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Ethical business

Guy’s news: Trust, partnership & choice

We are enjoying a bumper crop of excellent quality runner and French beans, sweetcorn and some of the best carrots I’ve tasted in 30 years; 2016 is turning out to be a good summer for most crops. About 90% of your box contents are meticulously planned a year or more ahead but yields and maturity dates vary, creating gluts and shortages. Inevitably we deviate from our ‘ideal’ contents to accommodate these variations up to a point (which we argue about a lot); it’s a compromise between keeping you happy in the kitchen and at the table on one hand, and avoiding waste and supporting committed growers on the other.

One of the things that I am most proud of about Riverford is that while we are not perfect, we are good to our word; if we agree to buy a crop from a grower and it meets our quality criteria (where the emphasis is on flavour, not appearance), we take 100% of the agreed tonnage and pay 100% of the agreed price. This is a remarkable achievement in our industry where a third of farmers’ crops are regularly left in the field, and growers are expected to sell their souls along with their crops to keep petulant buyers happy and shelves full.

How do we manage it? In part because as farmers ourselves, we understand the realities of growing; partly because we invest heavily in long term relationships with growers and don’t have a buyer’s tantrum at the first sign of trouble and in part because of meticulous planning. But a lot is down to how your trust allows us to tweak the veg box contents to keep both growers and cooks happy, avoid waste and so create the value that means our veg is usually 20% cheaper than supermarket organic veg. It’s a partnership, and mostly it works incredibly well.

Choice, flexibility and convenience (arguably not our strong points) come at a price which the consumer seldom sees; it is paid by the fulfilment centre worker and Hermes delivery driver earning less than the living wage, by the farmer whose crop is left unsold, by the environment as vans chase delivery slots, crop surpluses rot in fields and airplanes fly clothes to achieve quick turnarounds and keep up with fashions. All of that sacrifice to give us endless choice. Frustrating when much of the time, I for one, don’t really know what I want anyway.

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    Guy Singh-Watson

    Self-confessed veg nerd, Guy Singh-Watson has over the last 30 years taken Riverford from one man and a wheelbarrow delivering homegrown organic veg to friends, to a national veg box scheme delivering to around 50,000 customers a week. Guy is an inspirational, passionate, opinionated and admired figure in the world of organic farming, who still spends more time in the fields than in the boardroom. Twice awarded BBC Radio 4 Farmer of the Year, Guy is passionate about sharing with others the organic farming and business knowledge he has accumulated over the last three decades. His video rants have provided a powerful platform to do this, with a video on pesticides going viral on Facebook to reach 5.6 million views and 91,000 shares. His weekly veg box newsletters connect customers to the farm with refreshingly honest accounts of the trials and tribulations of producing organic food, and the occasional rant about farming, ethical and business issues he feels strongly about.  

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