The Organic Food Company King Charles Helped Start

Here in the U.S., we're no strangers to organic produce. The organic label has been a part of our mainstream food vernacular since the USDA first released its nationalized standards for organic food all the way back in 2002. Although organic farming had been going on practically since the nation's founding, the USDA standards were the beginning of a national awakening and the beginning of the organic trend, per Smithsonian Magazine. Across the pond, in England, the organic craze caught on a lot earlier, thanks in no small part to the present reigning monarch of the United Kingdom, King Charles III.

In 1990, when the King was still Prince of Wales, he began an organic food company called Duchy Originals. The goal of the company was to sell organic products and help maintain small family farms across the country, per Prince of Wales. Far from being a simple hobby, King Charles played a vital role in establishing the organic food movement in the United Kingdom. And it all began with his organic experiments at Home Farm, a farm parcel near his beloved estate, Highgrove House.

From hobby to business

Of all the estates the royals jump between, Highgrove House was certainly King Charles' favorite. Purchased in 1980, Charles devoted an inordinate amount of time and attention to the grounds, developing the organic gardens that would eventually germinate into business potential, reports Country Living. According to CNN, in 1985 the King leased a 1,000-acre parcel of land near Highgrove and began his organic experiment in earnest. Called Home Farm, the land would prove itself highly profitable in the years to come.

Duchy Originals was the byproduct of Charles' organic meddling. Initially created as a way for the King to market his organic produce and heritage meat, the business had an inauspicious start. Lots of debt, piled with the fact that the products were only being sold in high-end shops, like Harrods, meant that the consumer reach was not as wide as hoped for. However, things steadily improved, eventually to a profitable alliance with Waitrose and Partners, a British grocery chain similar to Whole Foods.

Partnership with Waitrose

Despite becoming the leading name in U.K. organic produce, Duchy Originals had taken something of a downward turn in the late 2000s. According to SIAL, in 2009 Duchy Originals was £50 million in annual retail sales, £7 million of which was going to charity through The Prince of Wales's Charitable Fund. Unfortunately, this charitable giving left very little room for Duchy Originals to expand its brand. That is when Waitrose stepped in.

Through an extensive licensing arrangement, Duchy Originals became Waitrose and Partners Duchy Organics. The aim of the partnership was to continue the work of Duchy Originals with a broad scope. Called "a virtuous circle" the aim of the brand is to promote small, family-run, environmentally protective farms that produce food without pesticides or antibiotics, while simultaneously generating money for the Charitable Fund. Since the partnership began in 2009, the brand has collectively raised over £30 million for charity.

The future of Duchy Originals

In 2020, the BBC reported that King Charles, then still Prince of Wales, would not be renewing his lease on Home Farm, the 1,000-acre organic farm in Gloucestershire that catapulted the Duchy Originals brand. The King will continue to farm organically on the Sandringham royal estate, while a non-royal tenant framer has taken over operations at Home Farm.

This brings into question what the future of Duchy Originals will look like now that Charles is King. According to CNN, it is believed by many that Prince William will take over operations of the brand since the title of Duke of Cornwall has been passed along to him. Sally Bedell Smith, a royal biographer, noted that despite William having grown up at Highgrove and Home Farm, and having taken agriculture management courses during his time at Cambridge, it's not likely that he will have as much of an integral role in the business as Charles. Organic produce and meats were an enormous part of King Charle's life before his ascension to the throne. While he may no longer be directly involved in his passion project, the King has stated that he has great confidence that the work will continue in spite of his absence.