Palm Oil Update

April 2019

As stated in Sir Malcolm Walker’s update of January 2019 (below), we had ended the manufacture of Iceland own label products containing palm oil as an ingredient by 31 December 2018.

We have reformulated over 130 regular products and launched over 300 new lines, including summer and Christmas seasonal products, that exclude palm oil as an ingredient: around 450 products in total.

As previously stated, we have allowed Iceland own label frozen food lines that were manufactured before 31 December 2018, and therefore contain palm oil as an ingredient,  to sell through in order to avoid food waste. Although some lines remain on sale in some stores as of 1 April 2019, usually only in small quantities, we are confident that they will have sold through completely by the end of this month.

Since January we have successfully reformulated and relaunched 13 Iceland frozen, chilled and ambient lines that were temporarily removed from our own label because suppliers were unable to meet our 31 December 2018 deadline to end production using palm oil as an ingredient. These lines now meet our ‘no palm oil’ standard though the temporarily ‘unbranded’ lines may still be on sale in some stores.

All remaining Iceland own label and temporarily ‘unbranded’ lines containing palm oil of which we hold any significant stock are now being marked down in price to accelerate their clearance, and we are confident that all such products will have sold through by the end of April 2019.

We have taken the difficult decision to end the sale of four former Iceland own label garlic bread lines which it has not proved possible to reformulate by our revised April deadline; these will be replaced with an alternative branded product, though we are continuing to work with our supplier with the aim of reintroducing Iceland own label products that do not contain palm oil as an ingredient later in the year.

Iceland & Palm Oil – Haven’t We Done Well?

January 2019

• Last year we announced we would stop manufacturing products containing palm oil as an ingredient under the Iceland own label by the end of 2018.

• This was a bold decision designed to draw attention to tropical deforestation and the threat to wildlife habitats and local people caused by palm oil plantations.

• We have reformulated over 130 regular products and launched over 300 new lines, including summer and Christmas seasonal products, that exclude palm oil as an ingredient: around 450 products in total.

• No Iceland own label products containing palm oil as an ingredient have been manufactured since last year. We have 100% achieved our goal.

• This has been a difficult and expensive process as it is not simply a case of substituting ingredients but often involved completely changing production methods and installing new equipment.

• No costs have been passed on to the consumer.

• There are 17 frozen, chilled and ambient Iceland own label products which have proven exceptionally difficult to reformulate, so we have taken the Iceland own label off those products on a temporary basis. They will be back on sale under our Iceland own label by April 2019.

• A very small number of products containing palm oil that were manufactured before December last year may still be on sale in certain stores as they sell through. This is to avoid food waste.

• Because of the widespread use of palm oil in food production, certain derivatives and processing aids that contain minute amounts of palm oil – although not on the ingredient list – are still in use. We continue to challenge the suppliers using these.

• We are proud of our achievement, not least because it has added to pressure on the palm oil industry to clean up its act and deliver a genuinely sustainable product to the mass market.

• This action has led to a sustained personal attack on the Iceland Managing Director by the palm oil industry, who have employed a UK PR firm to conduct a smear campaign – even resorting to taking full page adverts in the press.

• Apparently much of the UK media have also preferred to focus and moralise on the 17 products switched out of the Iceland label as opposed to the 450 successfully reformulated.

• We believe the remaining endangered Orangutans will be happy with our actions.

Sir Malcolm Walker CBE
Founder & Executive Chairman

Our palm oil pledge follows in Iceland’s long and proud tradition of Doing The Right Thing for consumers and the environment. Previous actions include being the first UK food retailer own label to remove artificial colour, flavours and preservatives in the 1980s; the first to ban GM ingredients in the 1990s; and the first to act to eliminate plastic packaging – pledged in 2018 for completion by 2023.

Palm Oil – Pledge Fulfilled

By 31 December 2018 we had ended the use of palm oil as an ingredient in all our own label food. We are the first UK supermarket to commit to doing this.

What is Palm Oil

A type of edible vegetable oil that is extracted from the fruit of oil palm trees. Palm oil is currently found in more than half of all supermarket products, from bread to biscuits and breakfast cereal to soap.

Why We’re Saying No to Palm Oil

Palm oil is one of the world’s biggest causes of deforestation and poses a significant threat to a number of species already facing extinction.

In Indonesia and Malaysia, where palm oil and wood pulp plantations are the biggest drivers of deforestation, many species are being threatened with extinction, including the orangutan. The orangutan population has more than halved in the last 15 years and is now critically endangered with only 70,000 to 100,000 individuals remaining.

What Did We Do To Fulfil Our Pledge?

We have worked tirelessly to remove palm oil from our own label food, and have invested millions of pounds to make this change. 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 could be accomplished overnight.

No Iceland own lines produced after 31 December 2018 contain palm oil as an ingredient. A small number of frozen lines – mainly in the desserts and frozen pastry categories – that were produced before this date remain on sale in some stores in early 2019 as the only alternative would be to throw them away, causing needless food waste. Products like these would not be accepted as donations by food banks.

We expect the sell-through of these remaining products to completed during the first quarter of 2019. New stocks of these lines coming into stores that were made after 31 December 2018 will be clearly marked with our ’No Palm Oil’ flash.

On a very small number of lines, we have temporarily 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. 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. This was done with sincerity and at a risk to our sales, since we know that products sell less well under unrecognised brands than they would have done under our Iceland own label.

All these lines will be moved back into own label as soon as our suppliers have made the necessary changes at a manufacturing level; in some cases it has required reconfiguration of production at existing manufacturing facilities, and in others a move to a completely new supplier. But we have not given up in the face of these huge technical challenges, and the move back into our own label will be completed 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.

Our pledge was to remove palm oil from our own label products, which we have done. We have always said that we would continue to stock branded products containing palm oil, though we are encouraging all Iceland suppliers to look closely at the sustainability of their supply chains.

“Until Iceland can guarantee palm oil is not causing rainforest destruction, we are simply saying ‘no to palm oil’. We don’t believe there is such a thing as ‘sustainable’ palm oil available to retailers, so we are giving consumers a choice about what they buy.”

Richard Walker, Iceland Managing Director

Thank You for Helping to Stop Palm Oil Causing Deforestation

What’s Being Done?

Our Head Chef Neil Nugent, has been working in the Iceland development kitchen to remove and replace palm oil in our own brand food lines with oils and fats that do not destroy the rainforest. We are also working closely with our trusted suppliers to ensure that changes to our recipes do not impact the cost (or taste) of our own brand products. These efforts reduce the demand for palm oil by more than 500 tonnes per year.

Look Out For The No Palm Oil Sticker…

Yes, we are going to make it absolutely clear by using a ‘no palm oil’ sticker on our packaging.

A Letter From Richard Walker

Last year I went to West Kalimantan in Borneo to see for myself the effects of the runaway growth of the palm oil industry. I came home firm in the belief that Iceland would not continue using palm oil until companies delivered on their zero deforestation commitments. This is because palm oil has had devastating consequences for local communities, who are being displaced, and on endangered species like the orangutan (our closest relative in the wild), which are being driven close to extinction.

Palm oil has many benefits, chiefly that its yields are better than the alternatives. But it is grown almost exclusively in areas of tropical rainforest, which are the ‘crown jewels’ of our planet’s biodiversity. With 146 football pitches of rainforest being lost every hour in Indonesia alone, the urgency of the crisis cannot be overstated. And global demand is set to double by 2050.

At Iceland the 1,000 tonnes of palm oil we used annually pale into insignificance compared to many of our competitors. As such a tiny player we took the decision that the only way we could create meaningful change was to shout very loudly from outside the established palm oil industry.

So we decided simply to stop using palm oil until the industry cleaned up its act. It was our own decision to give consumers a choice where previously there was none. We never called for a wider industry ban, and accept entirely that a wholesale boycott of palm oil is not the right long term solution.

The process of removing palm oil was far from easy. It took us two years, two supplier conferences and several million pounds of investment to deliver the change and at no extra cost to our customers. And we took care that the vegetable fat alternatives we used were not just shifting the problem elsewhere.

When our now famous Christmas advert, based on a Greenpeace film, was not cleared for broadcast I was genuinely mortified. While we understand and respect the Clearcast decision, I feared that we would be without the showcase ad that was designed to raise awareness of this important issue.

But the ‘ban’ has re-written all the traditional rules. Ours has become the most watched Christmas ad ever, with over 70 million views and counting online. Far from being a cynical PR ploy all along, this was a genuine case of serendipity. I think it proved just how engaged and concerned consumers are with this issue, and it raised a global debate around the pros and cons of palm oil and deforestation.

One consumer, Mark Topps, started a petition to try and get the advert un-banned. Last Sunday it reached one million signatures, an extraordinary result for an online petition.

And on 15 November, the RSPO (Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil – the industry body that works towards sustainable palm oil production) incorporated ‘no deforestation’ into its new principles. There is more work to be done to deliver on the promise, but this must be applauded as a major step forward.

So I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of you who have supported our campaign. I believe that the consumer pressure which has gathered pace since our announcement in April has helped, alongside many other calls to action. The pressure on companies to deliver on their zero deforestation commitments is beginning to work. The last few weeks have shown how much people actually care. It shows the real power of the individual, and the ability for us all to effect meaningful change.

With my sincere thanks to everyone who has supported us – and helped to make the world a safer place for local communities and Rang-tan.

Rang-tan’s Story

Choose a Christmas Without Palm Oil

Following a year of leading the retail industry in sustainability initiatives, we decided to do something different with our Christmas advert and continue to raise awareness of rainforest destruction caused by palm oil production, and its devastating impact on the critically endangered orangutan.

However, it has been ruled our advert will not appear on TV alongside other supermarkets.

Find out more about our ‘No Palm Oil’ Christmas range by visiting Iceland online and searching for products using the 🐵 icon or by looking for the green ‘No Palm Oil’ badge on our products in store.

Lonely Orangutan Loose in London

Tang in a Tree

As part of our ‘Choose a Christmas Without Palm Oil’ campaign, a lost and lonely, ultra-realistic animatronic orangutan took to the streets of London in search of a new home.

You may have spotted the confused, unhappy orangutan on the streets, in parks or clinging to a Christmas tree in central London.

Much like Rang-Tan’s story, this seasonal event was designed to draw attention to the devastating effects palm oil production can have on the habitats of critically endangered orangutans.

Until we can guarantee that palm oil isn’t destroying natural habitats and causing deforestation, we are saying ‘no to palm oil’ as an ingredient in our own brand food.

“”Our stranded, distressed orangutan is a stark and potent symbol of the effects of deforestation for palm oil. We always try to give people a real choice about what they buy and this was a key driver of our decision to allow Iceland customers to join us in an orangutan friendly Christmas. I am immensely proud of the work our food development team has carried out to create this new Christmas range without palm oil – a celebration of our commitment to end its use before the year closes.”

Richard Walker, Iceland Managing Director


What’s the Problem with Plastic?

By 2050, ‘there will be more single use plastic waste than fish in our oceans’ says the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and the World Economic Forum. Over 12 million tonnes of plastic enters the world’s oceans every year, causing serious harm to sea animals who often mistake broken fragments of plastic for food or become entangled in plastic nets, lines and bags.

Plastic pollution can no longer be ignored by retailers and that’s why we’re taking important steps to promote a plastic-free future.


What We’re Doing About It

We have already started to remove plastic packaging from our own label products through the launch of two meal ranges, Hungry Heroes meals for kids and Mumbai Street Co Indian food, which are sold in paper-based trays as opposed to black plastic.

These ranges are currently 85% plastic-free, but we’re working on finding an alternative to our non-recyclable lids, ensuring that all our own brand packaging will be 100% plastic-free by 2023.

Our Latest Environment Updates

See Our Work So Far On Removing Plastic Packaging

Learn More