Ethics & ethos

Founder’s wishes

We. Do it. Our way.

Guy crafted this statement over the course of a year, with lots of input from Riverford staff. It has guided the drafting of legal documents in our transfer to employee ownership, and will be used in years to come to question if our actions are consistent with our professed values – ensuring that those values are protected for the long term.

Why we exist

Our purpose is to be useful. More specifically...

  • To grow and supply the best organic food
  • As part of an independent, challenging and commercially successful business
  • Which balances the needs of customers, suppliers, the environment, and wider society
  • And provides fair and rewarding employment to our staff.

We have three guiding values, summed up in five words:



We are in it together. Most people are kinder, less greedy, more creative, more thoughtful and can contribute more and be more productive than our institutions allow them to demonstrate. We should all feel able to bring our whole selves to work and not leave our humanity at home. Riverford will help us build the confidence to be the best possible version of ourselves, demonstrating that business can be both human and fulfilling.

  1. Enrich jobs and grow people. Management is mostly about people; the right numbers will only be sustainably achieved by happy and fulfilled people. We are excited by, and will search relentlessly for, ways for us all to grow, find fulfilment, pride and dignity at work and be the best possible version of ourselves. In particular we will…

    • Share knowledge to create better decisions: we will train and coach managers to listen and build their confidence, so that they are happy to share information and take pride in the suggestions, decisions and achievements of their teams.
    • Make decisions as locally and as quickly as possible: our staff will have the maximum autonomy that can be achieved with acceptable risk.
    • Build capacity and confidence by investing in skills and training.
    • Use mistakes to improve, and demonstrate forgiveness without loss of accountability.
    • Minimise and question rules: we will trust in mutual respect and common sense to reduce risk. We do not expect to banish it.
    • Celebrate achievements: we all work best when we feel good about ourselves, so we will take time to give credit when it is due, to celebrate our achievements and to make each other feel appreciated and happy.
    • Bring our whole selves to work. We celebrate diversity; it makes us stronger, work more fun, and helps us to grow individually and as an organisation. We cherish the whole self, and will support and employ as much of it as possible. Emotions matter – if something doesn’t feel right, we probably shouldn’t be doing it, or at least planning how to do less of it in the future. If we restrict our interpretation of our world to the measurable, we will make poor decisions and live poor lives. Large organisations need numbers and systems to survive, but should not be ruled by them. We will measure what we sensibly can and use numbers to challenge and inform decision making, while respecting the significance of less quantifiable human factors.
  2. Build a long-term business on long-term relationships. Competition drives innovation and contributes to flexibility, but often comes at a high human and environmental cost, especially when combined with hunger for short-term profit. We will avoid a culture of short-term contracts driven solely by price, in favour of stable, long-term, trusting partnerships designed to achieve efficiency, create enjoyable relationships and avoid unnecessary anxiety. But we must be wary of complacency, and recognise the effectiveness of competition in driving improvement and providing flexibility; we expect our suppliers, staff and trading partners to search continually for improvements and to work with us to reduce costs and improve our offer. Our exacting but long-term, human approach applies to staff, suppliers and franchisees as well as customers and the environment we collectively depend on.

  3. Equality matters. Inequality breeds envy, avarice, unsustainable consumption and conflict; it obstructs progress towards a better world. We will use our influence to push for equality whenever we can without compromising commercial success. Our pay policy will reflect the lowest differential from top to bottom compatible with recruiting and retaining the right people into a business with such diverse jobs. In everything else we will treat people equally.

  4. Loving our planet. We are in it together for the long term, along with the birds, the bees, the earthworms and future generations. Farming is a compromise and the planet would be healthier without us, but we will care for our environment – in part so it cares for us, but mostly because we love it. We will grow, pack and distribute food with sensitivity and will minimise the damage we cause. We aim to learn from the natural world and be part of it, rather than to impose our will upon it.


The importance of doing tangible things and doing them well, right down to the fine detail.

  1. We really like good food, especially vegetables and care about how they are grown and cooked; we want to share our knowledge and enthusiasm, and help people to eat better, enjoy food more and do less damage on the way.

  2. Competence gives credibility to our values. Our values are worth nothing without the competence, determination and hard work to turn them into a sustainable business. Much rests on our success; by demonstrating that a human and ethically driven business can be commercially viable, we will avoid being written off as hopelessly idealistic, demonstrate the possibility of a different future, and create an alternative path for other businesses to follow. Values are never an excuse; our offer must be credible without reference to them.

    It is our responsibility to those we work with and those who will follow to do what we do well, right down to the fine detail and not to try to do too much. We promote competence at every level of the business and among our suppliers and partners. This is not easy; we accept that the commercial barriers created by upholding our values will sometimes require us to be even better at what we do to compete in the short term.

  3. Farming is in our blood. Farming keeps us rooted in our product, in reality, connected with nature and honest. Other specialisms in the business will grow, but we will keep farming and encourage staff to understand farming as a way of keeping our feet firmly on the ground, our sense of our place in nature, and an appreciation of the work needed to grow food well.


We are independent of thought, ownership and deed. We will learn what we can from others, understand why they do things their way and where we fit in our industry, but we will make our own decisions, based on our own knowledge, analysis and values and, where necessary, have the confidence follow a different path – to do things our way

  1. The customer is not always right. To be guided solely by customer opinion on issues where their knowledge is less than ours is to shirk responsibility and the opportunity to lead and inform. Taking a position which is counter-intuitive or contrary to popular perceptions requires effort and expense, so we must choose our battles carefully – but where the arguments are strong, where we have authority and where the issue is important, we will take a stand.

    This is not to be confused with arrogance or complacency. Not always ceding to customer opinion makes it even more important to listen to them, to understand how we fit into their lives, when and how we can influence them and when we should acquiesce. We should not underestimate the costs and dangers of swimming against the current; we must be willing to invest in knowledge, and take care to show humility.

  2. We are persistent pragmatists, not fundamentalists and not a cult. Only saints and fundamentalists live by their morals in every action. The world is not black and white, agreement is not a condition of participation and we are not a cult. There will be tensions and contradictions between our different values, and we will have to make compromises and detours. What is important is that we keep our purpose in sight; where we make compromises, we will do so knowingly and openly, and revisit the decisions so that we never lose sight of the end goal. We like being questioned and challenged; it keeps us honest, and so long as we are able to explain and justify our decisions, our independence of thought will be respected in the long term.

  3. Inside out: We should look and feel the same on the inside as the outside. We will acknowledge and learn from mistakes, rather than denying or making light of them. Our inclination is to communicate openly and share information. Confidentiality will sometimes be necessary, but we will minimise the need for it and be wary of information being used as power. We welcome being questioned at all levels as a way of keeping us honest and avoiding complacency and groupthink. We will adopt governance structures and practices that encourage the sharing of power and give means of redress to those we impact; particularly staff and suppliers, but also community and customers.

  4. Market forces are not always right. Capitalism is not a law of nature; it is frequently brutal, often wasteful and sometimes plain stupid. Lots of bad things happens when doctrines and dogmas are followed blindly, and the market economy is no exception. The often brutal consequences are too readily accepted and normalised as an inevitable cost of living in the “real world” because “there is no alternative”.

    Where we see stupidity, exploitation, waste or immorality, we will find the courage to challenge, and encourage others to join us in demonstrating that there are better ways to motivate and organise people. Maintaining our moral compass and challenging each other will help us to avoid mistakes and make better decisions. In particular we will…

    • Actively question the assumption that greed is the most effective way of motivating people.
    • Look for ways that Riverford can support small businesses and develop good ideas, where we see these accompanied by a commitment to competence and similar values to our own.
  5. Organic is the best show in town. It isn’t perfect, and it isn’t a complete or exclusive solution, but it is the best show in town: for the environment, for our farm, for animals and for us. We are not Luddites. Our interpretation of organic is progressive and will embrace science (particularly ecology) and technology to reduce costs and make organic widely affordable, while respecting the original principles and spirit of organic.

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