Iceland’s palm oil promise runs into difficulties one month in

The trouble with making a big splash about doing something to make your products more sustainable is that you have to actually do it. This week, the BBC decided to check up on Iceland’s promise to remove all products containing palm oil from its own-brand goods by the end of 2018.

You may remember that in 2018, Iceland launched a campaign that featured a Greenpeace film with a tiny orangutan that had been displaced from its natural habitat by humans destroying the forest to produce palm oil. It was a smart move – presumably being off Greenpeace’s palm oil hitlist would make any retailer breathe a sigh of relief. But being associated with a high profile campaign like that means someone, somewhere, is going to make sure you did what you said you’d do. It was even more critical for Iceland to dot the Is and cross the Ts.

It might seem a bit harsh, a journalist scouring Iceland’s shelves before January’s over – but that’s the media world we live in. Unfortunately for Iceland, the BBC found palm oil in a number of products. (Being Iceland, it stocks a lot of frozen food, which has a long shelf live – and some of the offending products were still in stock.)

Iceland’s answer, according to the BBC report, has been to remove its brand from the food items, rather than remove them from the shelf. But it was in a near-impossible situation. Remove the food and throw it away, and that would be irresponsibly wasteful. Don’t remove the food and get caught with palm oil products, and you get dragged through the media. Donate it? Presumably with frozen food that’s logistically difficult.

The lesson here for brands is to have a plan to execute your big promise. Always assume that someone is going to try to catch you out.

Featured image by Eutah Mizushima on Unsplash

Kate is COO and co-founder of Polpeo. Her background is in corporate reputation, crisis management and PR, and she runs communications consultancy, Carrot Communications. She is a member of the CIPR and the PRCA’s Digital Steering Committee.

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