Riverford will be 100% owned by staff after its founder Guy Singh-Watson agreed to sell his remaining 23% stake for almost £10 million.
The 63-year-old farmer said that he would continue to be involved in the organic vegetable box firm as a trustee, non-executive director and spokesperson for the business.
Singh-Watson will take a £9.8m payment over five years and will hand full control to its 900 staff who each receive an annual profit share.
It comes after the company experienced hardship over the last few years. Although it enjoyed a boom in orders during the pandemic, many customers have since returned to shopping in supermarkets. As a result, sales fell 12% to £97m last year.
Last month, it was reported that Brits are throwing away almost 80 million perfectly edible food items, including fresh fruit and veg, each week.
However, despite that, Riverford now delivers 65,000 boxes a week currently.
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Singh-Watson said the shift to employee ownership had been influenced by the John Lewis Partnership, the owner of Waitrose – which his farm once supplied.
He told The Guardian: “When the business became employee-owned in 2018, I wanted to ensure that the move was a successful one, and that the values of the business were safeguarded by its new owners and governance arrangements.
“Since then, it’s been a privilege to witness the business grow in ways we couldn’t have predicted, all while remaining committed to its founding purpose: to balance the needs of customers, suppliers, the environment, and wider society, and provide fair and rewarding employment to our staff.”
Riverford managing director Rob Haward said “Not being beholden to a small group of shareholders who want a quick return enables us to think long term makes for a leaner and more motivated business and the structure helps decision-making”.
“Protection of the planet and fair treatment of farmers is coming back into the consciousness of consumers”.