Tag Archives: fair to farmers

January sale: 0% off!

Riverford’s quiet revolution

You won’t be seeing a sale at Riverford this January – or at any other time. It might seem like we’re being mean, but the opposite is true: saying ‘no’ to discount marketing is fairest for everyone, including you!

Offers are everywhere. Banks offer you £150 to open an account, broadband companies have rock-bottom introductory tariffs, veg box suppliers give your fourth box free, supermarkets offer £20 off your first delivery… but where does all that money come from? Answer: someone else is made to pay for it, through inflated prices for existing customers, squeezing suppliers, or paying staff less.

It’s the model which almost all subscription businesses work to. If you can be bothered to be a ‘savvy shopper’ and spend your life forever switching suppliers you can do pretty well out of it, but as the service providers know full well, most of us are just too busy; or maybe we find a world where trust equates to ‘sucker’ so dispiriting that we would rather just ignore it and get duped.

For a while, we were part of the problem. We dipped our toes into the world of discount marketing, being persuaded that it was the only way to compete. But in 2014, Riverford founder Guy Singh-Watson could bear it no longer, and proposed that we abandon this path of abusing the trust of our most loyal customers. It turned out that most of the staff agreed, so we stopped offering discounts, stopped paying dubious companies to knock on doors, stopped using voucher sites, and significantly cut back on leafleting and advertising. Instead we concentrate on growing good veg, looking after our existing customers, and have taken all sales back in-house through our own staff who know our veg and our values.

The response from the majority of our customers has been very positive. It turns out that most people, most of the time, are happy to pay a fair price; what it costs to make something in a competent and efficient manner with due respect for people and the environment, plus a modest profit. This is the basis upon which Riverford was founded 30 years ago. The results wouldn’t satisfy a venture capitalist investor, but we are happy to declare that we don’t offer anything to a new customer that we don’t offer to existing ones. That may sound tame, but in an industry racing to the bottom, it’s a quiet revolution.

Watch our video to find out why our approach is fairer to farmers as well as customers:

Guy’s news: Stunted growth, spotty sprouts & Sevilles

It’s wild, wet and windy out there. The sun, when we see it, barely reaches the north-facing fields even at midday. If I were a bear, I would find a warm cave and take a nap. Nothing grows in the first two weeks of January, but the stunt doesn’t last long. By the end of the month, kales, leeks and cabbages will begin to grow again as the days start to draw out and the noon sun starts to climb. On our French farm, just 200 miles south, we’ll be planting lettuces before the end of the month. I can’t explain it, but even growers in areas like southern California, where their winter is similar to our summer, avoid sowing in early January. A druid might put it down the need for solar rebirth; a bear might take it as a chance for a nap.

I once got berated as a heartless bully by a number of you for being unforgiving about the repeated failures, and consequent lack of quality, of one of our cauliflower growers (Mr M for those who remember). I ate humble pie, apologised, and we went on buying his caulis, but it made no difference in the end; he continued to hope for the best rather than weed his crop, and went bust soon after. It might have been kinder to be harder sooner; it is a hard judgement to know when to stop working with a grower. Riverford is extraordinary within our industry for the long-term relationships we have with suppliers. It’s something I feel very proud of and hope survives me, but sometimes the farm or the farmer is wrong for the crop and no amount of ethics or support will change the inevitable outcome; it just prolongs the agony and undermines other growers. If you were one of the 20% of customers who had to trim small, spotty Brussels sprouts this year, I am sorry; it was the third year of poor sprouts from this grower, but we won’t give up on him quite yet.

On a lighter note, to mark two more successful long-term relationships, the first blood oranges from Sicily and Sevilles from Ave Maria Farm in Mairena del Alcor have arrived and are as excellent as in previous years. Now is the time to make marmalade. You can even cook alongside me on our YouTube channel if you need a little guidance.

Guy Singh-Watson