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Prince Charles stole my idea for local produce, claims Cornish baker
By Andrew Alderson, Chief Reporter
It is a tale of the prince, the baker and the saffron cake that never made it on to supermarket shelves.
The Prince of Wales was accused yesterday of stealing a Cornish trader's idea and launching a royal food range that has since become a multi-million pound enterprise.
Prince Charles's Duchy Originals brand has more than 130 productsAccording to one former employee of Tesco, Martyn Hawkins was "royally sold down the river" by Prince Charles when the baker was on the verge of signing a lucrative new contract with the supermarket chain worth an estimated £200,000 a year.
Last week, Mr Hawkins and Sue Wolstenholme, who handled the marketing negotiations with Tesco, said they had been shocked and disappointed by the way he was treated.
Mr Hawkins had come up with the idea of providing Tesco with a wholesome, country brand to fill a gap in the supermarket's bread and cake products. He had invested £20,000 in the project and had even designed the packaging for the new brand. After 18 months of negotiations, Tesco was poised to take 4,000 saffron cakes a week for its shelves.
The supermarket, however, told Mr Hawkins at "the eleventh hour" that it had decided not to sell his product which had been due to be marketed as Cornish "Sunshine Cake".
Instead, Tesco announced in 1990 that it was going to sell Prince Charles's Highgrove bread, a sliced wholemeal loaf made from organic wheat from his estate in Gloucestershire.
There was only one gap on the supermarket's bread and cake shelves for a new country brand and so Cornish Sunshine Cake was never marketed. The Highgrove bread, however, was the forerunner of the Duchy Originals brand, which sells more than 130 products and makes more than £1 million a year for Prince Charles's chosen charities.
The allegations emerged last week when the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall visited Cornwall for the first time since their wedding last month. It jogged memories of the supposedly unsavoury episode for Mr Hawkins 15 years ago. Clarence House, however, has put it down to a "misunderstanding".
Back in 1990, Mr Hawkins was convinced that he was on the verge of fame and fortune with a project that would also provide extra jobs for Britain's poorest county. The design for packaging included the chough, the rare bird widely associated with Cornwall.
Miss Wolstenholme said yesterday that she had first told Prince Charles about her client's intention to market the saffron cake at a lunch in Cornwall attended by 300 guests. The function, at the Headland Hotel in Newquay, was called "Cornwall - the Way Ahead" and was an attempt to promote Cornish products.
"Prince Charles was interested in the project and we discussed it," she said. "When he left, he asked me to update him on how it was going so we did. We hoped the Prince might become involved in promoting Martyn's new brand.
"Then, out of the blue, at the eleventh hour, the Tesco's executive rang me to say they wouldn't be taking Cornish Sunshine because it had decided to take the Highgrove loaf instead. He said they would be selling Prince Charles's bread. His comment to me was, 'I think you've been royally sold down the river'.
"It was a difficult situation. I was very surprised that the Prince put one of his own products before Martyn's because I thought he was behind the idea of getting Cornish products sold nationally."
Mr Hawkins, 54, who has run Martin's bakers in St Austell, Cornwall, since 1978, said: "At the time, I was very disappointed. Sue had put a lot of work into it, I had put a lot of money into it and we were on the verge of signing a deal to expand the brand nationwide.
"I was certainly surprised - no, shocked - to learn that the space that had been preliminarily allocated to us was instead being given to Prince Charles for his Highgrove range. I don't know whether Prince Charles actually used information that he had gathered from Sue to his advantage but it was all a bit rich."
A former senior employee at Tesco confirmed Mr Hawkins' and Miss Wolstenholme's version of events. "It was quite amazing. This baker had come up with a concept for selling a pure Cornish product with the connotations of quality and homeliness that are now synonymous with the Duchy Originals brand.
"As I remember, it was being sorted out by one of our senior staff and out of the blue he was summoned to the palace [St James's Palace, where the Prince used to have his private office]. In any event, after that meeting [with the Prince], Cornish Sunshine cakes were binned and Highgrove loaves were on the shelves. Everyone felt sympathy for the baker."
The website for Duchy Originals says: "In 1990 the Prince of Wales commissioned some research into the feasibility of a small range of agricultural marketing initiatives." Duchy Originals, which now markets five different breads among its range, was launched in 1992. Last year it announced its first £1 million annual profit for its charities from a turnover of £35 million.
This weekend Tesco said that the member of staff who had negotiated the deal was no longer with the company and it could not comment. A spokesman for Clarence House said: "I am sure there has been a misunderstanding and that there is an innocent explanation to all this. The Prince of Wales is a well known supporter of small businesses and would never knowingly do down a small baker."
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25 April 2004: Prince proves his critics wrong with £1m profit from Duchy Originals