How to Get the ‘Royal Warrant’

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There are few recommendations higher than the Royal Warrant – a centuries old British scheme that rewards loyalty on both sides. Here, how to get the seal of approval.

By Chris Ritchie

Scanning the shelves of your local supermarket, you may come across two jars of honey. Ostensibly the same, one of them proudly displays a coat of arms. On closer inspection you see it’s the Royal Warrant of the Duke of Edinburgh. Although it’s a little more expensive than the other jar, would the royal approval sway your purchasing decision?

More importantly, what is the Royal Warrant, and how do companies obtain one? The Royal Warrant Holders Association, which was set up in 1840 to represent those fortunate individuals and companies, explains: “These are a mark of recognition of those who have supplied goods or services for at least five years to the Households of HM The Queen, HRH The Duke of Edinburgh or HRH The Prince of Wales [and in the latter’s case, additionally having to demonstrate a sustainable environmental policy and action plan].

“Royal Warrants have always been regarded as demonstrating service, quality and excellence, and are highly prized. There are around 800 Royal Warrant holders, representing a cross-section of trade and industry ranging from traditional craftspeople to global multinationals operating at the cutting edge of technology. Regardless of size or specialisation, Royal Warrant holders are united by their commitment to the highest standards of service, quality and excellence.”

Essentially, it’s a preferred supplier scheme, albeit probably the most exclusive of its kind in the world. It doesn’t mean the royal family is supplied with said products or services for free, and it does not imply that the royal house only buys from that supplier. The arrangements are strictly commercial and, as one might expect, the majority of the Royal Warrants are held by food and drink suppliers.

The Warrants are usually granted for five years and always to a named individual within a company – the Grantee – who is personally responsible for ensuring the Royal Warrant is used correctly. If that Grantee leaves the business for whatever reason, or if the company undergoes any significant transformation such as a change of name, the Lord Chamberlain’s Committee reviews the Royal Warrant. Ordinarily all Warrants are reviewed one year before they are due to expire.

The rules on displaying the Royal Arms, “By Appointment” of whichever of the three “households” is concerned, are strict. But generally it is acceptable to display these on any relevant products and packaging, marketing materials and even on vehicles and buildings. However, holders are not permitted to disclose details of the goods or services they provide beyond the wording or legend beneath the Royal Arms. The Warrant is not transferable, as it does not hold any monetary value besides a potential commercial uplift to the holder. It is, of course, illegal to falsely claim a Royal Warrant where none exists.

The tradition is said to have started when in 1155 Henry II granted the royal charter to the Weavers’ Company. William Caxton, England’s first printer, was appointed as the official King’s Printer in 1476, and moving forward to 1684, Charles II’s list of preferred tradesmen included an “operator for the teeth” – presumably an early dentist – and a sword-cutter.

In 1789 a pin maker, card maker and rat catcher were all on the list, and then King George IV, some years later, took a liking to wine supplier Berry Brothers & Rudd – and amazingly, the Warrant still stands.

But it was only in the late 18th century that royal suppliers began to display the Royal Arms, and Queen Victoria was the first monarch to really lend the Royal Warrants the prestige they have now. Over 1,000 were issued during her reign to companies including quintessentially British grocery supplier Fortnum & Mason, drinks supplier Schweppes and Twinings tea.

These days, each of the 800 granted must uphold “a total commitment to the highest standards of quality”. Tradesmen and suppliers may be eligible but the professions (such as accountants or solicitors) are not; neither are entertainment venues or restaurants and bars. Evidently the Queen does not have a preferred pub. Not officially, at least.

The turnover of Warrants is fairly fluid and changes almost weekly. Although some have been held for over 100 years, there is an annual cancellation of between 20 and 40. Those companies which find their Warrants cancelled have a generous 12 months to update their materials.

The current list contains some well-known names: Akzo Nobel paints, Bentley motorcars, Bendicks chocolates, toothpaste from GlaxoSmithKline, John Lewis for haberdashery and household goods, Kelloggs cereals, McVitie’s biscuits, Samsung electronics, Steinway & Sons pianos and Xerox for paper and photocopying.

Some of the more obscure companies who showcase the Warrant include A. Nash, the preferred supplier for brooms, WhippetGray giftware (the Duke of Edinburgh’s preferred supplier), Kent & Sons for hairbrushes and Fairfax Meadow Farm for sausages.

The practise isn’t exclusive to the British royal family though. Those in the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark and Sweden, among others, have their own schemes, generally with different rules.

In the Netherlands, for example, ‘purveyor to the court’ status can be awarded to small and medium sized businesses that have existed for at least 100 years, as long as they have a good reputation in their region. In addition, companies don’t have to supply goods to the royal court and the status comes up for review every 25 years. Just under 400 companies are eligible and the list includes a few well-known firms such as KLM Royal Dutch Airlines.

Thailand’s system, meanwhile, has evolved to include companies that have shown “exceptional services and commitment to the economic and social development of the nation”. These Royal Warrants enable companies to advertise the royal approval of distinction with the display of the royal Garuda, under which will usually appear the phrase “By Appointment to His Majesty the King”.

So next time you’re out shopping, keep an eye out for the Royal Arms – and eat and drink like royalty!