Riverford Organic Farm moves to full employee ownership

Founder founder Guy Singh-Watson has agreed to sell his remaining 23% stake for nearly £10m

Guy Singh-Watson, founder of organic vegetable box company Riverford Organic, is selling his remaining stake in the business, leaving it 100% owned by its 900 staff.

Singh-Watson, who sold 74% of the business to his workers in 2018, has accepted £9.8m for the remaining stake, to be paid over the next five years. The business will now be fully controlled by a trust on behalf of its workers, who will receive an annual profit share and take part in running the business.

The deal brings the total paid to Singh-Watson for the firm to £14m since 2018. He says he will continue to be involved as a trustee, non-executive director and spokesperson.

The business, based near Totnes, Devon, was launched in 1987, with Singh-Watson delivering organic vegetables to friends; it is now forecasting sales of about £98m this year.

Writing for Wicked Leeks website, he said he sold the business at a quarter of its value to avoid burdening it with debt, and recognising the contribution of his workers in helping to build it.

“On a good day,” he added, “I am still a useful – if occasionally cantankerous – part of the Riverford team, and plan to continue in this way for the foreseeable future: growing veg for your boxes, writing this newsletter, and using my experience to keep us moving in the right direction. But the business now rightfully belongs to all of its nearly 1,000 co-owners, so it’s time to sell my remaining shares.”

His initial decision to sell to his staff took root in the early 2000s, inspired by John Lewis, he said, “but it took a decade before Riverford was in the right cultural, operational, and financial state to make employee ownership work. Patience paid off; via years of research and careful implementation, we nailed it”.

“I still harbour dreams that other businesses may follow our path in a quiet revolution,” he added.

Singh-Watson has said that he will pay full tax on the sale, and will use some of the sum raised to install more solar power and agroforestry on his own farms in Devon and France, and to support the Ripple Effect charity, which helps farmers overseas, and community projects in Devon.