Retail Week Columns

What to do when you feel the heat? Build a kitchen

Doing something a little crazy if the only way to fight off a slow decline into obsolescence

As a Yorkshireman, I am naturally very familiar with the anguished cry of “how much?” that usually attends any major purchasing decision in the county. Like a kitchen refurbishment, for example.

So I am delighted to report that I did not blanch or blink when presented with the bill for our new kitchen at Iceland: a cool £2.5m.

True, it’s much more than a standard domestic kitchen.

In fact it contains no fewer than five of those, surrounding our main development kitchen, which has all the latest gadgets and gizmos you would expect to find in a top Michelin-starred restaurant.

No surprise there, given that that is exactly the background of our new head chef Neil Nugent, who joined us in February after stints with a number of our competitors including Waitrose.

So in the perhaps unlikely setting of Deeside Industrial Park we now have the best development kitchen of any retailer in the UK, helping us to add serious impetus to our drive to innovate, improve and educate the public about the many huge advantages of frozen food.

I’ve been banging this drum for 46 years now, and Iceland’s quality has always been far better than most people think.

But I’ll admit that we were guilty of allowing our emphasis on incredible value to obscure that.

If you’re selling a pizza for a quid it takes real effort to persuade a middle class sceptic that it isn’t rubbish – even though the economies we can achieve by freezing really do make it possible to offer food that is high quality, tasty and healthy at a scarcely believable price.

Our recent press coverage, notably following Good Housekeeping’s verdict that our mince pies, turkeys and stuffing parcels are simply the best in the UK, is helping us to get that message over with ever-increasing strength.

While our new concept of larger stores branded as The Food Warehouse, and refurbishments of traditional Icelands like the one in Clapham Common, are steadily extending our consumer appeal.

Are we re-inventing Iceland? Yes, as we have re-invented it many times over the years, as we evolved from a loose frozen food shop into a freezer centre, then a specialist in great value ready meals.

Now we’re the UK’s leading specialist retailer of frozen fish with a whole host of unique, delicious and award-winning products to tempt even the most jaded palate.

Whatever line of business you are in, constantly questioning what you are doing and trying new – and maybe crazy – things is the only alternative to a slow but inevitable decline into obsolescence and decay.

I read the descriptions of what we are doing as “the English Aldi” with mild irritation.

First because we’re based in Wales. And secondly because I think we are far better than that.

Like every other UK food retailer, we’ve felt the heat of competition in the last few years, but we’ve stayed true to our roots in frozen food.

And, faithful to our always contrarian instincts, we’ve done the exact opposite of getting out of the kitchen!

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