Iceland announces major reformulation project to remove palm oil

The supermarket plans to take the ingredient out of its own-label food, but what about other retailers?

10 April 2018

Iceland is on a mission to save the world’s rainforests.

The supermarket said it will stop using palm oil as an ingredient in all its own-label food by the end of 2018, with the project already underway.

Palm oil has been removed from 50% of its own-label range, with another 130 products to be reformulated by the end of the year.

The retailer has ditched palm oil in around 100 new lines, including the upcoming summer range, with plans to double that number by the beginning of 2019.

There is no suggestion so far that Iceland’s target will include items made by other companies.

The problem with palm oil

Palm oil is widely used in food products, cosmetics and bio diesel. Demand has led to the devastation of tropical rainforests across South East Asia as well as further jeopardising animals like the orangutan, which is critically endangered. In Indonesia alone, the equivalent of 146 football pitches of rainforests are lost every hour.

Richard Walker, Iceland’s managing director, said until the supermarket can guarantee palm oil is not causing rainforest destruction, it will not use it.

“We don’t believe there is such a thing as guaranteed ‘sustainable’ palm oil available in the mass market, so we are giving consumers a choice to say no to palm for the first time,” he said.

“Having recently been to Indonesia and seen the environmental devastation caused by expanding palm oil production first hand, I feel passionately about the importance of raising awareness of this issue – and I know many British consumers share my concern and want to have a real choice about what they buy.

“This journey has shown me that, currently, no major supermarket or food manufacturer can substantiate any claim that the palm oil they use is truly sustainable, as the damage being caused to the global environment and communities in South East Asia is just too extensive.”

Alternative oils

Palm oil is currently found in 50% of all supermarket products, from bread to biscuits and breakfast cereal to soap, according to Iceland’s research.

Yet, 35% of consumers are unaware of what palm oil is. Once informed, 85% of those surveyed said it should not be used in food products.

Iceland’s commitment will reduce demand for palm oil by more than 500 tonnes per year.

There are a number of alternatives that will be used in the reformulations, including sunflower oil, rapeseed oil and butter.

John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace UK said: “Iceland has concluded that removing palm oil is the only way it can offer its customers a guarantee that its products do not contain palm oil from forest destruction. This decision is a direct response to the palm oil industry’s failure to clean up its act.

“Many of the biggest consumer companies in the world have promised to end their role in deforestation by 2020. Time is running out not just for these household brands but for the wildlife, the climate and everyone who depends on healthy forests for their survival.”

What about the other supermarkets?

An Aldi spokesperson told Food Spark: “All palm oil used in our own-label food products has come from sustainable RSPO-certified sources since 2015. This position is being extended to non-food products by the end of 2018.”

For Aldi, 90% of its total product range is own brand.

At Sainsbury’s, more than 1,700 of its own-label products, including biscuits and pies, use certified sustainable palm oil, the company said.

The UK’s second-largest supermarket added that it is was committed to honest and transparent labelling and claims it was the first British supermarket to identify palm oil rather than ‘vegetable oil’ on the packaging of all fresh and chilled food. It now labels all major palm oil ingredients in all of its food products.

A Sainsbury’s representative said: “Responsible sourcing is important to our customers and to us, which is why sourcing our key raw materials sustainably has been a focus for years.

“By the end of 2016, over 98% of the palm oil used in our own-brand products was certified sustainable, and we’re committed to ensuring none of our own-brand products contribute to global deforestation by 2020.”

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Marks & Spencer said: “We're committed to using only the most sustainable sources of palm oil in our products. We have removed it wherever possible, and 100% of the palm oil used in M&S products is RSPO certified.”

An Asda spokesperson echoed the sustainability position: “Palm oil used in Asda products is sustainable under the globally-recognised RSPO scheme, which major retailers, manufacturers, growers and NGOs have joined to promote sustainable palm oil.”

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