Bilby Bites - the food blog from Bilby Marketing

Riverford Organic Veg

I’ve been shopping with Riverford for the last 3 ½ years, so I feel I am in a position to sing their praises with some level of authority. With so many veg box schemes out there nowadays, Riverford ironically seem to be the big, bad corporate boy of the day which I find puzzling. The Watson family have been farming for many years, but Guy Watson, founder of Riverford, picked up his piece of the family land in 1985, moving into organic farming the following year and starting a small veg box scheme in 1993. Looking at those impressive early dates, I feel a complete latecomer, but in my defence I wasn't in a position to receive home deliveries much before this due to circumstance or I definitely would have got my act together sooner.

What attracted me to Riverford at that stage was the fact that they were located in Devon and that their marketing was superb. I’m a marketing person myself and I’m a bit of a sucker for a decent logo and strong bit of branding. That doesn’t have to mean an outrageous budget or decadent levels of creativity a la Sony or Coca Cola; to me it just means that you inject your personality into everything you do and Riverford gets this spot on. A few years ago I attended a marketing event at the head office in Buckfastleigh and was lucky enough to sit on a table with Guy Watson and listen to him talk about the business with passion, whilst detecting a genuine disdain for ‘marketing’ which was highly amusing. He definitely isn’t alone in perhaps believing that marketing for marketing’s sake is a waste of time and that it is the product itself and company beliefs & ethics that should speak to the customer with no need for strong arm tactics.

At this same event I was also lucky enough to try some of the food from the Riverford kitchen and the simplicity and incredible tastiness of the seasonal dishes was every bit as good as I had expected. After a necessarily quick tour of a couple of the fields in driving rain, we all sat down – several tables of marketers together and no doubt Guy’s worst nightmare – and enjoyed a range of vegetable and meat treats that just kept on coming. I won’t go into detail as this is more a time for me to speak generally on the company rather than the restaurant, but I’ll have to make a specific journey back to the restaurant another time in order to write something worthy.

Originally we took up our relationship with Riverford by ordering the standard fruit & veg box which contains, as it stands now, 7 different veg and 3 fruit. After ordering this for a very long time, we came to the conclusion that for 2 people this was a bit ridiculous and only very recently changed to the mini fruit and veg box which is far more appropriate. You are always able to add additional items to your box delivery in any event, so it was better to start small and add on as we needed to. The contents have always been fresh, delicious and a lovely surprise when they arrive with our friendly, local driver every Thursday. I’ve had a couple of occasions where I’ve looked at the contents and been very confused, for example the day I first saw kohlrabi and wondered what on earth I was supposed to do with it. Riverford very kindly provide recipes in with your delivery that inevitably contain seasonal ingredients from your veg box. If you can’t find a match there, their website is heaving with more recipes and help identifying what on earth you’ve just been given. The kohlrabi recipe I found on the internet that day contained honey, pears, dates and feta cheese and was amazing – I’ll get that up on the site ASAP now that I’ve mentioned it!

Apart from great quality fruit and veg, Riverford offer a good range of meat, dairy, bread and drinks that are of equal standing. Recently they added an item called Jane’s Italian Essentials which has been calling to me since I first read about it. Jane Baxter is the head chef in the Field Kitchen restaurant at Buckfastleigh and has selected several Italian goodies that you can buy as a package, including extra virgin olive oil, sundried tomatoes picked and dried in Puglia, pesto verde, penne pasta, Laverstoke Park buffalo mozzarella and parmesan. At £19.95 this sounds like a wonderful gift for a keen cook or just a sweet indulgence for yourself. One day I’m just going to do it – I’m waiting for a weekend when I have some very appreciative friends to stay. Last Christmas I ordered several extras as we hosted Christmas Day at our house and was incredibly happy when my delivery arrived (moreso than usual) with Prosecco and lots of extra Christmas veg,

Riverford’s ethical credentials are pretty sound in my mind. They are constantly researching in order to work out precisely what their impact on the planet is as a business, to the extent that they collaborated on a 2 year study with Exeter University to see exactly what damage they might have been doing and what alternatives were better, if any. Included in the study were such areas as the impact of regular plastic bags vs bio-degradable plastic bags, whether hothouse tomatoes are better than Spanish grown and imported tomatoes and the pros and cons of biodiesel usage. They have even developed a website, Riverford Environment, devoted to the subject. Personally I seriously doubt whether a large, successful company such as Riverford, that has grown as a result of pleasing it’s loyal and dedicated customer base, could do any more to make sure they were doing the ‘right thing’ by the planet and everyone on it. With success often comes the tall poppy syndrome unfortunately where people are keen to knock you back down to where they feel more comfortable, but Riverford in my view, are managing to get an enviable balance between running a large business and environmental responsibility.

On that note I will finish up by saying that I will happily continue to order my mini fruit & veg box from Riverford, topping up with the odd treat as I need it. We have a small fridge and prefer to buy only what we need each week, so this is ideal for us. This week I can look forward to some French beans, cucumber, mushrooms, little gem lettuce, calabrese broccoli, discovery apples and bananas which are the only item in the box not from the UK. Riverford are good, but they haven’t quite worked out how to grow bananas, lemons and limes in the UK without bringing down the national grid. There are a number of veg box schemes now running across the country of course and doing equally well at pleasing their customers, but I’m sticking with the company that has been taking care of us over the last 3 ½ years and that is a good ethical fit for us.

Photos are courtesy of the Riverford website