Riverford farm was taken over by the Watson family in the 1950s and followed the normal history for UK farms until the mid-1980s, when Guy Watson decided to convert to organic farming. By the late 1980s this had been achieved. Guy aimed to find an effective way of distributing his produce. His idea was the weekly veg box scheme, which is delivered direct to customers' doors with locally grown produce.
Having four farms around the country permits economies of scale that approach those of supermarkets, whilst reducing the delivery time from field to kitchen and ensuring fresh food. Riverford also choose varieties for flavour rather than appearance and deliver earthy vegetables which again improves storage and taste. Another benefit of the lack of choice is that customers work with the rhythm of the seasons in their cooking and discover new vegetables that they have never tried before.
Starting from a weekly delivery of around 30 boxes to family and friends, by early 2010 Riverford were delivering to around 45,500 boxes per week and sending its own meat and dairy products as well as veg and fruit to 60,000 households nationwide. To achieve this they have formed a mutual cooperative of British farmers - not all in Devon. The weekly boxes come with a newsletter explaining both the content of the box and giving farm news from Riverford. The result is a large, yet personal method of shopping with the bulk of customers having been found by word of mouth, and small-scale, local advertising.
On 2 December 2007 Riverford appeared at number 92 in the Sunday Times Fast Track 100, a list of the 100 fastest growing companies in the UK. In 2009 Riverford won the award for best ethical business at the Observer ethical awards.
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