Neal's Yard Remedies (NYR) has come a long way since the opening of the first store in Covent Garden in 1981. Flick though any glossy magazine's beauty pages and the chances are you'll see a Neal's Yard Remedies balm, oil or serum as an editor's pick. And with 40 stores in the UK, the brand and its iconic blue bottles have become a high street staple.
With its strong ethical stance and large range of natural and organic lotions and potions Neal's Yard Remedies has long been an Ecologist favourite.
But with so many other ‘organic' and ‘natural' brands out there competing for shoppers' attention what makes NYR a cut above the rest?
‘Neal's Yard Remedies has been around for 30 years. We're always pushing the boundaries in natural and organic skincare and being a small company means being able to pay attention to detail and get things right,' says Peter Kindersley, owner and chairman.
Kindersley, a former book publisher (he co-founded Dorling Kindersley) who bought Neal's Yard Remedies in 2005 is now on a mission to make NYR a worldwide eco brand.
‘I want Neal's Yard Remedies to become the leading ethical, fair-trade and organic health and beauty company in the world - nothing less,' he says.
So what made a former book publisher buy a natural health and beauty brand? As I discovered on a trip to Sheepdrove Farm, Kindersley's organic farm in Berkshire, he is passionate about all things organic.
Fittingly for a publisher it was a book he published in 1976, The Complete Book of Self Sufficiency by John Seymour, that turned him into a greenie. (The book is still in print.) At the time, Kindersley had just bought a cottage near Sheepdrove Farm.
‘I got to know John Seymour and he began to explain what industrial farming was - what he called "agribusiness" as opposed to agriculture,' he says. ‘I made up my mind that if I could buy more land I would create a chemical-free zone.' Gradually he and his wife Juliet acquired extra bits of land and now they own over 2000 acres.
Many of the herbs, such as calendula, yarrow and echinacea that go into various NYR products are grown at Sheepdrove - organically of course. Kindersley gave me a tour of the farm, pointing out herbs and explaining what they're used for.
There's no doubting Kindersley's commitment to organic farming and the environment. In Sheepdrove he's created a model farm producing organic free-range pork, chicken, beef and lamb (sold online or in Sheepdrove butchers in Maida Vale, London or Bristol) as well as crops. There's even an eco conference centre (pictured right). His heroes include environmental luminaries such as Rachel Carson, Tony Juniper (‘who advises us') and Jonathon Porritt (‘who we published at DK').
But that still doesn't explain his decision to buy Neal's Yard Remedies.
‘Basically Neal's Yard Remedies had the possibility of being able to convert people on a much bigger scale up and down the country to a more natural way of living. It gives us a bigger canvas to paint on,' he says.
Since he took over, ten more stores have opened in the UK, along with stores in Dubai and direct selling initiatives in the US and the UK. There are healthy foreign markets in Japan and Europe. ‘We are going to expand it as much as we can without losing the very strong ethical base of the business.'
One of first things Kindersley did when he took over was to make the products more organic. As well as inventing new products his team has reformulated existing ones.
As one of the first beauty brands in the UK to be certified by the Soil Association for non-food products, it now offers the largest range of organic health and beauty products in the UK (around 218). The rest contain ‘the maximum organic content possible.' If they aren't 100 per cent organic there's always a good reason. Some ingredients such as frankincense (which is wild crafted) simply cannot be organically certified. ‘But as we say, wild craft is the ultimate organic - it's what organic farmers are trying to emulate.'
For ingredients sourced from abroad, NYR use sustainable palm oil from Columbia and is trying to use more Fairtrade. It launched the first certified Fairtrade cosmetic product in 2009 (there's five in the range now).
Eco factories and beyond
It ticks further green boxes too. As an independent, British, family-owned company, all products are made at the Neal's Yard Remedies physic garden (pictured left) and ‘eco factory' in Dorset.
The blue glass jars are fired from Scottish sand, Yorkshire limestone and soda ash from Cheshire and the plastic bottles are made from 100 per cent PETE Post Consumer Recycled material.
To polish it all off, NYR is the first high street retailer in the UK to be awarded the CarbonNeutral® brand mark.
What stand out achievement is he most proud of? ‘It would have to be our Wild Rose SPF 30, the first ever sunscreen to be certified by the Soil Association. So many people told us it couldn't be done but after years of research and product development we finally got there.'
In this difficult financial climate, is it tough to promote quality but pricey products? ‘Of course it is. The truth is, that natural and organic ingredients cost more. But our sales are up like for like. Plus organic/natural skincare is one of the most strongly growing cosmetics markets there is.'
What are the biggest obstacles stopping people using natural and organic products? ‘Availability is one part of it. I think it is ignorance. People don't realise what they're putting on their skin.'
He feels being on the high street is important to get the message out that ‘what you put on your skin is as important as what you eat.' From October this holistic message will expand to incorporate homes, with the launch of its Home Fragrance Collection (free of petrochemical and synthetic fragrances).
What message does Kindersley have for Brits using L'Oreal, Dove or Febreze?
‘Don't! Try something natural.'
To mark Neal's Yard Remedies' 30th anniversary it has teamed up with activist and campaigner Sam Roddick to launch the Bee Lovely and Help Save the Bees campaign. Sign the campaign petition to ban the use of neonicotinoids, a powerful pesticide class.
THREE OF THE BEST NYR PRODUCTS
Bee Lovely Hand Cream
A limited edition hand cream introduced as part of NYR's Bee Lovely and Help Save The Bees campaign. Read Ruth Styles's review of Bee Lovely.
Wild Rose Beauty Balm
A rose-scented wonder product that has three uses: a gently exfoliating cleanser, a balancing mask and a nourishing balm (for skin, lips and even dry hair). Its star ingredient is wild rosehip oil - an antioxidant proven to help repair, firm and smooth the skin. Each pot comes with a muslin cleansing cloth made from organically grown cotton from India. It may be a bit pricey but it lasts a long time.
£35.25 / 50g
Frankincense Hydrating Cream
A best seller, this popular cream contains frankincense and myrrh ‘to help reduce fine lines and keep skin feeling ‘soft, fresh and youthful.' The cream's blend of vitamin and nutrient rich oils (including almond, jojoba and apricot kernal) nourish and protect the skin. The Hydrating Cream is a lighter, and organically certified version of Frankincense Nourishing Cream.
£23.50 / 50g
Laura Sevier is a freelance journalist
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