Palm oil was all about Doing The Right Thing, not a marketing gimmick

I was interested to read in the Sunday Telegraph of 12 May that our palm oil campaign had ‘failed’ because it did not translate into sales.

In the comment piece ‘It’s no good companies being “woke” when their customers are all Brexiteer Tories’ the communications specialist James Frayne also declared that our customers are ‘urban, poorer, working class’ and so indifferent to palm oil and the fate of the orangutan. Really? That seems like snobbish prejudice to me.

Iceland has been in business for almost 50 years and, as one of the largest and most successful private companies in Britain, we are fully aware of who our customers are. Certainly more than Mr Frayne or any other commentator can ever be.

I know that we serve five million customers a week, and that half of the population shops with us every year. And that our close to 1,000 stores serve rural communities as well as urban, across every demographic.

I also know that the over-simplistic Friedman assumption that business serves only to chase profit is no longer valid. A business is now many different things to many different stakeholders: taxpayer, employer, corporate activist and philanthropist among others.

The removal of palm oil from all Iceland products was an amazing piece of corporate activism, helping to push the industry toward major new zero deforestation pledges. Our planned ‘Rang-Tan’ Christmas advert achieved record-breaking levels of engagement, with more than 80 million views online and more than a million people signing a petition to have it shown on TV. I know very well from my inbox – and the vocal support of more than 25,000 Iceland colleagues – the real impact that we achieved.

Yet Mr Frayne asserts that ‘the campaign failed’ because it didn’t turn into sales. But that was never its objective. It was inspired by our long-standing commitment to ‘Doing It Right’ and the fact that it didn’t boost our sales was of absolutely no consequence – and I write that as one of Iceland’s shareholders.

Environmentalism is democratising, and nowadays many people – rich or poor, young or old, southern or northern – care about these issues. Perhaps that’s why, when surveyed, 82% of Iceland customers agreed with our stance on palm oil.

I don’t find that statistic suggestive of indifference. Do you?

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