Iceland Foods hits back at Which? after low sustainability league table score

 Iceland has pledged to remove plastic packaging from own-brand lines by 2023 and to reach net-zero by 2040. Image: Iceland/Weber Shandwick 

Which? published the inaugural ranking, which covered 11 of the UK’s largest supermarket chains, last Friday (4 February). Scores were allocated based on data that supermarkets either published publicly or provided to Which?, concerning greenhouse gas emissions, plastic waste and food waste.

Greenhouse gas emissions were measured in intensity terms, with Which? weighing reported value chain emissions against total retail spend. On plastic waste, Which? assessed how much plastic packaging each supermarket uses, and what proportion is recyclable.

According to Which?, none of the supermarkets assessed are taking leadership on all three fronts. Nonetheless, Waitrose & Partners and Lidl were given scores of 74% and ranked joint first in the league table.

Coming in last place, with an overall score of just 29%, was Iceland foods. Which? found that while Iceland Foods is outperforming most competitors in terms of reducing food waste, it did not report how much of its own-brand plastic packaging is recyclable, thus losing points. Which? also scored Iceland Foods last in terms of emissions.

“Iceland’s in-store freezers need a lot of energy to run, though it does buy 100% renewable electricity for its UK sites,” said Which? in a statement.

The low score on plastic will have raised some eyebrows, given Iceland Foods’ commitment to removing all consumer-facing plastic packaging from all own-brand lines by 2023. The commitment is regarded as one of the most ambitious in the UK’s grocery retail sector.

Iceland’s managing director Richard Walker said the firm “does not recognise the data used by Which? or accept the low ranking on sustainability that the magazine has accorded us”.

Walker said: “Far from ‘working with the supermarkets to acquire the most accurate and comparable data available’, as they claim, Which? have chosen to ignore repeated warnings by us and our legal advisers that their methodology was completely flawed. 

“Their calculation of carbon intensity grossly misrepresents Iceland because it is based on retail spend rather than sales volumes, penalising supermarkets that sell at low prices. It also fails to take account of our 100% usage of renewably generated electricity. Their calculation of plastic intensity is equally incorrect, and bears no relation to our own audited and published data on plastic usage, which is used to calculate the packaging taxes we pay.”

Which? maintains that its analysis is “in-depth”. It has stated that it will repeat the league table each year.

Spotlight on Marks and Spencer

Also scoring poorly in the Which? ranking, being placed second to last, was Marks and Spencer (M&S). Which? called the supermarket’s overall score of 48% “underwhelming”. It said M&S was unable to provide food waste data in a suitable format and was also producing more plastic packaging, and more emissions, than most of its competitors.

This result will have come as a surprise to some shoppers. M&S has been working for more than a decade towards a vision of becoming the UK’s most sustainable retailer, and recently updated its long-standing ‘Plan A’ sustainability strategy.

A spokesperson for M&S told edie: “This research is one industry benchmark based on certain criteria and our ranking does not fairly reflect our sustainability ambitions or achievements to date.

“We are committed to building a sustainable future. That’s why we recently reset Plan A, our sustainability action plan, providing a detailed roadmap for reducing our emissions, the use of plastic and minimising food waste across our entire business.

“In our quest to become a fully net-zero business by 2040, we have already made progress. From removing over 3,000 tonnes of packaging since 2018 to redistributing more than 36 million meals through our longstanding partnership with Neighbourly, each day we are working to rapidly cut our footprint.”

Which?’s full ranking (and overall scores)

1.Lidl – 74%
1. Waitrose & Partners – 74%
3. Asda – 71%
3. Sainsbury’s – 71%
5. Tesco – 69%
6. Morrisons – 68%
7. Aldi – 66%
8. The Co-op – 65%
9. Ocado – 63%
10. Marks and Spencer – 48%
11. Iceland Foods – 29%

Sarah George

Comments (2)

  1. Jamie Oliver says:

    I struggle to understand the which scoring methodology as if you walk around a waitrose you will struggle to find fruit and veg from the UK and not in thin-film non-recyclable plastic. And is scoring on theoretically recyclable plastic at kerbside the wrong metric as we know that many councils just incinerate the plastic and don’t try to recycle. It should be assessed against no plastic or bio-plastics.

  2. Mike Blades says:

    This article highlights the differential between outcomes that organisations are achieving vs the subjective reports of a magazine.
    It also highlights the lack of a definitive metric for measuring within the supply chain.
    It also brings into perspective the term "greenwashing".

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