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Zoe from Riverford Organic Farmers Talks Ecommerce in the South West

This week we announced that Riverford Organic Farmers will be sharing their very own South West success story on the Ecommerce Unlocked stage.

We picked up a conversation with Zoe Wyeth, Multi-Channel Marketing Manager at Riverford, to find out a bit more about the organic veg box company whose sprouted goods have found their way onto tables across the nation.

Zoe Wyeth, Multi-Channel Marketing Manager at Riverford. Image: wickedleeks.riverford.co.uk

So Zoe, what is your role at Riverford and what does it involve?

It’s ‘Multi-Channel Marketing Manager,’ which involves leading the brand awareness growth strategy, and the digital team with new customer acquisition, as well as looking after the loyalty team which takes care of our customers through website and email communication.

Could you give us some background on Riverford and how the business has evolved to its current position?

Guy Singh-Watson, Founder of Riverford. Image: wickedleeks.riverford.co.uk

The business has been around since 1987 — so it’s just over 30 years old — and follows a vegetable box subscription model. We try to be the leading retailer in organic food, so we are a blend of managed territory and franchise business, which helps deliver on a national scale.

Riverford is 74% employee-owned, with our founder, Guy Singh-Watson, retaining 26%. It is set up as an employee-owned trust, a different model to one set up through shares. It is like the John Lewis partnership, but we would describe it as a trust model rather than a partnership.

Has it always been a subscription model, or did the veg box start out as something else?

Since it was set up, Riverford has operated a form of a subscription model. Customers are not tied into regular orders, but are encouraged to order weekly, as this enables them to get the most out of our products at the best value.

They can choose to get a one-off order, with either a set box or a variety of ‘extras’, or a combination. Or they can use it as a full subscription model and have a regular weekly order, that is fully amendable.

What three words would you use to describe the Riverford brand?

Ambitious, passionate, and in-it-together.

Image: wickedleeks.riverford.co.uk

Which retail channels does Riverford use to sell its products?

The website is our key channel. We also have an app, and people can sign up via telephone through our customer service team. They can also sign up through the face-to-face sales team who work on the high street, at shows and events, and through their local franchisee partner if that’s who runs it in their territory.

Which ecommerce platform do you use for your online store and why did you choose it?

It’s an in-house model — we have quite a large in-house IT team who are actually about to launch our new website in the next couple of months. I think the reason for that is just the flexibility — what we have is quite an unusual ecommerce model, so it has to meet those needs and give us more power to enhance and change things as we need to, rather than going through an off-the-shelf model.

The in-house IT team has actually been one of the biggest investments at Riverford over the last decade. Previously, growth was held back by outsourced development work, where remote agencies repeatedly failed to deliver on time and on budget. As a direct to customer brand, having complete control over our ecommerce platform gives us vital agency and flexibility, as well as meaning we now employ our own IT co-owners, who all hold our Riverford values and the ‘do it our way’ approach can be applied across the whole business.

Why do you think subscription businesses are booming in popularity at the moment?

I see a lot of convenience in the food industry, from a recipe box perspective, and from other online food retailers. The convenience in a regular order coming to your door takes away having to deal with it in your spare time. There’s so much choice out there that people like to have something that’s secure and regular in their day-to-day or their weekly shopping behaviour, whether that’s beauty, food, or it could be a magazine subscription.

I think the element of it coming to your door is still quite novel — that people don’t always have to go to the supermarket or to the pharmacy to pick up whatever they need, but it’s delivered to them instead.

Image: wickedleeks.riverford.co.uk

What are the benefits and challenges involved with being a South West-based retailer?

I suppose from a marketing perspective we don’t necessarily have such close access to big agencies and conferences that would otherwise be on our doorstep if we were based in London. And also from an influencer/blogger/journalist perspective, we have to really get people in advance to come down to the farm if we want to build that face-to-face relationship with them, which would be a lot easier to do, and on a much regular basis, if we were based in a more ‘convenient’ part of the world.

Thanks Zoe! We look forward to hearing more about Riverford’s journey through the ages on the Ecommerce Unlocked stage.

If you want to hear more about how Riverford has evolved into an organic vegetable empire, grab your ticket for Ecommerce Unlocked: South West now!