Our Blog - Our organic evolution: 1980s – 2000s
Our organic evolution: 1980s – 2000s
When we opened our doors in 1981, we joined a group of forward-thinking businesses based in a quiet corner of London’s Covent Garden called Neal’s Yard. We all shared a similar vision, pioneering values of sustainability, natural ingredients, eco-friendly packaging, value, equality, community and upcycling. These beliefs are etched into our brand’s ethos and have been adopted by many others over the years. So, as we approach Organic Beauty Week, we’re looking back at our organic evolution from the 1980s to the present day, celebrating the milestones and sharing the stories behind them. First up: the three defining decades at the beginning of our organic journey.
Under the wing of our founder Romy Fraser, we were called Neal’s Yard Apothecary and initially only sold natural remedies. Soon after, we started creating our natural cosmetics, made at the back of our Covent Garden store, hand-crafted using organically produced herbal extracts and housed in our iconic blue glass bottles to protect the integrity of the ingredients inside.
From the early days, Romy had started sowing seeds of our organic evolution, starting with essential oils. In the mid-80s, Romy and Susan Curtis, our former Natural Health Director, went from farm to farm in the South of France to source and trial a small quantity of organic lavender essential oil. Only one farmer, Ulli, said yes, and we still work with him today; he now works with 20 different farmers to source organic lavender essential oil.
In 1987 we were the first UK retailer to sell certified organic Lavender Essential Oil – our very first certified organic product – and it remains one of our customer favourites today.
Our organic story grew in the 1990s when we began to work with the Soil Association (SA), a British charity founded in 1946, leading nature-positive farming initiatives and developing world-leading organic standards to help build a better, more sustainable future. The SA’s organic certification – easily spotted by its logo on product labels – gives customers a trusted way of knowing an item has been made using eco-friendly farming techniques and packaging to protect the planet and all its inhabitants without using controversial chemicals.
At the time, certified organic skincare was niche and low in demand, and the SA were still only accrediting food. But we wanted our customers to have the same assurance for the skincare they used as they did in food, so, in 1991, we became Britain’s first health and beauty brand to use certified organic ingredients. It marked the start of our organic journey as an accredited retailer and paved the way for organic beauty throughout the industry.
In 1993, we began growing organic herbs, which we crafted into botanical extracts for our products. In the mid-90s, we launched a range of certified organic teabags to sell alongside our loose teas, including chamomile, nettle, echinacea and fennel.
Discover wild-harvested herbs in our organic herbal teas, carefully dried to preserve their therapeutic benefits and encased in planet-friendly, plastic-free compostable teabags.
And while certifying products like moisturisers were still off the table at that point, a range of our massage oils and balms qualified for accreditation towards the end of the decade. In 1998, we certified our long-loved tired muscle saviour, Arnica Salve.
The millennium brought a decade of organic firsts at Neal’s Yard Remedies. In 2002, we collaborated with the SA to release the first standards for certified organic beauty and launched the UK’s first four certified organic skincare products. Among them were two products that remain customer favourites today: our nourishing Melissa Hand Cream and replenishing Rose & Almond Night Cream.
In 2003, we reformulated our long-loved revitalising Honey & Orange Facial Scrub to make it certified organic, and it’s of our top-selling exfoliators today. In 2004 we launched our award-winning, certified organic Wild Rose Beauty Balm, using sustainably and ethically sourced rosehip seed and hemp oils, shea butter and a balancing blend of essential oils.
Two years later, in 2005, we moved our HQ to a purpose-built eco-factory in Peacemarsh, Dorset, where we now have over seven acres of organic land and grow 40 different herbs for our products. The following year, organic farming advocate Peter Kindersley acquired Neal’s Yard Remedies, driving our organic evolution and encouraging people to harness their wellbeing through education and natural remedies.
We began working to certify our iconic Frankincense Nourishing Cream in the mid-noughties. Through reformulation trials, our staff tried, tested and loved our new organic version, but it was completely different to the original. So, in 2008, our certified organic Frankincense Hydrating Cream was born, blended with moisturising sodium hyaluronate, ideal for dehydrated skin. And in 2009, it won Best Organic Product in the UK Beauty Awards, while Romy was awarded an OBE for her services to the health and beauty industry, marking a pivotal shift in the changing attitudes towards natural remedies and certified organic skincare.
Watch Tipper Lewis, our brand ambassador and Naturopathic Herbalist, talk about our organic evolution and what she thinks the future holds for organic health and beauty. Plus, keep your eyes peeled for our next blog as we journey through the 2010s to the present day.