Iceland's Richard Walker: The man who came into the cold

Profile: Frozen-food giant Iceland has always been a family affair, but its MD and heir to the throne initially chose a different path.

by Stephen Jones

Richard Walker is at risk of hypocrisy. He’s a significant shareholder in a frozen-food empire that lectures customers on the importance of cutting down plastic yet still sells tonnes of plastic packaged goods. He’s the multimillionaire heir to a business that hauls vast quantities of goods around the country, mostly in diesel lorries, yet who urges people to make changes in their diet and drive electric cars to save the planet. 

Even his choice of Microsoft Teams background, a floor-to-ceiling mural of an Indonesian orangutan that adorns a wall in Iceland Foods’ Deeside head office, could be cringey. The company made headlines in 2018 when it pledged to remove palm oil from its own-label products – the palm oil industry is linked to deforestation – and reused the banned Greenpeace TV ad “Rang-tan” for its Christmas campaign; despite the ban, the campaign generated buzz, though critics pointed out Iceland at the time had the worst rating among major supermarkets for its palm oil impact (it now has the best, according to Ethical Consumer).

But at least Iceland Foods’ 40-year-old managing director is well aware of the contradictory nature of his position – and openly talks about it. He’s also well aware that Iceland has an impressive track record of doing more than most of its rivals on sustainability and, importantly, doing it first.

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