Photo of a field of French lavender
Extensive lavender fields are a typical site in Provence, France [Image: Jddmano - Wikimedia Commons]

The quality of our products reflects the quality of our relationships

6 December, 2011

We have been lucky enough to work with some of our suppliers since the early days of Neal’s Yard Remedies.

In many cases our companies have grown up together.

Photo of Ulli with Susan Curtis

Ulli with Susan Curtis, Director of Natural Health for Neal’s Yard Remedies

One of the fantastic people that we have worked with for over 20 years is Ulli, who set up his company in the beautiful Provence region of France in the early 1980s.

Ulli started by wild harvesting locally growing plants such as lavender and juniper in the late 1970s, and then started farming in the 1980s, when we met him in the hills of Malaucène.

He went on to organise the selling of his fellow farmers’ products – all organic – and then to help develop stills in the region to distill the best quality organic essential oils needed for the growing aromatherapy market.

By using the experience and expertise gained in France, Ulli has gone on to set up some remarkable projects in developing countries. Although we generally prefer to buy local for environmental reasons, many essential oils need a tropical climate to thrive.

This has created the opportunity for developing some fair and ethical projects in some highly challenged parts of the world.

Going further afield

One such project is in Morocco, where we source our beautiful certified organic neroli essential oil, which is distilled nearby from the freshly picked blossom of the bitter orange trees that grow so well there. We will soon be bringing you more about this remarkable oil and the people who grow it and harvest it.

Back in France, Ulli’s company is going from strength to strength, and he has just taken over and invested in the rebuilding of a new processing unit nestled in the Provencal hills – and where we recently saw and inhaled the uplifting aroma of cinnamon being processed and dried lavender being graded.

Photo of Ulli's new factory

Ulli's new factory nestled in the hills of Provence

Lavender is of course one of the familiar sights in Provence and many of the hills in the area are purple in the summer when it is in flower. But even this most traditional of sights has not escaped the pressures of the modern world.

France produces over 50% of the world’s lavender – although production has nearly halved in the last decade due to the way that climate change has triggered new kind of blight in French lavender plants. This has affected both the supply and price.

Scientists and botanists are working on a solution in cooperation with counterparts in China to produce a disease resistant variety that can thrive in a changing environment.

An ethical commitment

Working with people like Ulli enabled Neal’s Yard Remedies to sell the first certified organic essential oils in the UK.

We believe that working at a human scale with our suppliers, who give such care and attention to their plants, provides benefits all round.

By making contracts of commitment directly with some of these growers, we can ensure that the farmers and harvesters have a fair and stable income and really benefit from growing organically and harvesting sustainably.

It also means that we get the best therapeutic quality and ethically sourced oils for our products and for our customers.