There's been much speculation in recent months about what William and Kate might be eating for their wedding breakfast. Certainly if their father (in law) had anything to do with it, the food would be likely to score pretty highly in the sustainability stakes. After all, the green credentials of HRH Prince of Wales can't be disputed. When he’s not founding a pioneering organic food and farming company, he’s attacking climate change sceptics, or declaring that organic allotments can save the environment. But do those same principles stretch to the sustainability of the food companies he and his own parents endorse with a royal warrant?
The presence of Nestlé on the list of royally-approved suppliers has, unsurprisingly, raised a few eyebrows over the years. Back in 2008, campaigning group the Food Commission called on the Queen to use her warrant more selectively. Its presence on high-sugar breakfast cereals, mayonnaise, sugary soft drinks such as Robinson’s Fruit Shoots, and on the packaging of Tate & Lyle and British Sugar, the campaigners argued, was completely at odds with government nutrition advice.
Three years on, and over at the royal households there’s change in the air, as sustainability is likely to take a more prominent role in who receives - and potentially who loses - the warrant in the future. And the Jellied Eel’s investigations into some of the London-based royally-appointed food companies have revealed that, for every Nestlé, there’s a warrant holder with ethical principles closer to its heart.
Companies such as the royal family’s local supermarket Fortnum & Mason, where local suppliers are a priority. Nearly 90 per cent of suppliers are from the UK, the closest being the bees on its Piccadilly roof. It is also often the sole remaining stockist of a producer, and claims to do its utmost to keep local traditions alive and profitable, and uses bicycles and electric vehicles for London deliveries (though it loses some of those brownie points for selling foie gras).
Wholesale and retail fishmonger James Knight of Mayfair, meanwhile, has just signed up to the Sustainable Fish City campaign. Its fish purchase policy aims to buy all wild-capture and farmed fish from only sustainably and responsibly-managed sources. It also uses fish boxes made from recycled compostable card, and LPG-powered vans.
The fishmonger holds warrants to supply both the Queen and the Prince of Wales. “It’s clear from the reviews that supplier adherence to ethical, sustainable, and environmentally-friendly policies is of paramount importance,” says the fishmonger’s sales director Natalie Hudd.
In addition to the strict qualifying criteria for achieving ‘royal appointment’, since 1990, applicants for Prince Charles’ warrant have been required to meet additional and increasingly stringent criteria covering good environmental practice. The criteria, which come direct from the Prince of Wales’ office, cover eleven main issues: climate change; animal welfare and endangered species; sustainable fishing; GMOs and chemicals; organic; local sourcing; peat use; timber and rainforests; generic waste management; human rights; and labour standards. Applicants are required to provide a statement on their environmental and social policy, with a supporting statement on what action they are taking or how they are tackling relationships with suppliers. They are then required to set targets and annually update the Royal Warrant Association on progress.
“Being a royal warrant holder has encouraged us to ensure we are at the forefront of promoting the importance of trading sustainably,” confirms Natalie. “Our warrant holder status has certainly influenced our level of commitment in terms of ensuring we are always the most up to date with any developments in the field.”
“The royal seal isn’t something you can just stick above the door,” echoes Paul Moore, head of marketing at dried fruit, nut and seed importer Community Foods, “especially with the HRH Prince Charles warrant, which we hold. It’s not easy maintaining it – the review process is stricter than those of the other houses, and you are expected to provide hard evidence of your ethical policy – so we find the warrant definitely has a positive influence on the ethics of the business. It leads to more internal reviews, more searching questions.” Like the Prince himself, Community Foods was one of the pioneers of organic food in the 1980s. It’s also been a longstanding supporter of fair trading, and its brand, Crazy Jack Organic, was responsible for launching the first Fairtrade Himalayan basmati rice in the UK in 2005.
Maria Gray works for Business in the Community (BITC), the not-for-profit organisation that has been environmentally auditing royal warrant-holding businesses for the past fifteen years. She explains that while there are requirements the Prince has always been very passionate about - like sustainable fishing, animal welfare and rainforest destruction - the criteria has expanded significantly over the past few years, and is about to be extended further.
“We are now working with the Association to align the approaches of the royal households, and apply the Prince of Wales’ environmental and ethical criteria across all the warrants,” says Maria. “It was felt that consumers viewing the warrant should be able to assume certain standards, and that as the Prince of Wales has been concerned about a number of issues for some time they should be rolled out to all the royal houses.”
While, to date, no warrants have been reversed as a direct result of the environmental and ethical audit, there is always the possibility that companies not satisfying the criteria will find their warrant is not extended on reapplication, which happens on average every five years. Between 20 and 40 warrants are thought to be lost each year, most often because the quality is not up to the mark, the product is no longer required, or the houses are rationalising suppliers.
“In a couple of cases where we felt companies weren’t pushing hard enough we have extended the warrant for only a one year period, rather than the typical five years, and monitored progress and provided additional support over that time,” says Maria, adding that some of the Queen’s new warrants will likely need more support in the early stages, when the new criteria comes into effect next year. Richard Peck, secretary of the Royal Warrant Association, says that companies only given a short extension period for the warrant should view this as a ‘warning shot’ to address any issues.
With the royal warrant providing clear marketing benefits for companies, it’s unsurprising that the possibility of failing the audit can have a powerful influence. The warrant seems to ensure sustainability is supported by all stakeholders in the business, even commercial departments, which may not traditionally have had a direct interest, and suppliers too.
Paul from Community Foods confirms her assessment. “My job is to keep the ethical policy going, but there are lots of different people with differing priorities in the business, and they might not be the same as the Prince of Wales’. If we hold the warrant everyone knows they have to sign up to those environmental and social principles.”
Some royal warrant holding food companies, based in the capital
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