The queen’s shopping basket

The queen’s shopping basket


You may have noticed it above the door of a perfumery in London, in the inner lining of an expensive custom made suit, or even on the packaging for English Stinking Bishop cheese: the gold emblem of the British monarchy.

Over 800 companies in Britain hold the royal warrant, a certificate for providing goods and services to the royal family. Still coveted by Britain's small businesses, it allows the use of the Crown's coat of arms in their branding.

Cheesemonger Paxton & Whitfield has done business with the royals since Queen Victoria first sniffed them out in the 19th century. Manager Hero Hirsh said their shop was increasingly popular with visitors from Japan and the United States, where cheese culture is on the rise and the British royal family exerts a powerful draw.

. London, UNITED KINGDOM. Reuters/Toby Melville
A commemorative stamp (right) from 1990, showing Queen Elizabeth (right) and Queen Victoria, lies next to an 1840 Penny Black stamp featuring Queen Victoria. Stanley Gibbons, the world's longest-established rare stamp merchant, is the official provider of stamps to Queen Elizabeth.

Once a week the queen's own selection is carted over to her residence at Buckingham Palace, said Dan Bliss, the affineur or "cheese whisperer" who looks after the 218-year-old company's stock.

Queen Elizabeth, who on September 9 becomes Britain's longest-ever serving monarch, each year grants around 20 more warrants, which date back to medieval times when tradesmen competed for royal favour.

"It makes a statement about that business that it has achieved a certain level of quality," said Richard Peck, secretary of the Royal Warrant Holders Association.

. London, UNITED KINGDOM. Reuters/Toby Melville

At Gieves and Hawkes, a tailor on London's Savile Row, their earliest warrant hangs on the wall, an elaborate parchment detailing King George III's request for velvet caps.

Since 1912 Gieves and Hawkes have been fashioning the red and gold uniforms of the Royal Bodyguard. Each one takes over 110 hours of intricate stitching, said Matthew Crocker, who manages production of the military outfits.

Gieves and Hawkes said they were proud to remain holders of the warrant.

"It is a beautiful thing to have," said Andrew Gomez, Gieves and Hawkes' longest-serving employee. By his own estimate, Gomez has made 11,000 jackets in his 41 years on Savile Row, where people from around the world come for a hand-crafted suit.

Davide Taub, Gieves and Hawkes' head bespoke cutter, said the royal warrant's value is in showing regular customers that they get the same quality as Britain's royals. "There is no hierarchy," Taub said.

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Gieves and Hawkes have also used their royal blessing to break into foreign markets, having opened up over 100 stores in China where it is often called the "Three Crowns," in reference to the three warrants the tailor holds.

"There is no doubt that in the export market the warrant is regarded highly, in particular in the Far East (and) in North America," Peck said.

. London, UNITED KINGDOM. Reuters/Toby Melville
A royal warrant is printed on a bottle of tomato sauce made by food company Heinz.

The Royal Warrant Holders Association is putting more emphasis on helping small and medium enterprises to collaborate and trade internationally, Peck said.

The royal warrant can boost a small company’s sales by up to 5 percent, said Robert Haigh, marketing director at Brand Finance.

. London, UNITED KINGDOM. Reuters/Toby Melville
Bottles of vintage cognac with a royal warrant stamp are stored inside Berry Bros. & Rudd wine merchants. Berry Bros. & Rudd, which started as grocers over 300 years ago in St. James's, central London, has two royal warrants.

A 2015 report from the consultancy estimated that the warrants, which today are granted for five years after which businesses must apply to renew them, provide 4.2 billion pounds ($6.4 billion) to the British economy.

There are some brands, including mint chocolate makers After Eight, that have given up the warrant. Haigh said that for brands seeking to appeal to a mass market, the royal symbol may not project quite the right image.

But for many others, the warrant is a branding no-brainer.

. London, UNITED KINGDOM. Reuters/Toby Melville
A hand-signed portrait of Queen Elizabeth stands on a display cabinet at Bentley and Skinner. Established in the 19th century, the company is a silversmith and jeweller to Queen Elizabeth.