Saturday, August 30, 2014


Since I began this blog two years ago, the list of 800 or so royal warrant holders has stayed remarkably stable. That’s why I find it jarring when I notice there’s been some movement on the list. The members of the royal family may be traditional to the extreme, but even they are capable of embracing an out with the old/in with the new attitude at times. In 1999 cigarette manufacturer Benson & Hedges quietly lost its warrant because the royal family felt it unseemly to endorse tobacco products. For reasons much less clear, Carr’s—a warrant holder for more than 150 years—just lost its warrant in 2012.

Right away it seems necessary to defend why I’m writing about a company that lost its warrant. If they’re off the list, why bother? To that question I answer: 1.) I’ve also written about a Dog Show, vegetables, and formal warrant holder Hamleys on this site and 2.) I didn’t realize when I bought these crackers that Carr’s had lost its warrant. It strikes me as a waste of money if I don’t come up with something to say about them.

Per the Carr’s website, this brand was founded by Jonathan Carr, who opened a bakery in Carlisle, England in 1831. Just 10 years later, remarkably, Queen Victoria awarded the bakery a royal warrant, which Carr’s held continuously since 2012. Carr’s today makes a whole line of thin little grown-up crackers just begging to be opened at a fancy party. The table water crackers I bought were a little blah without cheese or something fun to pair them with, but the rosemary and poppy & sesame flavors are lovely on their own.

As I navigated around on the Carr’s website I was surprised to find it in disrepair. The “Special Offers” and “Recipes” sections ask visitors to “check back soon,” and the “Where to Buy” section is unviewable because of errors.

But the crackers haven’t changed, right? Why would the royal family suddenly stop eating them? An article that ran in Carlisle's Cumberland News in March 2012 stated the official word from Buckingham Palace is that “changing tastes” in the household dictated this move. But who suddenly stops eating crackers? Did they also stop using toilet paper and drinking milk? Something isn’t adding up here.

My theory was that Carr’s being bought-out by United Biscuits (which owns fellow royal warrant holder brand McVitie’s) could have something to do with this. For other possibilities, let’s turn our attention to the “Have Your Say” section of the Cumberland News. People indeed had a lot to say here, even if 85% was, arguably, not on point:

used to love these in Shetland in the '80's, so I thought I'd treat myself to a bit of nostalgia... what on earth has happened to them? you used to get about a dozen to a box, now they're paper thin and nowhere near as nice. Sorry Carrs, but did you lose the Royal Warrant when you went wafer thin?
Posted by Philip Young on 29 January 2013

My father worked at Carr's of Carlisle after the war,and Carrs water biscuits are top of our table here in NZ, they are the best water crackers on the NZ market, with a glass of wine and NZ cheese the best of British! So sorry to here of the lose please maintain quality
My brother Alan Scott also worked in the printing Dept in the late 50's
Posted by Syd Scott on 6 January 2013

They were probably dropped from Royal patronage because they competed with Charles Duchy biscuits. Fact is, Carrs water biscuits are the best in the world by far, of their type. With any cheese - absolutely delicious.
Posted by Chris W on 6 January 2013

We’ll leave the last word to a Mrs. D Paris, who had these strong feelings about the crackers:

Well, they still have my seal of approval. They are delicious, no other savoury biscuit comes anywhere near. If the Palace no longer buys them, then that says a lot about declining standards in the royal household.
Long may they flourish.
Posted by Mrs D Paris on 19 August 2012

While losing a warrant might temporarily sideline some businesses, Carr’s decided not to take this slight lying down. United Biscuits complied with royal wishes and removed the Queen’s coat of arms from their crackers’ packaging but at the same time opted to replace it with the coat of arms of the city of Carlisle. Per the packaging, United Biscuits went so far as to enter into a trademark licensing agreement with the city of Carlisle in order to use this symbol. To the undistinguished eye (read: mine, when I grabbed a package at the store the other day), the packaging didn’t change much.

I guess I could be annoyed that I was duped into buying the Carr’s, but it honestly didn’t bother me. I wish I could say the same for the fair-skinned, blue-eyed princes who reign over my house. When I offered them Carr’s crackers for snack the other day, their faces instantly lit up. As we gathered at the dining room table and I tugged open the packaging to reveal the pale white crackers, their eyes narrowed:

“I thought you said these were Cars crackers,” Nathan protested.

Cars,” Nicky repeated.

“Where’s Lightning McQueen?”

Maybe it’s true what Buckingham Palace said—changing tastes.

Where to buy: Carr’s crackers are available in most grocery stores. I purchased mine at Treasure Island in Chicago.

Saturday, January 18, 2014


We’ve been homebound quite a bit the past few weeks, due in no small part to the cold weather and to a stomach flu that has been exchanged between the younger members of my house. This week I thought I’d just try to dig up something interesting about a product I already have at home—Quaker Oats. But what is there really to learn about this iconic product most Americans already have sitting in their pantries? Quite a bit actually. Quaker Oats holds a royal warrant from Her Majesty the Queen as “Suppliers of Quaker Oat Products.”

I once lived a good part of a year in Philadelphia, so I have a better understanding of these mystic, peace-loving people than most Americans do. The Quakers, I mean—not Philadelphians. I’ve always understood—just as I assume you do—that Quakers founded this company. To write this entry I just needed to learn a little more about them.

The British Quaker website gives short shrift to the company history, instead focusing on the process of milling oats and the company’s commitment to renewable resources. In a word: Snoozeville. I gave up and tried the U.S. website, which offered quite a bit more detail. The American website shares that in 1877 Quaker Oats registered the very first U.S. trademark for breakfast cereal—a design featuring “a figure of a man in ‘Quaker garb.’” Then, surprisingly, it notes that owners Henry Seymour and William Heston are thought to have selected a Quaker to represent their product because it suggested honesty and good quality.

See the problem here? Seymour and Heston weren’t Quakers. Quaker Oats aren’t grown by Quakers. The company wasn’t formed by Friends. I don’t even know if Quakers like oatmeal. This is a sham, folks.

To get a little more of the back story, I consulted Arthur Marquette’s Brands, Trademarks and Good Will: The Story of the Quaker Oats Company. Marquette’s book is a fabulous history, not only of the Quaker Oats Company but of oat consumption in the United States in general. Prior to the late 1800s, oats weren’t considered people food by Americans; they were suitable only as horse food. Americans preferred big breakfasts heavy on meat, eggs, dairy and sugar. Quaker’s founders—not unlike Kellogg’s founders—sought to change the first meal of the day into one that was less expensive and less dependent on animal protein. Eating oatmeal for breakfast was especially popular among new Scotch and Irish immigrants who couldn’t afford the lavish spread so many others enjoyed. In concert with this rebranding of oatmeal as people food, the Quaker Oats Company was an aggressive advertiser, more so than many companies of the time period.

Marquette also provides a bit more detail about the decision to invent a Quaker connection for the brand. He writes:

“Heston was of Quaker descent, which may have motivated the trademark, but this is doubtful. More probably one of the partners, Henry Seymour, searching an encyclopedia for a virtuous identity that would instill buyer confidence, saw in the article on the Quaker sect exactly the connotation he desired for his steel-cut oats. Possibly his eye was on the large Quaker population in nearby Ohio towns and villages.”
I guess from reading this you could make the argument that Quaker Oats might still have some connection to the Quakers. Still, I wonder if Heston isn’t one of those people who simply claim they are Quakers because that sounds like a cool thing to be. Take Adam, for instance. When I told him I wanted to interview a Quaker for this article to find out if they’re as angry about the Quaker oat man as Native Americans are about the Washington Redskins, he reminded me that he considers himself to be of Quaker descent. He also pointed out that he went to the University of Pennsylvania, home of the Fighting Quakers. I’ll tell you what I just told him—you can’t just decide to be a Quaker sometimes. You’re either a Quaker all the time or you never are. You either go to a Friends’ meeting hall and sit in silence on Sunday mornings or you don’t.

As if Quaker impersonation weren’t bad enough, Quaker Oats has in recent years engaged in another sham. Notice any changes in the appearance of the man on the oat canister lately? You should. In 2012, the company revealed a tanner, leaner, younger-looking Quaker oat man who is a far cry from the portly, sagging gentleman who graced their packaging when I was growing up.

The company didn’t intend for the change to be noticeable; rather they envisioned it as a subtle rebranding effort. If oats are heart healthy, slimming, and good for your skin, the Quaker Oat Man wouldn’t be chubby, wrinkled, and old-looking, right? Thus the change in his appearance.

Princess Diana was no stranger to such a physical change. Soon after her marriage to Prince Charles, she started looking less like a schoolgirl and more like a glamorous new wife. In her 2006 biography Diana, Sarah Bradford recounts the new images of the princess of Wales on her Scottish honeymoon at the royal family’s Balmoral Castle:

“She was already transformed from the mousy girl of a few months previously; her hair was coloured blonde and with bare brown legs and tanned complexion she looked for the first time not just beautiful but glamorous.”
In a famous photo of Diana and Charles taken on this trip, he has just caught a fish in the river. The two posed together awkwardly, each taking on a different role. Bradford shares that Diana,

“gazing seductively at the press, her legs adopting a ballet position, draped a possessive arm around his shoulders. Charles looked stiff, nervous and worried, the dead salmon lying as a trophy at his feet.”
Diana’s transformation into a confident, sex symbol of a princess enthralled the British people instantly. At the same time, the marriage was almost instantly considered by both parties to be a mismatch. It just didn’t fit.

I couldn’t help feeling the same way as the tan, slim, younger-looking Quaker Oat Man gazed seductively at me from the side of the canister while I made oatmeal chocolate chip cookies last weekend. That religious charlatan should be hawking something else—men’s cologne, athletic shoes, chewing gum. Oatmeal just isn’t a good fit.

Where to Buy: Come on, you can buy it anywhere.