everything and I couldn’t. I decided I was going to have to start something as a sideline.”

Sue had always been passionate about animal welfare and hated the idea of feeding her children eggs from caged birds. “I wouldn’t eat them unless I knew where they came from,” she says.

She started off with just 80 hens. In those days, free-range eggs were a novelty. She was laughed at by the local farmers, and even the Ministry of Agriculture thought it ‘ridiculous’.

“When we got it going and had about 1,000 hens, I remember doing the calculations and saying ‘if we had this many more birds, we’d make this’,” says Sue. “It was all my head, but really I never dreamt the business would grow so large.”

More people are eating eggs than ever before – some 34.5 million eggs are eaten every day in the UK. James says there’s been a five per cent rise in consumption, with a shift in attitude as UK heart organisations lifted the previous limits on the cholesterol found in eggs, after finding no conclusive link to health risks.

The Lion brand, which sets the standards for eggs, advises consumers to forget seaweed, coconut oil or almond milk, saying eggs are the new superfood, “nature’s multivitamin”. They contain 18 essential nutrients including high-quality protein, as well as being rich in vitamin D, B2, B12, iodine, selenium and other essential dietary vitamins and minerals. In fact, they have more minerals and vitamins than avocado, which costs around three times as much per portion.

The family say that James Potter Eggs’ success is not just down to the fact that eggs are now a health trend, but also because consumers are more clued-up about animal welfare. Their hens’ lifestyle verges on five-star.

“In terms of systems, it’s as good as any in the world, if not the best,” says James. “Temperature is controlled, the houses are ventilated – all sustainably – using biomass and solar panels. During the day, the hens take dust baths in the rolling farmland.

“The big thing is natural behaviour – and a nice warm environment with food and water. We don’t chase them in, as they naturally come back to their homes. They have natural instincts, so if you provide a system that fits with those instincts, they’re very easy to look after.”

The Potters go to extraordinary lengths to keep their hens well and happy. Long before woodland eggs were marketed, they planted thousands of trees to create a natural habitat. “After all, chickens originated in the jungle, in Asia, 100,000 years ago,” says Adrian.

The brothers even hit the headlines for playing music to their hens: Ed Sheeran apparently has a more positive impact on egg production than classical or jazz. So popular is the singer-songwriter with the birds – and with his aptly named songs Little Bird and Lay It All on Me – that he is known as ‘Egg Sheeran’ down on the farm.

Their innovations in welfare and focus on sustainability have, they believe, had a positive impact across commercial food production. “It’s been a fast change,” says James. “They kept pigs the same way for 70 years. It’s only now they are being bred in better houses, with better ventilation. Improved welfare means better quality meat. Everything’s better. We feel we’ve pushed that along and had that knock-on effect.”

Alongside investing in welfare and the environment, the pair support their local community and charities, donating 1p for every dozen eggs sold to a rather bigger bird - the Yorkshire Air Ambulance. They’ve raised £50k to date, with £100k across the business donated to charity.

Meanwhile, the health stories keep rolling in, the latest being that an egg a day can help young children grow taller. Eggs have clearly taken off, in more ways than one.

W: jamespottereggs.co.uk