Iceland wriggles out of self-imposed palm oil ban by removing own brand labels

Iceland wriggles out of self-imposed palm oil ban by removing own brand labels

Iceland has removed its branding from products containing palm oil, rather than the ingredient itself, in a bid to meet its self-imposed ban.

The chain had pledged to phase out own-brand products containing palm oil by the end of last year.

The retailer used its Christmas campaign to talk up the plan, causing a storm when it claimed its ad had been "banned" by broadcasters for being too political.

But a cursory check of its website has revealed many offending goods are still for sale. More damaging still, a BBC investigation has found that the retailer has simply removed its own label branding from 17 products rather than go to the trouble of removing palm oil itself.

Blaming the continued use of palm oil on "technical issues" Iceland said it had not intended to "mislead" consumers and remained committed to removing palm oil as an ingredient and was pushing manufacturers "hard" to do so.

This stance didn't wash with Ethical Consumer magazine, which wrote: “In the cases where they have failed to reformulate products, simply re-labelling them is counter-productive.”

Around 28 own-brand products were found to contain the ingredient, with a further 600 product lines from other brands also listing the controversial substance.

Responding to the accusations, Iceland claimed that many of these products were frozen prior to the end of the year and would take time to fall out of the system. This defence was undermined however by the observation that a new range of hot cross buns for 2019 which also contained palm oil.

On Twitter, the brand went into greater detail about how it has handled the situation. "All these lines will be moved back into own label as soon as our suppliers have made the necessary changes at a manufacturing level; this will be done by April 2019 at the latest."

It added in another thread: "On a very small number of lines, we have moved a product out of Iceland own label into a brand. This is quite simply because it was not possible to remove palm oil at a manufacturing level in these products by 31 December 2018.

"Removing palm oil represents a huge technical challenge: it is not simply a matter of switching to a substitute ingredient. In many cases the manufacturer has to change its production equipment and processes, often at considerable cost and this is not something that can be accomplished overnight. We made the decision to move these few products into brands because it was incredibly important to us that we did not backtrack on our commitment, or mislead consumers in any way about our own label food.

"All these lines will be moved back into own label as soon as our suppliers have made the necessary changes at a manufacturing level; this will be done by April 2019 at the latest.

"It remains true that, as of 31 December 2018, Iceland has removed palm oil as an ingredient from its own label products, and that we are the first major retailer to have made this move."

Julie Oxberry, managing director and co-founder of Household, said: "Brands are playing an even greater role in customers’ lives. In a post-truth society, customers are becoming bolder and are not afraid to question the reality of what a brand ‘actually’ stands for. We are willing to peer behind closed doors, or dig even deeper into a brand’s DNA, to reveal the truth.

"In 2019, this search for transparency, honesty and integrity will continue. The recent news about Iceland proves that it’s no longer enough for a brand to simply ‘clean up’ its external image. In order to survive it must build and maintain a unified presence and strong purpose. It is vital that a brand’s identity is consistent at every touchpoint and must deepen to include internal culture and processes too."

In December Iceland managing director Richard Walker defended the Christmas campaign as 'a genuine case of serendipity, not a cynical PR ploy.'

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