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14 September 2013

Duchy Originals

Tag(s): Marketing, Sustainability, Philanthropy
This week I had the great pleasure and privilege of attending a special Garden Party at Clarence House, the present home of HRH, Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales and his wife, the Duchess of Cornwall. The occasion was the 21st anniversary of the launch of Duchy Originals, a range of foods and other products that Prince Charles had sponsored in 1992. I was a member of the original (excuse pun) Marketing Advisory Group that was set up to advise the Prince and his staff on the creation of the brand, the development and launch of the first products and the establishment of a successful business.

Prince Charles had strong views about farming, the balance of payments in general and in food in particular, and the ability of the farmers on his Duchy of Cornwall estates to maintain high standards of food production and achieve good prices for their output. Through his involvement in the Prince’s Trust he had links to Sir Allen Sheppard who was then chairman of the Board of Trustees, Prince’s Youth Business Trust and of the Prince’s Trust Council and, in his full-time role, Chairman and Group Chief Executive of Grand Metropolitan plc, the forerunner of Diageo. The Prince came up with the idea of developing a new range of branded foodstuffs and Sir Allen asked his Commercial Director, the late Keith Holloway, to find a suitable team to advise the Prince. Keith asked me and a group of leading marketers to join him at a meeting at St James’s Palace in March 1991. The group included Clive Wilson, Head of Marketing Services, PA Consulting; the late Gordon Medcalf, then Director General of the Marketing Society; John Hegarty, Founder and Creative Director of BBH (now Sir John); and Sue Farr, then External Affairs Director, Thames TV and Chairman Elect of the Marketing Society.

David Landale of the Duchy of Cornwall explained the position at that time which was that they had had some success with a loaf of bread branded Highgrove after the Prince’s country estate. Keith presented a paper “Duchy of Cornwall Enterprises” and in that meeting and at several subsequent meetings the group debated how best to proceed. All of us could see the potential but there were several concerns about the different objectives and how to reconcile them. Principally we were concerned about the threat of commercial enterprises seeking to exploit a brand emanating from royalty.

For centuries the Royal family has awarded warrants to producers of products bought by the Royal household. I was myself a Warrant holder from Prince Charles on behalf of Sony. I still have the Warrant hanging in my study and it states:

“These are to certify that by command of His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales I have appointed Sony United Kingdom Limited into the place and quality of Supplier of Consumer Electronic Products to His Royal Highness; to hold the said place until this Royal Warrant shall be withdrawn or otherwise revoked.  This Warrant is granted to D.C. Pearson Esquire trading under the title stated above and empowers the holder to display The Prince of Wales’s badge of Three Feathers in connection with the Business, but does not carry the right to make use of the Badge or His Royal Highness’s Arms as a flag or trademark. The Warrant is strictly personal to the Holder and will become void and must be returned to the Treasurer to His Royal Highness in any of the circumstances specified when it is granted. Given under my hand this First day of January 1995. Richard Aylard,  Treasurer to His Royal Highness.”

By this time I had come to know Commander Aylard quite well through working with the Duchy but I am getting ahead of my story. The point is that it was another step altogether to create a brand under the Prince’s own direction.

We therefore agreed a manifesto for the brand and asked that it be presented to Prince Charles. He invited us down to Highgrove where he also explained his ideas. He was concerned about the balance of payments particularly in food and wanted to set an example in marketing in the UK. He wanted to deal with what he saw as complacency in the food business and encourage it to be more competitive. He wanted through the vehicle of the Duchy of Cornwall to encourage agricultural marketing, particularly into the European market. And he wanted to use such a business venture to establish a large fund for charitable purposes which would enable him to pursue important projects. At this point organic issues were not highlighted although the Prince was and remains passionate about them, but he also recognised the practical limitations at that time of going down that route. It would have limited product volumes enormously.  He was most impressed with our manifesto which emphasized quality above all in everything. It was clear to me that he had a vision to create a virtuous circle of activities: quality products from quality ingredients that are marketed well with the value added returned to the community. It was a pioneering form of what is now called social enterprise.

Initially a Projects Committee was formed under Duchy supervision and then this was replaced by a Board once a trading company was established. But throughout this period, with a clear understanding of the objectives and the methods of operation, the Marketing Advisory Board was maintained and met frequently to consider issues of branding, product development, distribution, pricing and all the elements of the marketing mix. Some of these meetings took place with the Prince at various of the royal palaces including St James's and Sandringham.

Grand Met again helped enormously in seconding a very talented marketing director, Christopher Nadin, as Projects Manager. Various potential products had been identified including dairy, lamb, bread, water and soft drinks but the oatcake biscuit was prioritised. The oatcake biscuit as it was first called was to be made from the finest selected organic oats and wheat grown on the Duchy Home Farm at Tetbury in Gloucestershire. It would combine the look and feel of a traditional oatcake with the lightness and texture of a traditionally baked biscuit. It was a biscuit for adults, not children.

A great deal of time went into the question of branding, but Duchy Originals was chosen as both defining the provenance and the positioning. We were not riding on royal association but were bringing genuine innovation to the market. The independent brand identity design consultancy Lewis Moberly (LM) was retained to develop a packaging design which incorporated the shield of the Duchy of Cornwall. Mary Lewis produced this design and while still at LM is now President of the Design Jury at the Cannes Festival. LM is still retained to this day to produce designs for Duchy Originals.

The biscuit, now named Duchy Originals Oaten Biscuits, was launched in 1992. We had advised great care in distribution and although the Highgrove bread test market had been run in Tesco we advised selective distribution with emphasis on specialist food outlets where discerning shoppers were used to paying more for premium brands. Initially this policy was followed but in later years, after our Group had been disbanded, this policy was relaxed and more volume sales were sought.

We also advised to keep fixed overheads to a minimum and where possible source not only ingredients but also production from third parties. The fine Scottish firm of Walkers, not the crisp manufacturer but the maker of shortbread, was selected to produce the oatcake and I am glad to say it still does and representatives from the family firm were present at the Garden Party.

However, in later years after our involvement ceased and Chris Nadin and his successor Michael Cornish had ended their secondments and returned to previous engagements, people came in who changed some of the carefully constructed rules we had crafted. They widened the franchise beyond food to include toiletries and other products that had no remote connection with the Duchy. They widened the distribution beyond the specialists and so became prey to the insatiable demands of the major chains. And they established their own factory in Launceston, in the heart of Cornwall it is true, but breaking that principle of minimum overheads. An owner of a factory becomes concerned about filling that factory, sometimes at the expense of his own brand values.

Inevitably serious losses followed. For financial year 2008/9 Duchy Originals suffered an operating loss of £3.3 million on turnover of just £2.2 million. It became necessary to make a new arrangement and a deal was struck with Waitrose which took over ownership of the brand but pays a royalty to the Duchy to enable contributions to charity to continue to be made. That has saved the brand which is back in rude health even if it now reads “Duchy Originals from Waitrose”.

This week Prince Charles revealed that when he started the business, Duchy Originals, in 1992, many people believed it was destined to fail.[i] “Its birthday is being celebrated this week,” the Prince said. “I suppose the journey of this brand is a good illustration of why it is worthwhile to stick with an idea you believe in.
Noone wanted to know about organic food all those years ago, so it was one of the very first such enterprises of its kind and a huge challenge to develop an organic supply chain from scratch.
“When we launched the first product- an oaten biscuit- the headlines in tabloid newspapers said ‘A Shop-Soiled Royal’.
“Now the business is worth £72m and has raised more than £11m for my Charitable Foundation – a grant-giving charity- and for my Countryside Fund, which supports Britain’s hard-pressed rural communities.”

Prince Charles was delayed in coming to his own garden party because he and Camilla had been to the funeral of his closest friend, Hugh van Cutsem. But soon after arriving he came over to the few of us who survived from the Marketing Advisory Group, Messrs Farr, Hegarty and me with the first Project Managers Messrs Nadin and Cornish. He shook our hands and said he was most grateful for our efforts.

And I am most grateful if in some small way I have helped. The Group worked together from 1991 to 1996 when Commander Aylard wrote us all a very nice letter which stated that a reorganisation had taken place but that they hoped that they could call on our advice and counsel from time to time. In my reply I said  “I sincerely hope that the seeds that have been planted so carefully now bear fruit for his Royal Highness and his charities in the way that was originally envisioned.” It looks like they have.   

 Copyright David C Pearson 2013 All rights reserved


[i] ‘Prince’s pride as charities inspire 125,000 to start their own business’. Sunday Telegraph Business. 8th September, 2013



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