It is found in more than half of all supermarket products, from bread to biscuits and breakfast cereal to soap. It has become so widely used because it is high yielding, versatile and cheap. Only a fifth of the world’s supply is certified as sustainable by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO).
In 2018-19 Iceland attracted global headlines with a campaign to raise awareness of deforestation due to palm oil. As part of that campaign, the business removed palm oil as an ingredient from all our own label food.
In 2022, Iceland was forced to make the reluctant decision to temporarily reinstate palm oil as an ingredient in some products, due to consequences of the war in Ukraine, and its impact on our supply chain.
When Iceland removed palm oil as an ingredient from all its own label products in 2018, to take a stand against tropical deforestation, the business greatly increased its reliance on sunflower oil. Together with Russia, Ukraine accounts for 70% of global supply, making it unobtainable. A decision to not use a limited supply of palm oil would mean clearing the shelves of a wide range of staples, including frozen chips and other potato products.
Certified sustainable palm oil is now being used as a last resort and as a strictly temporary measure – in a limited range of Iceland own label products. All packs clearly show palm oil in the list of ingredients where it has been used.
Iceland’s palm oil campaign
The announcement of our intention to remove palm oil in April 2018 generated a high level of media and public attention, though this was dwarfed by the explosion of interest that followed the launch of our planned ‘Rang-Tan’ Christmas ad in November 2018. Originally produced by Greenpeace, this moving animation was not cleared for TV broadcast because it was deemed to breach the UK ban on political advertising.
Viewed more than 90 million times on social media, Rang-Tan became the most watched Christmas ad of all time without ever actually appearing on commercial TV. A petition to allow it on TV attracted more than one million signatures and there was a massive increase in public interest in the environmental issues around palm oil; in the five months to March 2019 Google searches for palm oil increased by 10,000%.
Watch Rang-tan here
Other campaigners have acknowledged that this huge surge of publicity helped to make the palm oil industry face up to its responsibilities. In November 2018, following international public consultation, the RSPO formally adopted new standards that prohibit its member companies from clearing forests for palm oil plantations, subject to a one year transition period. This was followed in December 2018 by Wilmar, the world’s largest palm oil trader, which controls around 40% of the world’s supply, publishing a detailed action plan to eliminate deforestation from its supply chain.