Iceland has come bottom of a league table of the top 10 UK supermarkets based on their actions to help shoppers eat “less and better” meat and to reduce its impact on the environment.
The ‘Meat us Halfway’ scorecard was published by environmental campaign group Feedback this week. It looked at factors including commitments to zero deforestation from animal feed supply chains, and whether retailers had targets to reduce sales of non-sustainable meat.
But despite its “headline-grabbing” move to ban plastics in store and high-profile work on palm oil, Iceland achieved just 14% against Feedback’s list of criteria.
The chain lost points due to being one of just two retailers with no publicly available corporate policy on sustainable animal feed, and for being the only retailer not to have publicly signed up to the Cerrado Manifesto - which supports a halt to deforestation in Brazil’s Cerrado savannah.
Despite having “some vegan foods on offer”, Iceland also had the lowest proportion of vegetarian ready meals of any retailer, at just 7%, Feedback said, citing 2018 data by the Eating Better coalition. Meanwhile, its fresh meat offer consisted of products meeting “only the regulatory minimum, without any provision of ‘better’ meat, such as free range”, the group added.
In response, Iceland MD Richard Walker said the retailer “rarely performed well in ‘trawler’ surveys like this”, which were based on “an examination of the public statements on our website rather than on direct engagement with us”.
He added that while he would “personally love to sell only organic and free-range food, history shows us this would not be affordable for our customers”.
Walker said the retailer had a “long and proud record of corporate activism”, but in addition to planetary sustainability “we need to consider commercial sustainability on behalf of our 25,000 staff, and community sustainability on behalf of our five million customers”.
He added Iceland’s small head office precluded its ability to “flood our website with information to satisfy the demands of lobby groups”. Walker also stressed Iceland had “made one of the UK’s strongest commitments to developing and promoting plant-based foods”, citing the success of its No Bull Burger and “more exciting developments in the pipeline for launch in the next few weeks”.
The retailer also had a “long and proud record of corporate activism from leading the fight against CFCs and GM in the 1990s, to our more recent pledges on plastics and palm oil”. He added: “We also recognise we have much more to do and are not yet a sustainable company. But we are trying hard, and looking at more aspects of our supply chain – soy is a case in point and we are reviewing our current policies here.”
Elsewhere, Waitrose and M&S finished joint top of the scorecard, achieving 63% against Feedback’s list of criteria.
The pair won praise for “enacting tangible change, both in their supply chains and in-store”, Feedback said, while both Tesco and Sainsbury’s scored 50%. However, Tesco lost points for its policy of badging its cheapest fresh meats with ‘fake farm’ brands.