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Thank You for Helping to Stop Palm Oil Causing Deforestation

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

Palm Oil

By the end of 2018, 100% of our own brand food will contain no palm oil. We are the first UK supermarket to commit to removing palm oil from all own brand food.

What is Palm Oil?

A type of edible vegetable oil that's 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.

"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

No Palm Oil

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.


We have pledged to completely remove plastic packaging from our own label range by 2023 and are proud to be the first major retailer to do so.

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.

Next Steps

This is just the start for us, follow our journey on social media #toocoolforplastic

Our latest environment updates

See our work so far on removing plastic packaging - Learn More

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