Organic veg box company Riverford has become 100 per cent employee owned after buying the remaining shares from founder Guy Singh-Watson five years after beginning the transition.
Singh-Watson, who set up the company in 1987, sold 74 per cent of shares to staff in 2018 to protect the future of the company and prevent any future sale to venture capitalists.
When he sells his remaining shares this year, 100 per cent of the business will be held by the Riverford Trust for the benefit of employees, who receive an equal share of the year’s profits every June. The company will then become one of the UK’s largest fully employee owned businesses, behind bigger enterprises like retail chain John Lewis. Other well-known brands to embrace the model include music business Richer Sounds and Bristol animation company Aardman Animations.
Singh-Watson will remain a co-owner of the business, sitting on its board of trustees as a non exec director and continuing to write his popular weekly newsletter (published weekly on Wicked Leeks) on issues ranging from organic farming to food politics.
He said: “When the business became employee-owned in 2018, I wanted to ensure that the move was a successful one, and that the values of the business were safeguarded by its new owners and governance arrangements. Since then, it’s been a privilege to witness the business grow in ways we couldn’t have predicted.
“As for me, I don’t plan to be a stranger. In my role as trustee and non-executive director, I’m looking forward to working with the co-owners to further Riverford’s impact as a trailblazer in the UK when it comes to sustainability, climate action, good food, and fair treatment of our farmers.”
As an employee-owned business, Riverford has three governance bodies: the trustees, the board of directors and the co-owner council, which meets once a month with two elected representatives from each area of the business.
Chief executive of the Employee Ownership Association (EOA), James de le Vingne, said: “Riverford is a powerful example of the potential that can be unlocked through employee ownership, and thoroughly deserved its good governance award at the EOA Annual Conference last year.”
Sales at Riverford rose during the pandemic when home delivery became vital during lockdown. In 2022, the business announced a £1.8m ‘Planet Fund’ as the start of a continual annual investment in tackling the climate and biodiversity crises. Recent investments have included the largest on-roof solar panel array in the South West, electrifying its van fleet, a major agroforestry trial and a native tree planting programme.