The iceman is our action man of 2012

There was only ever one real contender for our Man of the Year 2012. After all, who else could boast they had seen off fierce competition to buy back their own company, delivered blistering sales figures AND trekked through the most remote wilderness on the earth?

Iceland founder Malcolm Walker did all that and more in just 12 short months. Not that all went exactly to plan. The 66-year-old was airlifted out of the Antarctica in December after his latest adventure took a turn for the worse… although he only admitted the game was up once he started vomiting blood.

Walker flew to the South Pole in November to raise money for Alzheimer’s and Walking for Wounded, following similar expeditions to the North Pole, Mount Everest and an abseil down the Shard.

Admirable stuff, but it’s not just his appetite for adventure that makes him The Grocer’s Man of the Year. It’s his appetite for retail and more specifically the retailer he founded with just £30 in 1970. In March, Walker bought back Iceland Foods for £1.45bn, simply because he couldn’t imagine life without retail. Even though he paid more than he expected, by £500m, it’s typical of the exuberant Walker to describe it as “the best deal in the world.”

It certainly didn’t look too bad in June, when Walker led Iceland to its seventh consecutive set of record results since his return in 2005, with pre-tax profits up 18.5% and like-for-like sales up 6%.

That’s not all. In September, Walker sold off his Cooltrader chain for an undisclosed sum (though it’s safe to assume he made a cool profit, given Cooltrader’s recent performance) in order to focus on Iceland.

And it seems Walker can party just as hard as he works. Over the years, he’s flown hundreds of colleagues out to Florida and Dublin to be told jokes by Peter Kay and be entertained by Girls Aloud on Iceland’s legendary staff parties - sorry, retail conferences. No wonder Iceland staff were recently voted the happiest in the UK in The Sunday Times.

Walker wins for all these reasons and he’ll be a tough act to follow for his successful property developer son, Richard, 31, who is currently stacking shelves for a year at an Iceland store near you to learn the business from the bottom up.

That said, if he does take over, it’s unlikely to be any time soon. Walker senior says he’s having too much fun to retire from his position as chairman and CEO just yet. “I’ll do this as long as I’m able,” he says, firmly. “And the way things are, I’ve got the best job in the world.”

James Halliwell


Crumbs! Breakfast biscuit bandwagon on Belvita’s trail

Biscuit category directors must be glad to see the back of 2012. Every time they think they’ve got the category sussed out, up pops another breakfast biscuit range - and it’s time to redraw the planogram again.

Forget popcorn. It was the breakfast biscuit that proved the most popular inspiration for food and drink NPD in 2012. The goal? To emulate the success of Belvita, which pretty much created the market three years ago, having spotted growing demand for convenient items to munch on-the-go for breakfast and the continuing decline in traditional breakfast cereals.

Last year saw the rest of the market finally begin to catch up, with launches from Nutri-Grain, McVitie’s, Hovis and, of course, the retailers themselves through own-label lines. And with hunger for on-the-go breakfast products showing no sign of abating, there’s probably a lot more to come in 2013.

Vince Bamford


‘Vital’: PM marks 150 years of The Grocer magazine

The Grocer kicked off its 150th anniversary year with a bang, publishing a 220-page special issue - the biggest in our history - packed with stories about the industry’s evolution and insights from big hitters such as Costcutter founder Colin Graves, Lord Sainsbury and Patrick Galvani, founder of the UK’s first supermarket.

We also received well wishes from PM David Cameron, who said: “The Grocer remains vital reading for many other media organisations which so often follow where The Grocer has led.” We couldn’t have put it better ourselves.

Rob Brown


Jody Scheckter froths at Portman beer label ban

It will sound like lunacy to many. An organic ale that sells for £1.95 per 500ml (or £1.35 for a 330ml lager) is likely to appeal to underage drinkers… because its label features a child’s drawing. But so said the Portman Group in October about Laverstoke Park Farm’s beers (stocked by Sainsbury’s and Waitrose). Its ultimatum was stark: change the label or we’ll order its removal from shelves.

Portman picked on the wrong farmer, however. Laverstoke is owned by outspoken former F1 champ Jody Scheckter and the image, which adorns the entire Laverstoke range, was drawn by his young son more than a decade ago. Scheckter’s reaction is summed up in the artist’s impression, left.

Last month, Scheckter’s lawyers challenged the ruling and Portman temporarily suspended action, but the High Court then threw out Scheckter’s challenge as “contrary to common sense”. This row ain’t over yet.

Rob Brown