Riverford Organic is to roll out a subsidised “franchisee internship” programme to attract more graduates to its national supply network.

Under the scheme, the organic veg grower and box scheme operator will target recent graduates who have had some commercial experience but now aspire to run their own business.

“We need a few more salesy people and I think that we’ve probably naturally excluded that age range because of the investment required to buy a franchise,” said Riverford MD Jack Slatter.

Riverford will initially look to recruit six new franchisees in the north west of England, operating out of its Stockley Farm site in a bid to accelerate Stockley’s sales growth. All franchisees will be mentored by Riverford’s management team throughout their training.

The company would usually charge a new franchisee £18,500, which includes a training fee of £6,000. However, under the scheme the training fee would be waived and franchisees would not have to pay the remaining £12,500 until their fifth year of operation, said Slatter. Riverford will also provide an £18,000 loan for franchisees to live off while they build sales in their first year, repayable with interest over the course of three years from year three.

Franchisees will be required to gain two new customers a week, delivering to 100 customers a week by the end of the first year. By the end of year five, the target will be between 500 and 600 a week. By the end of their fifth year, franchisees should have £60,000 in equity, said Slatter.

Riverford will approach banks to obtain loans to the franchisees, underwritten by Riverford. “If the banks won’t play ball then we’ll lend them the money ourselves,” he added.

Slatter claimed the initiative was a sound commercial move for Riverford. “It’s not philanthropy, it makes business sense.”

Meanwhile, Riverford has relaunched its online store to improve interaction, user experience and personalisation.