Ladies and gentlemen I must say it's a remarkable occasion this really, to think that we've managed to reach 21 years old with Duchy Originals! When you first start something like this, certainly as far as I'm concerned, you never think you are going to last more than five years, and when you launch the first product, you wonder whether anybody out there is ever going to buy it!
Anyway for some remarkable reason a few people did, and it's wonderful for me today to see so many people here who played such an important part in helping to get Duchy Originals off the ground. And there were one or two people who didn't just rubbish it straight away, but I think saw part of the point of what I was trying to get at.
But when I launched the first Duchy Originals product the oaten biscuit there were headlines in the tabloid papers saying "A shop soiled Royal". But twenty-one years on, I doubt if many people can appreciate just how difficult and challenging it was at that time to build one of the earliest organic brands. Just the process of developing a supply chain for organic sausages and bacon was a major challenge. We had to start from scratch, literally, and we had to do it by persuading a few courageous producers that it was worth their while going through the risky and exhaustive process of converting their entire operation to an organic regime.
At that time I wanted to try and show that it was possible to produce food of the highest quality by working in harmony with Nature in a way that would benefit both environmental and human health, and that I wanted to do so by following agro-ecological principles, adding value to them through the skills of expert and artisan producers, and then to re-invest all of the profits in good causes. This was what I can only call a “virtuous circle”.
But who would have thought that twenty-one years later our oaten biscuit would have turned into a brand worth, as Mark Price said, £72 million, sold in over thirty countries with 230 different lines, while being managed by one of the biggest retailers, and one of the best of course, and most encouragingly would have donated over £11 million to charitable causes?
Well ladies and gentlemen a great deal is owed to Mark Price and his team at Waitrose - most of who seem to be here today so there can't be anyone left in the office in Bracknell - for which I will get the blame don't worry! But they have done so much to take Duchy Originals to an entirely new level that I would never have imagined, so I am hugely grateful to them.
So today we have hundreds of suppliers, many of whom I'm glad to see here this afternoon, from farmers through to family-owned businesses. The brand represents the very best of sustainably sourced and organic British products. Right from the start, preserving our heritage, upholding traditional skills and supporting local communities were of fundamental importance to the brand. And ladies and gentleman, if that was important twenty-one years ago, I happen to believe it is even more so today. With accelerating climate change, exponentially rising costs of fuel and fertiliser, and an unsustainably growing population we have to find ways to produce food more sustainably. That means focussing on the health of the soil - without which we won't be able to grow very much - it means working with Nature and not against her, and it means finding ways to produce more without toxic and artificial fertilisers derived from fossil fuels.
That is why a substantial proportion of the profits are funding the Duchy Originals Future Farming Programme, run by the Soil Association, which supports innovation in sustainable agriculture. For many years now in the West there has been a tendency for a large share of agricultural research to be paid for by businesses wanting to develop new inputs to sell to farmers. There is infinitely less if any support for research that helps farmers make the best use of the renewable resources that they already have on their farms, to help build soil fertility and control pests and diseases.
But the Duchy Originals Future Farming Programme is just one of many charities Duchy Originals supports. Back in 2001, we were able to donate £500,000 to help farmers who were suffering so much during the horrors of Foot and Mouth. And today my Countryside Fund, which works to find a secure future for those who live and work in the countryside, particularly our smaller family farmers, is a major beneficiary from Duchy Originals.
And it isn’t only rural communities we have helped. Over the years, hospices throughout the country, the National Trust and the Red Cross, to name but a very few, have all benefitted from the profits from sales. The recipe for the oaten biscuit, which took eighteen months to perfect, remains unchanged and is still produced by our first supplier, the wonderful family firm of Walkers of Aberlour, in Scotland who have been there for 115 years, are a very remarkable family. It has endured as one of the brand’s most popular products, especially in the ever-growing international markets which is another reason why I am so pleased to see so many people here today from those overseas markets.