King Charles: How Duchy Originals became a leading organic food brand

CNN business

Over the years, King Charles was preparing to step into the role of monarch After the reign of Queen Elizabeth to make history. Meanwhile, he was holding back another job: owning a profitable business.

Charles – a passionate advocate for environmental causes – founded Duchy Originals in 1990 when he was Prince of Wales to market produce from his farm. It has since become the UK’s largest organic food and drink brand, according to the company. In the year to March 2021, Duchy Originals made nearly £3.6 million ($4.1 million) before tax.

The brand has had its ups and downs. But since partnering with Waitrose in 2009 it has gone from strength to strength. The high-end grocery chain now has exclusive rights to sell products under the Duchy name, and shoppers can find salmon, sausages, milk, carrots and blueberries bearing the ‘Waitrose Duchy Organic’ label. name in its stores.

“It’s become a very successful business,” said London-based PR expert Andrew Bloch. “You can feel it with this brand, it has heart and soul behind it.”

The future is uncertain, however. Control of the Duchy Originals brand is up in the air during a period of national mourning that culminates with the Queen’s state funeral on Monday.

“We will liaise with the Royal Household about future arrangements when the time is right,” said a Waitrose spokesman.

Ownership of Duchy Originals is likely to pass to Charles’ eldest son Prince William, who also inherits the Duchy of Cornwall’s fortune – estimated at around £1 billion ($1.2 billion). And although the prince has studied organic farming, he is likely to be less practical than his father.

“He will be interested, but he will leave it up to others to handle it,” said Sally Bedell Smith, biographer and author of “Charles: The Misunderstood Prince.”

Charles spent decades preaching the benefits of organic farming and protecting the environment, even before these issues became mainstream causes.

In 1985, he converted it to Home Farm, near the Highgrove estate In Gloucestershire, in a completely organic system. Duchy Originals was founded five years later.

“Since the early 1980s, when I was responsible for managing some land on my own at Highgrove, I have wanted to focus on an approach to food production that avoids the influence of the traditional dominant system of industrialized agriculture. , it is becoming increasingly clear, is having a devastating effect on soil fertility, biodiversity and animal and human health,” said Charles in Country Life magazine in 2021.

Originals of the First Duchy the product was an oatmeal cookie sold in 1992. In the beginning, Brand-name items were only found in high-end stores such as Harrods and Fortnum & Mason, although they later spread to outlets such as Waitrose, which caters to wealthier shoppers but has many more locations.

The business was on rocky ground in the early days, Smith wrote in his book. It took on too much debt, and Duchy Originals had to find new producers and manufacturers when it became too big to rely solely on Highgrove.

His fortunes improved later, according to Smith. She reported that when Charles visited the British Embassy in Spain in 2004, he was bombarded with gift-wrapped products, “I’m a self-made millionaire, you know!”

However, an ill-fated attempt to expand into the United States, along with the onset of the global financial crisis, led the business to collapse.

In 2009, with losses of over a million pounds, Charles turned to Waitrose, who threw him a lifeline by agreeing to act as exclusive distributor.

It marked the end of Prince’s ambitions to have a strong presence in the US market, but began a strong turnaround in business prospects.

“The rescue of Waitrose during the financial crisis of September 2009 was absolutely essential,” said Smith.

By 2017, 25 years after the oat biscuit’s debut, the line had expanded to 300 products, including fruit, vegetables, meat and beer, and annual sales had reached £200 million ($231 million). More than 30 countries worldwide, including the United States, Germany, Japan and Australia, have received exports of select products.

Prince Charles and his wife Camilla visited a Waitrose supermarket in central London in 2009.

Charles may have acquired considerable personal wealth through his land and property portfolio, but he has never directly profited from the Duchy Originals business. All royalties collected from Waitrose are donated to charitable causes. In its 2019 annual report, the company said it had raised more than 30 million pounds ($35 million) since securing a licensing deal with Waitrose.

“It has given his foundation a very large amount of income and has helped fund his charity work, as well as promoting organic products,” Smith said.

However, the company has not been without controversy. A range of herbal remedies, including a mixture of “Herbals Detox Tincture”, an alternative expert claimed artichoke and dandelion. just as medicine is based on “discrimination”. A regulatory agency said online ads for two prescription drugs were misleading and ordered Duchy Originals to change its wording.

Changes are underway in later years when Charles prepared to take the throne. In 2020, his team said it would not renew its lease at the sprawling Home Farm, but would continue to farm organically at the Queen’s Sandringham Estate in Norfolk, which it began managing in 2017.

Observers now believe William will take over the reigns of Duchy Originals and his partnership with Waitrose as part of his new responsibilities as Duke of Cornwall.

“I think there will be a tension between his new role as King Charles III and what he can and can’t do,” said Bloch, who has volunteered at Charles’ Prince’s Trust. “Prince William is likely to take over.”

Prince Charles examines products at a Duchy Originals anniversary reception in 2013.

In his first public appearance as king, Charles admitted that his responsibilities will change.

“It will no longer be possible for me to give my time and energy to the charities and causes that I care so much about,” he said. “But I know this important work will be done in the trusted hands of others.”

William spent a lot of time growing up on the Highgrove estate and in 2014 enrolled on an agricultural management course at Cambridge University. Still, Smith doesn’t think he’ll be so involved in the details of the business.

“I wouldn’t imagine he would go into the details of what Charles did,” she said.