THE man in charge of making all of supermarket chain Iceland’s own label products plastic-free has urged other supermarket to do the same, and for those in packaging development to “push boundaries”.
Ian Schofield, own label and packaging manager for Iceland was in Edinburgh recently to present a keynote speech at the Scottish Resources Conference 2018, where he discussed the supermarket’s progress so far in its ambitious endeavour to remove all plastic from its own products in the next five years – some 1,500 lines.
Speaking after the event, Ian told Packaging Scotland, “Packaging is just as important as the product so if you’re involved with packaging development, push those boundaries.”
So far, Iceland has seen the most success in moving its ready meals into cartonboard, from non-recyclable plastic trays, Ian explained. The chain also recently began to roll out a recycled and recyclable paper band for bananas. Other produce lines are to follow in the coming months, with mushrooms, grapes and strawberries moving from plastic punnets into pulp and paper-based moulded trays. The supermarket is also eager to progress on films.
Ian said, “We’re really keen on getting some films moved over and some rigid tubs moved over to non-plastic materials. They’re all the ones we’ve got on test at the moment, so I would say from January onwards you’re going to see quite a few materials coming into play, which are moving the plastic film into a non-plastic film.”
He also stressed that food safety would “never, ever” be compromised, and if shelf life were to be reduced on a product, Iceland would let customers know.
The biggest challenge in the process thus far has been ensuring that Iceland can remain cost-neutral, as the alternatives have all been more expensive. People simply don’t have more money to spend on food, Ian said, and he does not believe customers will pay more in order to be sustainable. Nor will Iceland’s suppliers.
However, the company is currently working with packaging and product suppliers to address the issue of cost, Ian added. He went on to acknowledge that while Iceland was the first retailer to take this step, others would follow suit because the issue of plastic packaging can no longer be ignored.
“Other (retailers) are now having to think differently about how they’re doing their packaging development. It’s got to be part of your brief now; they can’t ignore it anymore,” Ian said.
“We are a speedboat, not a super tanker; we can move quickly, we can change quickly, we are a private business. A lot of other people have got shareholders, they’ve got a lot of big stakeholders in their business and packaging is not seen as (being as) important as (it is to) Iceland. It has always been important in Iceland. Thankfully, the good news is we got packaging number one on the agenda. I think if we’ve done nothing else, we’ve got packaging to number one on the board table. We never thought we’d do that.”
He added, “We’ve got a lot of new ideas from so many areas now, we’re actually working through those on a daily basis.
“The good thing now is when I started the year I probably only had three or four materials; now I’ve got probably 30, and that’s good news.”