Scottish food wholesaler transfers to employee ownership

Inverness-based Swansons worked with Co-operative Development Scotland on the move

Inverness-based Swansons Food Wholesalers has joined the growing number of employee-owned enterprises in Scotland, with over 40 staff taking a stake in the business.

Swansons has grown from a greengrocer’s shop in 1991 to an extensive wholesale business, working from depots in Inverness, Nairn and Elgin. It supplies fresh, locally grown produce to hotels, restaurants, shops, care homes, schools, nurseries and colleges.

An offer for the business from a larger wholesaler prompted owner Magnus Swanson to begin considering his eventual exit from the firm.

“One of the most obvious options was a trade sale,” he said. “However, I was concerned that selling to a remote buyer might see one of the branches closed, staff laid off or clients resigned.

“We have a loyal and long-serving team at Swansons, and I wanted to ensure their jobs were secure. I thought that employee ownership could be a good fit with our goals and values and would allow me to gradually step back from the business over a number of years.”

Magnus Swanson, founder and managing director of the business

Magnus worked with Co-operative Development Scotland to form an Employee Ownership Trust which holds 100% of the shares on behalf of the employees. “The support has been great and the process has been really quick and straightforward, with the entire deal unfolding throughout the pandemic,” said Mr Swanson.

“Now more than ever we need the staff to pull together, and looking ahead, I hope that employee ownership helps them feel valued, encourages them to become more involved with the business, and demonstrates to existing and potential clients that Swansons has an engaged and invested workforce that is rooted in the local area.”

Clare Alexander, head of Co-operative Development Scotland, said: “Swansons Food Wholesalers is a great example of a business with community at its heart; championing locally grown produce, supporting and servicing other businesses in the area, and providing opportunities for local people.

“Not only does employee ownership impact positively on the individual businesses and staff, it is good for the wider economy, helping to secure jobs and keep businesses rooted in Scotland.”