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Selfridges completes palm oil phase-out nine months ahead of schedule

palm oil phase-out

Selfridges – palm oil phase-out. Department store Selfridges has announced that it has achieved a goal of removing palm oil from 100% of its own-brand grocery products nine months ahead of schedule.

The retailer publicly committed last year to remove palm oil from the 300+ lines in its Selfridges Selection food and drinks products, which are sold in its food halls and through its online platform, by December 2019. 

Today (7 May), it revealed that it had completed the phase-out, replacing the commodity with alternatives such as rapeseed, soybean and sunflower oils across its range. Selfridges has additionally confirmed that it will be ready to launch its own range of palm-oil-free cakes and mince pies for Christmas, after stocking Iceland’s version of the pies last year in a symbolic move against deforestation driven by palm oil last year.

Palm oil appears in more than 50% of all supermarket products, from confectionary to cosmetics, and is renowned for its versatility and low price point. However, the commodity is linked to environmental destruction in global supply chains. Expanding palm oil and wood pulp plantations are the biggest drivers of deforestation in Indonesia and Malaysia, where many species, including the orangutan, are being threatened with extinction.

While some companies and brands are now beginning to use sustainably certified palm oil to minimise deforestation risks in their supply chains, Selfridges’ believes that such certification schemes are not strong enough to guarantee it will meet its “zero deforestation” ambition at present.

“We’re committed to buying better to inspire change, and the removal of palm oil from our Selfridges Selection range is the latest demonstration of this approach,” Selfridges’ managing director Simon Forster said.

“We believe that until certified palm oil guarantees zero deforestation, our customers should be given the option to buy palm oil-free products. Our expectation is that all brands we work with are aware of and actively engaging with the issues surrounding palm oil and deforestation.”

Palm oil progress

Selfridges claims it is the first department store in the world to remove palm oil from all of its own-brand grocery ranges.

However, as awareness surrounding deforestation grows – with a recent YouGov poll of 1,695 UK consumers finding that 77% were aware of the environmental impacts of palm oil – it is one of a string of retailers to have taken action to reduce their use of the commodity.

Supermarket Iceland, for example, famously committed to remove palm oil from all of its own-brand lines by the end of 2018 – a feat which required the business to re-formulate dozens of recipes and invest in certification schemes to ensure its palm oil alternatives were not driving unintended consequences.

Iceland’s managing director Richard Walker said he had made the move to take an ethical stand and “democratise environmentalism” – something he also cited as motivation for pledging to remove plastic packaging from the supermarket’s own-brand lines by 2023.

However, the chain faced criticism for missing its palm oil target deadline and, instead of publicly admitting this, removing its name from 17 lines. In response, it said it did not want to “mislead customers”.

Elsewhere in the supermarket sector, online grocer Ocado this year launched a digital palm oil-free “aisle”, in a bid to give shoppers the choice to exclude the commodity from their baskets.

As retailers make these moves, suppliers and certification schemes are beginning to bolster their environmental efforts. Sourcing giant Wilmar International, which supplies 40% of the world’s palm oil, recently pledged to ensure that its supply chains are classed as “deforestation-free” by 2020, for example. Elsewhere, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) has bolstered the environmental requirements needed to meet its eco-label standards.

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