30-year-old Highlands fresh produce provider with 40 staff switches to employee ownership

An Inverness-based fresh produce provider has made the switch to employee ownership, handing more than 40 staff a stake in the business.

Established in 1991 by managing director Magnus Swanson, Swansons Food Wholesalers began as a single greengrocer shop with two staff. Three decades on, it has grown into an extensive wholesale business, with a 40-strong team. Picture: Scottish Enterprise/New Wave Images
Established in 1991 by managing director Magnus Swanson, Swansons Food Wholesalers began as a single greengrocer shop with two staff. Three decades on, it has grown into an extensive wholesale business, with a 40-strong team. Picture: Scottish Enterprise/New Wave Images

Established in 1991 by managing director Magnus Swanson, Swansons Food Wholesalers began as a single greengrocer shop with two staff.

Three decades on, it has grown into an extensive wholesale business, with a 40-strong team working from depots in Inverness, Nairn and Elgin. The firm supplies fresh, locally-grown produce to independent hotels, restaurants and shops across the Highlands, and also holds contracts for care homes, schools, nurseries and colleges in the area.

An employee ownership trust has been formed and holds 100 per cent of the shares on behalf of the employees. The process was managed by Ownership Associates, with legal services provided by Harper Macleod and accountancy services by Saffery Champness.

Swanson said: “When it comes to considering your exit, one of the most obvious options is a trade sale. However, I was concerned that selling to a remote buyer might see one of the branches closed, staff laid off, or clients resigned.

“We have a loyal and long-serving team at Swansons, and I wanted to ensure their jobs were secure. It was at this point that I began to consider employee ownership.

“I thought that employee ownership could be a good fit with our goals and values and would allow me to gradually step back from the business over a number of years.”

Swanson received support from Co-operative Development Scotland, the arm of Scotland’s enterprise agencies that supports company growth through collaborative and employee ownership business models.

Clare Alexander, head of Co-operative Development Scotland, said: “Swansons Food Wholesalers is a great example of a business with community at its heart; championing locally-grown produce, supporting and servicing other businesses in the area, and providing opportunities for local people.

“Employee ownership allows Magnus to step back from the business when the time comes, while helping ensure that this ethos is maintained in the future.”

She added: “Not only does employee ownership impact positively on the individual businesses and staff, it is good for the wider economy, helping to secure jobs and keep businesses rooted in Scotland.”

Within Scotland, there are now some 120 employee-owned companies operating, with about 7,500 employee-owners generating a combined turnover of almost £1 billion.

Swanson added: “Lockdown had a significant impact on the business, with the closure of schools and the hospitality sector, however, requirements from shops increased and we also revised our operations to deliver hundreds of fresh fruit and vegetable boxes directly to consumers.

“Although the Covid crisis has presented a lot of uncertainty, like many businesses we continue to adapt to the changing circumstances, and we didn’t let it deter us from making the move to employee ownership.

“Now more than ever we need the staff to pull together, and looking ahead, I hope that employee ownership helps them feel valued, encourages them to become more involved with the business, and demonstrates to existing and potential clients that Swansons has an engaged and invested workforce that is rooted in the local area.”

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