Is Royal endorsement warranted?
The Royal Warrant is regarded as the ultimate seal of approval and appears on a number of popular food and drink products. The Food Magazine questions whether such Royal endorsement is always deserved.
Royal patronage can be a valuable marketing tool for those companies which are lucky enough to get it. The Queen, The Duke of Edinburgh, and The Prince of Wales all give what are known as Royal Warrants, a mark of recognition to companies who have regularly supplied goods or services to them for at least five years. The Warrants are supposedly a mark of excellence and quality, and allow a company to display the Royal Arms or Badge on their products.
Showing that such endorsement improves sales is tricky, but companies tend to regard the Warrant as the ultimate seal of approval, and many of their customers will think the same.
Over 800 Royal Warrants are currently active, covering services as diverse as picture framing, rifle making and the supply of toilet tissue. Approximately 90 Warrants have been granted to food companies. Many of these are specialist or local suppliers, whilst others are household names. This report looks at some of the big food businesses which hold a Royal Warrant, and asks if such companies always deserve such endorsement.
The Food Magazine asked Buckingham Palace, Clarence House and The Royal Warrant Holders Association (RWHA) if members of Royalty used any nutritional, environmental or ethical criteria when granting Warrants. Both the Royal Houses pointed us to the RWHA, who told us they were unable to answer the question. However, both Clarence House and the RWHA did confirm that The Prince of Wales will only allow his Warrant to be used if suppliers can demonstrate they have a sustainable environmental policy.
The only time that health issues appear to have openly influenced policy was in 1999, when The Queen cancelled the Warrant she had granted to the cigarette manufacturer Gallagher (Benson and Hedges), supposedly under pressure from Prince Charles. The Late Queen Mother was less bothered about such issues, and her Warrant continued to be displayed on packs of John Player until after her death.
All of the companies on these pages have been awarded a Royal Warrant by The Queen, with just one, Weetabix, also holding a Warrant from The Prince of Wales. The Duke of Edinburgh has no current Warrants with any food companies.
Between them, British Sugar and Tate & Lyle have the UK sugar market pretty much wrapped up, producing almost all of the sugar we consume. Both are endorsed by HM The Queen, with her coat of arms displayed prominently on the front of packets of Tate & Lyle and Silver Spoon (which is made by British Sugar).
Interestingly, Her Majesty is endorsing a product which her own government is encouraging the public to eat less of. The Food Standards Agency (FSA) states, “Most adults and children in the UK eat too much sugar. We should all be trying to eat fewer sugary foods, such as sweets, cakes and biscuits, and drink fewer soft drinks.”
The World Health Organization (WHO) is also very clear on the need to limit sugar intake, stating that free sugars should provide less than 10% of our daily energy intake. The WHO directly links sugar consumption to dental disease and to obesity, which is itself linked to escalating rates of type 2 diabetes.
Meanwhile, British Sugar, with Her Majesty’s endorsement, is adamant that sugar is good for us, telling us that, “Sugar is a natural, wholesome food and plays an important part in a healthy balanced diet.” They also contradict WHO expert advice with the claim that, “It has been observed that those who eat more sugar are likely to be slim and those that eat less sugar tend to over consume fat and are thus fatter.”
When most health experts are advising consumers to cut back on sugar consumption, the use of the Royal Warrant on packets of sugar seems highly inappropriate.
The Royal Warrant has been granted to both Britvic, and Robinsons and they make the most of it, with Robinsons even putting the Royal Warrant on bottles of Fruit Shoot, a drink with such a poor nutritional profile that it is no longer allowed to be sold in schools.
Coca-Cola and Lucozade (GlaxoSmithKline) also get the thumbs-up from Her Majesty, who is seemingly unaware of official advice about fizzy drinks. The FSA says, “Both adults and children in the UK eat too much sugar, and more of it comes from fizzy drinks than any other type of food or drink. So cutting down on sugary drinks, such as cola and lemonade, is a good way to reduce the amount of sugar you have. These drinks contain very few nutrients and the added sugar they contain can damage teeth. Fizzy drinks can also fill us up, so we have less appetite for healthier foods.”
Coca-Cola and Lucozade do not display the Royal Warrant on their products, presumably because it has very little appeal to their young target markets.
Her Majesty clearly has a sweet tooth, and allows her coveted Royal Warrant to grace Cadbury Dairy Milk chocolate bars. The Warrant also pops up on other Cadbury products, such as Drinking Chocolate. A Warrant is supposedly a mark of excellence and quality, so the Queen must have missed the 2006 scandal when Cadbury set an allowable tolerance level for salmonella in its Dairy Milk chocolate, rather than ensuring that the chocolate was salmonella-free. Dozens of people fell ill, and three people, including a baby and a young child, ended up in hospital. Cadbury's were fined £1M for food and hygiene malpractice, but they held on to their Royal Warrant.
Marge and mayo
It seems The Queen is a fan of home baking, as her crest appears on packets of Stork, the fatty spread often used when making cakes and pastry. Her Warrant also decorates jars of Hellmann’s mayonnaise, which is currently being marketed as a ‘good natural source of OMEGA 3’, as though tucking into a mayonnaise sandwich is nutritionally equivalent to eating a portion of oily fish.
Both Stork spread and Hellmann’s mayo are made by Unilever, the corporate giant which makes many everyday food and household products. Unilever was recently targeted by Greenpeace activists because it is one of the world’s biggest users of palm oil, an industry which is destroying Indonesia's rainforests, one of the few remaining homes of the orang-utan.
Under pressure, Unilever has just announced that it intends to have all of its palm oil certified sustainable by 2015 (but only in Europe). We will have to see if its ‘intentions’ are met with solid action.
Her Majesty’s favourite cuppa appears to be Nescafé coffee, which she has endorsed with her Royal Warrant on larger jars and cartons. Presumably she is unaware of, or disagrees with, the long-running boycott campaign against Nestlé, the company which manufactures Nescafé coffee. The boycott began in 1977 when campaigners accused Nestlé of the irresponsible promotion of infant formula over breast-feeding in less economically developed countries. The International Baby Food Action Network claims that such marketing practices can lead to health problems, and deaths among infants.
Nestlé also comes in for criticism from The International Labor Rights Fund, which accuses the company of not doing enough to stop the use of child labor throughout its cocoa supply chain. Nestlé is now one of the most boycotted companies on the planet.
Kellogg’s, Quaker, and Weetabix have all been granted the Royal Warrant by The Queen, with Weetabix getting a second approval from The Prince of Wales.
Kellogg’s has been repeatedly criticised for producing high sugar cereals, and for irresponsible marketing practices – but it has also managed to win the Readers Digest ‘most trusted cereal brand’ for the last three years. The company is adept at marketing itself as a trusted brand despite the poor nutritional profile of some of its products, and the placement of the Royal Warrant on Kellogg’s products is sure to bolster this image.
Quaker also display the Royal Warrant on their packaging, but they do at least produce healthier breakfast cereals, as do Weetabix, who choose not to display either The Queen’s or The Prince of Wale’s Warrants at the present time.
Kellogg’s much criticised Real Fruit Winders carry the Royal Warrant, even though the Warrant was only granted to Kellogg’s as ‘purveyors of cereals.’ We presume the Queen does not tuck into these sugar-laden snacks for breakfast, but who knows what really goes on in the Palace?
Companies ignore FSA advice
Her Majesty’s Government has a commitment to protect the public's health and consumer interests in relation to food, but attempts to improve the public’s nutritional health are sometimes obstructed or hindered by Warrant holders.
For instance, the FSA approved ‘traffic light’ labelling system, designed to effectively communicate high, medium or low levels of the nutrients fat, sugar and salt, has been openly resisted by many of the companies featured in this article. Fearful that red ‘warning’ labels might reduce their sales, Kellogg’s, Tate & Lyle, Cadbury’s, Coca Cola, Lucozade, Quaker, Nestlé and Unilever have all ignored the FSA advice and have introduced a rival system based on Guideline Daily Amounts (GDAs), which is harder to use and which has led to further confusion. But, they still get the Queen's support.
The Royal Family is still hugely influential and has a very wide popular following. When the Queen grants a Warrant to a company it sends out a very clear message that, as far as she is concerned, this is a company which produces a good product, the one which she prefers.
Although foods and drinks with poor nutritional profiles are an inevitable part of our everyday diet, it is questionable whether the Queen should be granting her Warrant, and the status associated with Royalty, to such products. This is especially relevant when her own Government is actively seeking to reduce consumption of such foods.
Her Majesty should perhaps consider the wider ramifications of her actions and ensure that her seal of approval is used to promote healthier choices, or simply not used at all. And, like The Prince of Wales, she could insist that any Warrant holder should first be able to product a genuine, sustainable environmental policy.