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"Riverford: Growing A Brand Community" — Chantal Gagnon, Entrepreneur

Chantal Gagnon (00:00): Hello. I am Chantal Gagnon. I am the founder of neurodivergent-friendly stationary company Socolo. And this is my love letter to Riverford.

Sam Thorogood (00:22): Welcome to Branding Love Letters, exploring the emotions brands evoke and the journeys they take us on. I'm Sam Thorogood, a graphic designer and your host. In each episode, I invite a guest to pick their favourite brand and unpack why it means so much to them. This podcast is a celebration of the branding that informs, impacts and inspires us. So, without further ado...

Chantal Gagnon (01:04): Yeah, so I first met Riverford in, I wanna say like, probably like 2014, maybe a little bit earlier than that, but I used to see their vans pop up all over London and they have these white vans with these like beautiful, colourful prints of vegetables all over them. They're kind of like elevated potato prints. Um but yeah, they're they're just these really cool prints and, um, I never quite knew what it was. I just was like, okay, this is kind of cool. And they used to always talk about like, 'living life on veg', and so I knew it had something to do with vegetables, especially with all like the vegetable prints everywhere. But, um, I wasn't exactly sure what it was. And then, um, I was house hunting and it was like an extremely exhausting day. Like when I, when I house hunt, like it's, I, I do it like on like on a marathon sprinter level, like it's, it's full on like a sport for me.

(02:01): So um, yeah, there was like a point where I was just exhausted on, I happened to have this like two hour gap between appointments and, um, there just happened to be this pub near one of them, and it was called the Duke of Cambridge. And this is probably roughly, like, I wanna say 2014, 2015. And, um, it was this pub in Islington and, um, it just looked really good. Um, and it was very, it was very clear from walking in that was, um, farm to table and that everything was organic and, um, they just had like the best humous and vegetables ever. Um, and that's when I found out that, um, I guess the owner of that pub married the founder of Riverford and so they kind of had this collaboration where they were supplying them with produce and they would have like dinner parties there or like Riverford type dinner parties and things. And so that's kind of when I was first introduced sort of like the world of Riverford.

Sam Thorogood (03:01): Wow. So was it the, the kind of the graphic side of things that initially interested you, you were sort of seeing these vans around the country? I mean, I've had the same experience actually seeing them around the UK and they're very striking aren't they, the way they're they're put together, was it, was it the, the visual side of things that, that really kind of piqued your interest?

Chantal Gagnon (03:19): Oh yeah, absolutely. And cuz there's this element to the design of it where like you can definitely like, okay. It, because like when you think of potato prints, you kind of think people like in like kindergarten or preschool and it just being like really messy and not so nice, but there's definitely like this feeling of like someone's carving like organic potatoes and it's just a lot more adult and it's fun, but it's like adult and it's just gorgeous and the colours that they choose and the vibrancy of it, it almost feels like when they print that orange carrot that they literally peeled the carrot and somehow made ink from the carrot. And that's what you got printed on the van. Um, same with the beets. It just looks so much like how that vegetable probably tastes, um, which I've never had from visuals before where I'm like, I, I know what that tastes like, like that you guys have really good carrots, you know.

Sam Thorogood (04:14): So true. You describe it so well, I think they've really captured this very organic feel in their visual identity, which is, which is really stunning to see.

Chantal Gagnon (04:24): Without being cheesy about it, which is really difficult. I think for people who are trying to be ethical and organic and green and nothing that they do is greenwashing. So like that's, that's the other bit, they manage to make it in a way that's like authentic without cuz right now, like, I feel like anytime anyone puts green on something or puts something in a cardboard box, it's very easy to be like, okay. Yeah. They're probably just greenwashing. People don't, don't don't really trust that anymore or like that handmade look, but they've managed to find a way to like give authority to it.

Sam Thorogood (04:54): And was that time in the pub the first time you'd you'd actually tasted some of their produce?

Chantal Gagnon (04:59): Yeah, that was, that was my first time. And then, um, basically after that I started buying it and um, I, I was hooked.

Sam Thorogood (05:07): Okay. Really? So you just went, did you do a free trial or did you just go straight into getting the, the boxes delivered to your house?

Chantal Gagnon (05:12): I don't think they even did a free trial. I think that they might have done, like, I think maybe for your first box, you might have gotten like a discount at the time, but I just sort of went for it. I always had, um, a bit of like health problems in the, the, um, I was living in I'm originally from Canada. I lived in the States for a little bit just before I moved back to the UK. Um, and uh, basically like when I got out there, I, I got so burnt out that I had, um, adrenal fatigue. And so I had just trying to find different ways to help with this terrible adrenal fatigue and, um, organic vegetables just kind of seemed like one of the, the solutions and also vegetables that were grown locally so that they would have like the most, um, that they'd be like the freshest and have like the most vitamins and things.

(05:54): And so that was part of the draw to it. It was me trying to solve this issue in my life that they just happened to fill. But I think even without that, I would've tried them anyways and I probably would've tried their groceries and just would've fallen in love with the flavour of it because like their carrots, their cucumber, like they have the best avocados. Everything's so tasty for anyone who... I think even like for people who hate vegetables, this place could make you fall in love with them because this is how vegetables should taste. They taste so good.

Sam Thorogood (06:24): Mm it's it's true. Isn't it? We're so used to, I think, um, tasting vegetables that don't really taste of anything. And, and then when you taste a real organic carrot or tomato, it it's a completely different experience and it's a shame that that's not the norm. Uh you know, that for in the supermarket, the vast majority of things are not actually tasting as they should.

Chantal Gagnon (06:46): Yeah.

Sam Thorogood (06:47): What, what emotions does the brand sort of evoke for you when you think about Riverford? What comes to mind?

Chantal Gagnon (06:53): Yeah, what I think about Riverford, it's, there's like this fun playfulness to it. Um, they're very like tongue-in-cheek when it comes to all of their produce puns and they have like a magazine called Wicked Leeks. Um, they also have, um, like again, like talking about like 'living life on the veg'. Um, so it is very tongue-in-cheek, so there's kind of like this fun aspect to it and the way that they go about their marketing and communicating with customers is very, um, it gets you excited about food and sustainability without making you feel like it's a chore. Um, so for example, like they, um, they will come out with like videos on cauliflower and how you can eat the leaves and prepare all the different aspects of a cauliflower. And so that you end up with very, very little waste, but by the end of this video, you're like, Ooh, I can't wait to eat the leaves of a cauliflower.

Sam Thorogood (07:55): Wow.

Chantal Gagnon (07:56): Right. And so they, they kind of do it in a way where it looks cool and it's fun and it's, um, it's not really kitch. It's just like a really beautiful kitchen that, you know, looks like a kitchen that, you know, you would possibly desire to have one day or, or maybe even do have, but there's this, like, there's a, there's like a young and fun aspect to it. But also this like, um, makes you feel like you're like cooking in the kitchen with like your grandmother or something like that. They, they manage to really capture this, um, joy of food and what food can bring to like a household and a family and how food brings people together. And the fact that like, yeah, now I want to eat cauliflower leaves and tell everyone about it and invite people over to eat cauliflower leaves. Sorry, but yeah. Yeah. Who knew cauliflower leaves were so good?

Sam Thorogood (08:50): Who knew, who knew? When you were kind of contemplating, um, getting these, these sort of deliveries of organic vegetables, were there other brands that you were considering or was it always gonna be Riverford?

Chantal Gagnon (09:02): Yeah, there were definitely other brands. Like there were ones that would kind of, um, very much advertise, like wonky veg or, um, you know, organic veg but also seemed like a bit more like bougie and, um, stuck up. Um, there was something about Riverford where it just kind of felt like here we are, it wasn't trying to sell you on it. It was sort of like, I think they have the confidence that their vegetables are so good that once you try it, you're not gonna wanna turn back. And that's exactly it. And I think because as well, like as someone who was living in London at the time, if you knew about their pub, that was a really good way for you to like, have a taster of it. Um, so there was all these different aspects where you could get yourselves introduced into like the Riverford community at the pub.

(09:48): They even would do like these, um, dinner sessions where you would, um, they, they kind of invited the people who, who, um, would, uh, order the boxes, but it was also the customers of the pub as well, um, where you could like book and have like, um, a three course meal and they'd give you the recipes to all of the meals. They'd kind of talk you through everything. And you just sit with all these people that you didn't know, and everyone would be kind of ecentric and a bit weird. And it was just, it was so much fun. And it was just all about enjoying like really good produce, um, which is so simple, but when it comes to food and trying to get people to eat healthy, it is just about like a really good carrot. It, it's not about making the carrot and hiding it in your food. It's about like, no, you can, like this carrot can be like the star of the dish because that's how good it is.

Sam Thorogood (10:42): Talking more about their, their visual identity, um, because of your graphic design background. Talk to me about how it's applied across the different sort of touch points and, and any specific ways that you think that's just really clever or really inventive the way that they've, they've done that.

Chantal Gagnon (10:59): Yeah. I think, um, sort of what I was talking about, like with like the use of colour where, you know, it, the, the, when they have a beet, it doesn't, it doesn't look like the beet was like pulled out of the ground and like, here's the dirt on it. It very much looks like they like smashed a beet up and like painted with that paste. Um, so you, you do have these, the, the colours that they chose are so carefully curated where it just feels so rich and so vibrant, and so, um, full of life and flavor and, and dimension, and you have, um, some of them are like painted. Some of them are more stamped, um, and it's sort of this quality of where it feels like the food was used to make the art. Now chances are, they probably just use paint, right?

(11:47): Um, but you get that feeling of the food was used to make this same with like the potato stamp aspect of it. Um, the letters that they use definitely feel like someone took paper and cut it out. Um, you, those, those prints are on the boxes on these cardboard boxes that they bring to your doorstep every day. Um, or like once a week or whatever. Um, the, the same patterns are on the van. When you look at their website, um, their website, isn't white, everything's a bit off white or like a slight brown colour. Um, which fun fact with that one, the owner is dyslexic and about 50% of people who have dyslexia also have visual stress, which makes me think that's why they purposely chose to not have anything white. No, no black text on white on their website. I don't know if it was a conscious decision or not, but their website's so easy to look at because it's visual, because it's visual stress friendly.

(12:46): Um, everything's, um, fairly like big and easy to read. The website's super easy to use. They throughout the colouring, like everything that they do has these like really beautiful rich greens and rich oranges, and these rich beet colours and you see it everywhere. So when you see the, the pictures of the actual produce, it doesn't look like, like, I feel like sometimes if you were to go on like a grocery store website, the food kind of looks fake or like, it looks like stock images. It doesn't, it doesn't quite look like it belongs there. Their pictures of the food looks like it should belong there. It, it, it, it just feels like it's a part of the whole visual experience. It doesn't feel like it's, um, like a banana with like a white background. And there you go, it feels like, oh, they just pulled these carrots outta the ground.

(13:37): And this is what's gonna be coming in my box is gonna be those exact carrots. Um, it doesn't feel detached from the ground that it came from. Um, and like design-wise and everything visually, it, it just, it very much feels like you're on the Riverford farm. And even the pictures, like the pictures are so beautiful. And I don't know if this is because I grew up near farmland or not, but whenever I see the photos, it just, they really just make me feel like I wanna do, like, I don't just like roll around in like dirt. Like, it's just, it's, um, you just wanna be on the farm with them. It just looks like so much fun. And it almost encourages you through the design and the beauty of how they show the farm and how they show everything else that like, it makes you want to save the seeds from the tomato that you got from them to then plant in your own garden. So you can have a little bit of Riverford with you. Um, yeah.

Sam Thorogood (14:32): That's an interesting point. Has it, has it, has it inspired you to take up your own kind of growing or, or, or exploring?

Chantal Gagnon (14:40): Absolutely. Um, every April and like, I'm so embarrassed cuz they bought me with this April Fools' joke, like almost every year. Um, so, uh, I do save a lot of the seeds from the groceries that I get from them. And uh, and I do use them in, in, in my own balcony garden, but I also use it in my allotment and every year, April Fools' kind of comes out that perfect timing where you're ready to take, um, the seedlings and the plants are now ready to like be planted in proper soil. Right. Um, and uh, I'm always looking for like really good quality soil at the time. And they always come up with this April Fools' joke saying that they're like offering like boxes of dirt, from the farm to sell. And every time I'm like, yes, like I need this. That's exactly what I need right now. I need this beautiful organic soil. And then they're like, ha ha ha April Fools'. And I'm just like, please like just sell your soil. Like I need this in my, I'd pay for a premium.

Sam Thorogood (15:43): They do it every year, the same joke?

Chantal Gagnon (15:45): Every year, the same joke

Sam Thorogood (15:47): And you fall for it every year?

Chantal Gagnon (15:48): You think they would switch and you'd think that I would learn, but it gets me every time.

Sam Thorogood (15:52): It just looks so good. Yeah. That's amazing. Um, have Riverford done anything that's really surprised you?

Chantal Gagnon (16:02): Yes. Um, this is like a moment that I'm not so proud of. Um, but it was like, it, it turned out really well. So, um, I've been a customer of theirs for like a really long time. I get groceries from them every single week. And um, they, uh, every, so many years they'll give, they'll put out this big survey on, um, the quality of their vegetables and just them as a brand. And um, because I love them so much. I, I go into it in detail and I tell them everything that I think and, you know, and give them praise and whatever. But this last time I did have a complaint and I have this obsession with cucumbers. I love cucumbers. I always have, um, I think they're like the best vegetable on Earth. And um, basically just they're their, their, their cucumbers for this one summer were just like really substandard.

(16:51): And so I wrote to them and like complained about their, like how much I was so disappointed in their cucumbers that year. And they actually called me and, um, were like, we're so sorry. Um, thank you for letting us know, you know, like if you ever get delivered something that substandard call us right away and we will try to rectify it. Um, they explained to me why the cucumbers weren't so great that season and all of the struggles that they were having with the cucumbers. Um, this is during the pandemic, there was like a lot of, um, certain like slugs and bug issues that, that, that they were having, um, weather issues that they were having as well. Um, and so, yeah, they, they, they gave me the, they gave me so much information, answered all my questions that I could have ever asked about cucumbers.

(17:36): They sent me a cookbook for free. They then also gave me a phone number of someone I could call if I ever had any issues or if there was a sold out item that I wanted, um, they would try to find a way to, to get, to get it to me. Um, and it was like what? And part of it was because I have been their customer for so long and I've ordered a certain amount of boxes from them. But, um, to go that above and beyond customer service-wise was so shocking that even if they were to send me a whole box of rotten vegetables, I would still buy, buy from them because that was such a positive experience.

Sam Thorogood (18:13): Wow. You really don't hear about stuff like that too often, do you?

Chantal Gagnon (18:17): So that, that stands out who like gives you someone's phone number to call for anything like, everything's always like, yeah, you can speak to a machine, like do not contact us at all, please.

Sam Thorogood (18:27): That's amazing. So that, that really shows me that as they've grown, they haven't lost the, the kind of the personal touch and the, the, the small beginnings that they started from

Chantal Gagnon (18:37): And everyone who works there, everyone that I've dealt with with Riverford, I always truly believe that they love their job and that they love working for Riverford. I've never once doubted that, um, I know on their website, they do have a lot of stuff about how, like their employees are owners. I think they're B Corp certified. They have a lot of different certifications as well. They believe in living wage. And I think that really shows in their customer service that the, the people who work there do feel valued and love working there. And so therefore they provide like superb customer service.

Sam Thorogood (19:10): Have there been any times where it's been difficult to love the brand?

Chantal Gagnon (19:14): Yeah. Um, yeah. So my, my cucumber situation in case you haven't

Sam Thorogood (19:19): Cucumbergate.

Chantal Gagnon (19:21): But, um, also, um, the, there was a time where, um. Okay as a vegan, um, I found that when I first was starting to shop with Riverford, being vegan with them, wasn't always the easiest, which sounds strange because they sell so much fruit and veg, but they do also sell meat through, through, through their website. And I would find sometimes the boxes or the options weren't necessarily super plant-based friendly. So, um, for example, like when they came out with like recipe boxes, sometimes not everything was vegan. Um, uh, not, not, not that I needed all the recipe boxes to be vegan, but sometimes there wasn't even like a plant-based version, um, of, of a recipe box. So on occasion as someone who predominantly eats fruits and vegetables, sometimes I felt a little bit like left out. Um, and, uh, this has since then changed.

(20:21): And so it's been very easy to love them, but, um, yeah, for a while there, even like with, cuz I do sell some like more like grocery type things, um, you know, some of those items weren't always, um, vegan. And so, you know, it did there, there just wasn't really a selection necessary for people who are vegan. Um, but now I think especially cuz like veganism has gotten so popular in, in the UK as well. They've definitely improved on that. Um, so it's been a huge change. I feel like that their company definitely rectified that. Um, but yeah, there was a point where for a company who shouted so much about vegetables, there was a bit of this disconnect about with communication and incorporating people who literally live off of fruits and vegetables.

Sam Thorogood (21:09): How would you describe the brand to someone who'd never heard of them before? How would you kind of put into words? What, what, what is Riverford for you?

Chantal Gagnon (21:18): Riverford for me is um, like the friendliest produce people you'll ever or farmers you'll ever meet that genuinely have the best produce in the UK. Um, the, the flavour and the quality of their food is definitely their brand. Everything else is almost secondary. They it's yeah. High, high quality, fruit and veg. That's how I would describe it. And like something that will make your children want to eat their carrots and want to eat their broccoli because that's how good it is.

Sam Thorogood (21:57): Chantal. Tell me more about you and where people can find what you are doing and connect with what you, the amazing things that you are, you are doing.

Chantal Gagnon (22:04): Yeah, of course. Um, so my name is, uh, Chantal Gagnon. I am the founder of Socolo. Um, I make stationary for adults with neurodiversities. You can find me at my website, which is So that's spelled S O C O L O. Um, you can also find me on Instagram and TikTok and YouTube, um, all using Socolo.

Sam Thorogood (22:31): Brilliant. And finally, could you share with us, um, your, your love letter that you've written to Riverford?

Chantal Gagnon (22:38): I am dyslexic so this might be a bit of a hot mess, but I will go for it. Dear Riverford, I have been your customer since 2014, maybe earlier. You have always supplied me with the best-tasting produce in the UK. You have helped me get more experimental with my cooking, using vegetables that I have never seen and also do not know the name of. You have been there for me through my juicing crazes and various obsessions with different fruits and vegetables and herbs. You keep me eating vitamin rich food while pulling all-nighters to get projects done. I remember seeing your colourful vans all around London, telling me about 'living life on the veg' and me thinking that's exactly how I want to live. I love the tongue-in-cheek produce puns and your Wicked Leeks magazine, where I can keep up-to-date on sustainability and ethical business practices.

(23:39): Everything in this magazine, I always find so inspiring and I try to incorporate in my business in other ways. I will be so sad if your branding ever changes from the elevated organic potato carving prints to the handmade fonts, to the cardboard boxes. I love all your perfect imperfections. Keep up the good work on doing good work. I look forward to your emails with new recipes and videos showing me how to use a cauliflower in more ways than I could have ever imagined. Who knew I would be so excited about eating the leaves of a cauliflower? You sure did. You make every Wednesday feel like Christmas Day and every Tuesday night feel like Christmas Eve. On Tuesday nights, like clockwork, I put my empty colourful cardboard boxes out on the doorstep, excitedly awaiting them to be filled with goodies by the time I wake up in the morning. Every April Fools', you get me with your jokes about selling organic soil. Please stop making this a joke and make this into an actuality. I could use a few boxes of quality soil for the vegetables I grow in my allotment from the seeds of the vegetables you bring me. Thank you for being you, love Chantal.

Sam Thorogood (25:00): Chantal, thank you very much for letting us hear your branding love letter.

Chantal Gagnon (25:04): Thank you.

Sam Thorogood (25:09): You've been listening to Branding Love Letters and I've been Sam Thorogood. I'm on a mission: equip pioneers like you to bring others onto your journey. Come and find out more at Thanks for listening. Oh, and big thanks to Thomas Thorogood for the music. Take it away, Tommy boy.

Sam Thorogood | Pilgrimage Design