It has been quite the year for the two person in-house corporate communications team at Iceland Foods. It kicked off with the supermarket chain’s groundbreaking #TooCoolForPlastic campaign in January, which promised to remove plastic from its own brand packaging within five years, while April brought news that Iceland would remove palm oil from its own products by year-end, without increasing the cost for customers.
And in November, Iceland even managed to topple John Lewis as the king of heart-tugging Christmas adverts when its attempt to air its festive message was blocked by Clearcast for being too political.
Admittedly, the advert was less about tinsel and turkey but instead recycled a Greenpeace animation about a baby orangutan, called Rang-Tan, causing havoc in a little girl’s bedroom. The ape is living there because humans are destroying his rainforest homeland.
More than 30 million people have since viewed the advert on social media, while almost one million have signed a change.org petition to get it aired on television.
The initiatives are serving to change consumers’ perceptions of Iceland Foods. Broadcast and UN Patron of the Wilderness Ben Fogle tweeted Iceland is fast becoming the nation’s most progressive, forward-thinking, environmental supermarket.
But taking a stand is not new for Iceland. It was the first UK supermarket chain to cut artificial colourings, flavourings and non-essential preservatives from its own-brand foods more than 30 years ago, back in 1986, along with scrapping monosodium glutamate (MSG). Iceland followed this with a pledge to remove mechanically recovered meat from its shelves in 1990, and 20 years ago became the world’s first supermarket chain to remove genetically modified (GM) foodstuffs. Hydrogenated fats, otherwise known as trans fats, were removed in 2006 - the same year as M&S.
Corporate affairs director Keith Hann has likened current managing director Richard Walker’s passion about the damage palm oil does to the environment to the stance his father Malcolm, founder of Iceland Foods, took against GM foods. While Walker junior has driven the agenda, Hann and colleague Hilary Berg have worked closely with the Board to drive the communications agenda, reinforcing Iceland Foods’ purpose ‘to grow a profitable business that allows us to do the right thing for our people, our customers and our communities - and our planet’.
Their eight-point PR strategy includes ‘plan, plan, plan to capitalise on every opportunity’, so perhaps it is no surprise that, in the midst of the Christmas advert furore, Hann even found time to update consumer journalist Harry Wallop, who complained on Twitter that his local store had stopped selling Zuppa Di Pesce with the news it was just temporary - to make way for seasonal stock.
‘The team achieved fantastic media coverage,’ said the judges. ‘Iceland Foods deserves recognition for being ahead of the curve and having a strategy that is carefully thought out and not just a knee jerk reaction. To do all that they do, with just two people, is amazing.’