Triodos helps Riverford founder secure organic firm’s future by giving away shares to staff

June 13, 2018

Bristol-headquartered ethical bank Triodos has provided £5m to support organic veg box firm Riverford’s founder transfer nearly three-quarters of its shares to its employees.

Guy Singh-Watson, who launched the business in 1987 from his family’s farm in Devon, completed the move after more than 10 years of research and reflection over its future.

The multi-millionaire had a strong desire to protect its independence and values. Triodos, which has a long relationship with Mr Singh-Watson, has provided a £3m loan and £2m of working capital facilities to help fund the change.

Triodos Bank previously supported the South Devon Organic Producer group, which was also set up by Mr Singh-Watson. More recently it helped him and his wife Geetie buy their farm in Devon, where they have converted 140 acres to Soil Association-certified farmland, with a loan

Riverford, which started with one man and a wheelbarrow, now employs more than 650 people delivering veg boxes to 50,000 homes a week across the UK. As well as Devon, it owns farms in Cambridgeshire, Hampshire, North Yorkshire and France.

The privately-owned company has now moved to being owned by an Employee Trust, with 74% of its shares going to employees, who have all benefited equally.  

Mr Singh-Watson has retained 26% and will be taking the payment for his share – reckoned to be about a third or less of Riverford’s market value – over a number of years. He will also remain very active in the business.

Triodos Bank Food farming and trade team manager Simon Crichton said: “Guy has been listening and talking about a succession vision for Riverford for many years and now he has spectacularly delivered.

“As a bank we focus on only financing positive environmental and social change and given our support for both the organic sector and forward-thinking, sustainable businesses – including many using a community ownership model – it was great to be involved in this transition.” 

Guy Singh-Watson added: “Triodos has always helped to create the linkages between the people who are interested in supporting organic farming and those who want a fair return on their money, rather than maximising profit at the cost of everything else.

“Despite our impressive growth at Riverford over the past 30 years, we’re not here for profit. I started the business to produce something useful to the world. Being employee owned will protect our model of sustainable large-scale food production and our ethical values.”

Dutch-owned Triodos, which has its UK head office in Bristol, has been an active supporter of the organic sector for more than 35 years, working with organic businesses from field to fork, from farmers and growers to processors and retailers.

It lends to more than 330 organic food and farming businesses and around 1,500 across Europe. Other well-known UK customers include Neal’s Yard Remedies, River Cottage, CaféDirect and Bristol-based independent retailer Better Food Company.

Pictured: Some of Riverford’s share-owning staff with founder Guy Singh-Watson, centre 

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