Malcolm Walker Retail Week Columns

No truce in supermarket aisles this Christmas

Popular misconceptions about Iceland’s offer abound, but the grocer is fighting back in the run up to Christmas and beyond.


Everyone in Britain thinks they know two things about the Germans. They’re the first to hit the sun loungers and they’ve got no sense of humour.

Isn’t it odd, then, that ads designed to make us smile are a key feature of the campaigns for British hearts and minds run by Aldi and Lidl?

Anyone who watched last year’s BBC2 series Life in the Freezer Cabinet knows there is no shortage of would-be comedians in my business. Unfortunately, however, most jokes about Iceland are at our expense.

Middle class, metropolitan journalists love poking fun at our products, and sneering at frozen food in general. Well, if it’s not fresh it’s got to be rubbish, hasn’t it?

That won’t stop them buying chilled ready buying chilled ready meals from M&S or Waitrose, bunging them in the freezer on their “use by” date and microwaving them a few months later.

“Fresh is best” is an absurd prejudice I’ve spent years trying to counter by pointing out the huge advantages of frozen food, from the higher vitamin content retained by vegetables to the lower risk of campylobacter in frozen chickens. Plus the big savings for consumers across all products, and the massive reduction in food waste.

Recent publicity has again underlined that so-called “fresh” fish can easily be up to 15 days old, and will often reveal in the small print that it was previously frozen. So if you really want it fresh, buying it frozen is the only answer.

These arguments are so convincing that I feel our critics simply aren’t open to reason. I’ve also reluctantly concluded that they’re not just prejudiced against Iceland, but against the people who shop with us.

Last year I had a female journalist scream at me that I should be ashamed of myself for making poor people fat by selling them rubbish. I tried explaining that our best selling lines include frozen chicken breasts and salmon fillets, and you can’t get more wholesome than that, but it cut no ice.

Another lady, who is unlikely to feature in ads for successful slimming products, enthusiastically ploughed her way through a lavish Iceland buffet, consuming six of our Bubble Bobble Prawns before questioning in print “what dark corner of hell they were dragged from”.

Three months ago we started opening our new stores called The Food Warehouse, around twice the size of a typical Iceland. We didn’t seek national publicity for the initial opening, but our prawn enthusiast came along anyway and devoted a double page spread to sneering at our ranges of top quality luxury and exotic meats and fish. The sort of thing, she alleged, that misguided provincials wrongly imagine posh people like to eat.

Meanwhile most of the national newspapers have been running what read like year-long free advertising campaigns for our German competitors, lauding their truly amazing, award-winning quality and value.

We’ve noticed that they win lots of awards mainly because they put loads of products in for them, so we’ve started doing some more of that ourselves. I was rather pleased when our Luxury Mince Pies beat not just Aldi and Lidl, but also Harrods and Fortnum & Mason.

Meanwhile our humorous Christmas ads have achieved the supreme accolade of Campaign magazine’s dual endorsement as the most recalled ad of the week, and one of the worst ads around (what they call “a Top 10 Turkey”). I always find that reassuring.

There will be no Christmas truce in the supermarket aisles next week, and I do hope our German friends aren’t starting to feel too comfortable on those loungers.

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