• Choose fair to farmers

    How can supermarkets afford to give away food in 2-for-1 deals? By making someone else pay for it – often a squeezed farmer.

Mud, sweat and tears. Farmers invest huge amounts of time, money and effort into producing our food; if you’ve ever grown your own veg, you’ll know the highs and lows too well.

But most farmers don’t know what price they will get for their product when they come to sell it. They are often squeezed into accepting low prices that don’t reflect the true cost of production - and they can end up footing a crippling bill to fund the supermarkets’ discount deals.

Organic farmer and Riverford founder Guy Singh-Watson used to grow veg for major supermarkets. In 1987, fed up with “abuse and ritualistic humiliation”, Guy stopped dealing with unscrupulous supermarket buyers. Instead, he started his pioneering veg box scheme, delivering to around 30 local friends from the back of his 2CV. Riverford now deliver around 50,000 boxes a week to households across the UK – but our business is still founded on the concept of a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s growing. 

Supporting family farmers

What we can’t grow ourselves on our organic farms, we source from small-scale family farmers who we support over the long term. Fair prices are set in stone – often over a year in advance – along with the commitment to buy. This way of doing business is virtually unheard of in our industry, and provides farmers with a level of income security and fair, stable payments that are a world away from their dealings with many big retailers.

All that planning and commitment reduces waste, allows our farmers to invest with confidence, and helps us to keep prices down – and stable. In fact, Riverford veg boxes average cheaper than the equivalent supermarket organic veg. Sticking to those commitments makes us a little less flexible and responsive to fashions and trends than we might be; the stuff has to grow first. But this unusual way of doing business has stood the test of time: most of the local farmers who joined our co-operative when we set it up 20 years ago are still working with us – and flourishing.

Buy one get none free

Discounts and offers are everywhere – in our industry as in others: from 2-for-1, to your first box free. But how are all these tempting deals financed? Answer: someone else is made to pay for them – often through squeezing suppliers, or inflating prices for existing customers.

For a while, Riverford was tempted down this path: we thought that we needed to discount to compete for new customers. But we were uncomfortable with the idea of the real cost of producing food not being reflected, as well as with offering new customers a deal not available to loyal ones. So in 2014, we stopped offering discounts, stopped paying dubious companies to knock on doors and stopped using voucher sites. Instead, we concentrate on growing good veg, looking after our existing customers, and have taken all sales back in-house through our own staff who know our veg and our values.

The response from the majority of our customers has been very positive. It turns out that most people, most of the time, are happy to pay a fair price: what it costs to produce something in a competent manner, with due respect for people and the environment, plus a modest profit. The results wouldn’t satisfy a venture capitalist, but we’re happy to declare that you’ll always be charged a fair price for your Riverford veg – and you’ll enjoy occasional thank-you gifts all the way through your time as a customer, not just at the beginning. That might sound tame, but in an industry racing to the bottom, it’s a quiet revolution.


Choose fair to farmers

When you choose a Riverford veg box (winner of The Observer’s Ethical Product of the Decade award), you choose a fair deal for all. The carrotiest carrots and the crunchiest cauliflower, grown by us, or by small family farmers we support for the long term. And better yet, it’s all 100% organic – so it’s fair to the bees and butterflies too.