Green shoots is our series on businesses and projects that point the way towards a fairer and greener future. (Previous features here) This month we look at the pioneering veg box company Riverford Organic, which we think demonstrates exactly the kind of respect for people and planet that we want to encourage.
Riverford Farm has been in the Watson family since the 1950s, and in the 1980s Guy Watson converted to organic farming practices. They began selling weekly boxes of fresh vegetables to local people a few years later, and the business has steadily grown.
From that initial customer base of around 30 local families, Riverford now delivers 47,000 boxes a week, sourcing from a network of organic farmers and producers across Britain and beyond.
Environmental stewardship remains at the heart of the business. Organic farming ensures that the soil is cared for, and that food is not produced at the expense of biodiversity. Animal welfare standards are high for meat, dairy and egg production. The company has also reduced packaging. Customers return boxes for re-use, and vegetables aren’t wrapped unnecessarily, and there is a target for 100% compostable packaging by 2020.
People matter too of course, and Riverford ensure fair prices for farmers, and declare their gender pay gap. The founder’s vision for the company insists that “market forces are not always right”, and “where we see stupidity, exploitation, waste or immorality, we will find the courage to challenge, and encourage others to join us in demonstrating that there are better ways to motivate and organise people.”
With those sorts of principles in mind, in 2018 Riverford became an employee owned business. Guy Singh-Watson handed his employees 75% of the family firm, deliberately choosing to place it in their hands rather than sell to external investors as their competitor Abel and Cole had done. The profits will circulate to staff and to those who put in the hours, rather than owners of capital.
As Singh-Watson says, “business can be a force for good.”