“The Royal Connection”

17 May 2016, 13:27 pm
Expert Eye by John Shepherd

I am writing this article on April 21st – H.M. the Queen’s 90th Birthday – and very many happy returns are in order. This is not, of course, Her Majesty’s official birthday, which falls on June 12th, but the actual day on which she was born. Between those two dates in April and June there are a lot of opportunities for speciality food shops to hold activities that celebrate this auspicious occasion and prove popular with customers

As food and drink retailers in London, we enjoyed a mini boom in sales at the Royal Wedding and of course the Diamond Jubilee in 2012, but in many ways April 21st 2016 is the most important anniversary of them all. If only because of the sheer scale and duration of the Queen’s lifetime. 1926 was a very different place from 2016. Just two weeks after the Queen’s birth the General Strike started, it was the year when Winnie the Pooh was first published, when John Logie Baird carried out the first public demonstration of the television, and the year when the pop up toaster was invented. It was also the year when Al Capone was at the height of his powers and David Attenborough, Fidel Castro and Marilyn Monroe were also born. Mussolini was the Prime Minister of Italy and Stalin the supreme leader in Russia.

Despite all that, popular food brands of the time may still be familiar to us today and included Kia-Ora, Bovril, Rowntrees, Peek Frean, Lyons cakes and Colman’s mustard. Clarence Birdseye launched frozen foods in 1922 and tinned soups were well known with Heinz, Crosse & Blackwell and Campbell’s all on sale. As a matter of fact, turtle or terrapin soup was a popular starter at state banquets. At this time Britain was increasingly importing its food, which was becoming cheaper and fresher. Packaged cakes were becoming more readily available, with one of the most popular types of the time being Battenburg. Other foods have however, unsurprisingly, disappeared from modern shopping lists such as sheep’s head soup, jugged hare, rissoles of game and fig pudding. Some of the brands I mentioned above held Royal Warrants for supplying the Royal Household in the 1920’s and would have probably been staples in nearly every village shop in the country. Fast forwarding to this end of the Queen’s lifetime and there are still many famous Royal Warrant Holding brands adorning the shelves of speciality food shops up and down the land.

What exactly is the Royal Warrant I hope I hear you ask? The Royal Warrant (which dates back to the eleventh century) is granted by the monarch to companies that supply goods or services to the Royal Warrant. Prince Philip and The Prince of Wales are also able to grant warrants. There are about 800 Warrant Holders in existence and of these I believe nearly 25% supply food or beverages. In order to obtain the Royal Warrant you need to supply the Royal Household continuously for 5 years and the sales level must be of a proportionate level. Many Warrant Holders are not only household names or rather speciality food store names, but are family businesses who have maintained a personal relationship with the Royal Household for several generations, for example Twinings for 11 generations or Baxters of potted shrimp fame for six. At Partridges we try to stock as many as possible because they are often (but not always) like-minded family businesses. At present there are a number of illustrious Royal Warrant-holding businesses who we are proud to have on our shelves such as Walkers, Baxters, Prestat, Big Tom, Tabasco, Maldon Sea Salt, Carrs Table Water Biscuits, Wilkins, Colmans, Musks and Denhay to name a few of the best sellers. The combination of tradition and quality resonates well with our customers and one of our aims is to sell as many Royal Warrant-holding products as possible – it is a uniquely British thing and a good niche for speciality food shops to develop.

One other area that has proven itself to be successful for us are sales of Royal Collection products. The range, albeit quite limited at present, includes tea caddies, shortbread biscuits and mints. Given our proximity to key tourist locations and the coincidence of the Queen’s birthday, sales have got off to an encouraging start and I believe this could become an increasingly important part of our offering going forward. Apart from at Christmas, food gifts are an underplayed part of our repertoire but recent sales of jute bags, teapots and cups and saucers have been very positive and can be maximised via online sales once we have our new website up and running. Website design – now that is another story…

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