The secret of supermarket Iceland’s PR success

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Oana FologeaOana Fologea



Supermarket giant Iceland has shown what can be achieved by adopting a ‘can-do’ attitude – and making this an integral part of its communications strategy.

Rather than offer advice on what people could be doing to reduce bills, Iceland has taken the bull by the horns during the cost-of-living crisis by launching a blitz of credible customer initiatives to offer real support to those struggling to put food on the table. An approach which, for the past few months, has secured Iceland a plethora of positive headlines across the media landscape.

At the heart of its communications success is a strong company ethos to do the very best for its customers, many of whom are struggling to put food on the table.

Whether or not it’s a conscience effort to tick the principles of ESG – Environmental Social and Governance – the bottom line is that the supermarket’s strategy is making a big impression.

However, good messaging and a positive story is only as good as the messenger. Step forward Iceland’s charismatic Managing Director Richard Walker, described as “an outspoken advocate of backing financially hard-pressed customers”.

Showing empathy and genuine concern for customers struggling to pay for the weekly shop, Walker has been very much on the front foot and has been notably visible in the past weeks across all mediums – print, broadcast and social media.

His words have the ring of someone who genuinely cares about the welfare of his customers. Speaking of how Iceland staff are now reporting instances of customers asking his cashiers to stop putting any more goods through the till when it reaches a certain amount, Walker adds…”if you’ve only got, say £25 a week spent on food which some of our customers do, they really notice every penny and that’s why it’s an absolute fight on the high street to try and keep prices as affordable as possible.”


Capturing the imagination of the media

Iceland has left many of its (bigger) rivals trailing in the PR war by announcing a robust package of through the worst period of inflation since the 1970s. Not only have the initiatives offered credible support to its customers, but they have caught the imagination of a hungry media eagerly looking for the next cost-of-living news angle to resonate with their audience.

In May, Iceland became the first supermarket chain to offer anyone over the age of 60 a weekly discount on their shopping. Wrapped around their ‘Summer Cheer’ campaign, they followed this up by joining with the Rothesay Foundation to provide £30 food vouchers to support UK pensioners across the UK living in poverty.

In the past few weeks, Iceland has launched an interest-free loan scheme – a regional pilot found 92% of customers stopped using food banks as a result of receiving hand-outs of up to £100 – and a new value range of ‘grocery essentials’.

The fact that 50,000 people have already applied for the micro-loans is a striking indictment of the number of people across the country unable to feed themselves – but also further evidence of how well Iceland knows its customer base.


How to remain relevant in a crowded news agenda

This steady diet of news stories has allowed Iceland to remain on the curve of the cost-of-living news agenda, while developing a positive and compelling narrative of a supermarket looking out for its customers and an MD regularly demonstrating compassion for those facing a daily struggle to eat.

Walker is also prepared to wade into areas most CEOs would run a mile from, such as highlighting the growth in the number of food banks and calling on the Government to do more to help people, such as increasing benefits and providing more help for businesses in all sectors, particularly smaller firms. A risky strategy but Walker’s authenticity, and willingness to speak beyond the retail industry, has made him a go-to person for a media trying to make sense of the cost-of-living crisis.

Others in a position of power and influence should take note, as the country looks for leadership and ideas on how to mitigate the worst economic crisis for more than 40 years.


At Cavendish Advocacy, we have an experienced specialised team of PR and Media Relations specialists based across the UK, adept at generating positive coverage and taking control of complex and challenging media crisis situations.

To discuss how we can support your business or organisation, please get in touch with Michael Tait


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