Saffery Champness advises Swansons Food Wholesalers on its sale to an Employee Ownership Trust

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Swansons Food Wholesalers was established thirty years ago by managing director Magnus Swanson as a single site greengrocer shop. The company since grew into an extensive wholesale business, with a headcount of forty working from depots in Inverness, Nairn and Elgin. The company 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.

In early 2020, Mr Swanson received a trade sale offer for the business from a larger wholesaler. In considering the offer, Mr 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 had seen some articles in the media and also knew that a couple of our clients were employee-owned. 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.”

Mr Swanson continued: “The support has been great and the process has been really quick and straightforward, with the entire deal unfolding throughout the pandemic. 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-19 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. I have a highly-skilled senior management team in place who I will continue to train and mentor over the coming years. 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.”

Clare Alexander, head of Co-operative Development Scotland, added: “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. 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. The model is key to helping the Scottish Government with its aim of creating a stronger and fairer economy that ensures local people and businesses have a genuine stake in producing, owning and enjoying the wealth they create.”

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