UK frozen food specialist Iceland has announced plans to eliminate plastic packaging from all its own brand products by the end of 2023. The five-year programme will start immediately, with the imminent launch of two new ready meal ranges, which will be packaged in paper and pulp trays. These will eventually replace plastic packaging across the retailer’s entire own label range as it embraces the latest technologies to create recyclable alternatives for its product packaging.
According to LZ Retailytics data, Iceland had gross sales of over EUR3.6bn in 2017, across its network of 905 stores in the UK, plus international operations in Ireland, Spain and Czech Republic. Iceland is the largest independently operated retailer in the UK.
Plastic and waste is a topical issue. Listening to the radio, watching the TV, I regularly hear about individuals attempting to live ‘plastic free’ and the upshot of such trials is inevitably “it’s hard”, because the fact is that most of the food we buy comes packaged in this way. Britain’s leading supermarkets create more than 800,000 tonnes of plastic packaging waste every year, according to an investigation by the Guardian. For significant change to occur, it is retailers that must lead the way – and these in turn must get suppliers on board.
Iceland has smartly taken a leading position in this debate and in doing so will force its competitors to respond; or risk lagging behind – on an issue that consumers feel strongly about. Tesco has already set targets to make all its packaging recyclable or compostable by 2025 (…two years later than Iceland) and is also a supporter of the proposed deposit return scheme on plastic bottles [similar to schemes in place in other European countries, where shoppers retrieve a deposit when they return empty bottles] – but it was Iceland and The Co-op who were first to get on board. On the same day as the Iceland announcement, global foodservice leader McDonalds pledged that it would make all its packaging environmentally sustainable by 2025. But, interestingly, it is Iceland that is getting most of the column inches and positive PR with its bullish statement.
You might argue that Iceland is only a relatively small player and therefore the impact will be modest at best, but it could also be seen as the beginning of a new sustainability movement – to which the larger retailers will have to respond. Where Iceland is different is that it is independently owned and as such has the freedom to think long-term; and consider what’s in the best interests of the company, its employees and the shopper. This unique position has already seen Iceland lead change in the UK food industry on the elimination of artificial flavours and colours, as well as genetically modified ingredients, all of which it has removed from its products...and others have followed. For us, this is evidence enough that Iceland will once again be the trailblazer.