Iceland has been challenged by the discounters but the frozen food pioneer still packs a punch and is winning new customers.

While Iceland might not have had the best Christmas (a performance described with typical understatement by boss Malcolm Walker as “bloody awful”) and has not been setting the world on fire in terms of recent market share data, there is a lot to admire about the retailer.

I must admit that I’m not a frequent shopper there; partly because my job entails visiting the big four, Waitrose, the Co-op and the discounters in fairly steady rotation and partly because my freezer is the size of a shoe box.

Despite huge advances in its fresh and ambient lines, frozen truly is the uppermost of Iceland’s strengths, and down the years it has excelled in providing some genuine culinary highlights enjoyed at Roberts Acres. The cooked breakfast and doner kebab pizzas were particular joys and Iceland has always been worth a trip for the Christmas and BBQ seasons.

It’s worth remembering that Iceland has always been something of a pioneer; it was well ahead (perhaps way too far ahead) of the curve on genetically modified food and organics, and recent moves indicate that innovation remains a core part of their DNA.

In particular, the Slimming World range appears to have ticked a big box for Iceland’s shoppers and it has also attracted a new bunch of diet-conscious consumers into the stores. The speciality meat range (encompassing crocodile, kangaroo, ostrich and buffalo) might not be for everyone, but it enhances Iceland’s credentials in food and means that I’ll definitely be popping in slightly more often.

The speciality meat range (encompassing crocodile, kangaroo, ostrich and buffalo) might not be for everyone, but it enhances Iceland’s credentials in food”

Another instance where Iceland was well ahead of the competition was its pricing. Iceland arguably pioneered ‘round’ pricing in its stores, creating a shopping experience and value proposition of extraordinary clarity. Now much emulated across the board, these round prices, plus a recent sharpening of prices and improved in-store communications in Iceland’s stores, mean that bargain-hungry shoppers need look no further.

Clearly, Iceland has been put under immense pressure by the discounters, which have been expanding their ranges in frozen, but Iceland’s reaction has been measured and well executed - enhancing value but also reinforcing authority and credibility.

There are high hopes for its new Food Warehouse concept. With talk of 50 of these opening, I popped along to my nearest store and was blown away with what I discovered. Fun, stylish and with a cracking assortment, Food Warehouse, with its faux-Costco appeal, might be the vehicle that finally enables Iceland to achieve Aldi-style transition into broad middle-class appeal.

That transition will also be helped by Iceland’s mightily impressive new advertising campaign.

The longstanding combination of D-listers and prawn rings in TV ads was not without a certain charm, it arguably underscored the snobbery that has afflicted Iceland. But the new adverts (and the improved look and feel in-store) might well elevate Iceland to the aspirational.

The range is great, the pricing phenomenal and the service is typically faultless: I suspect that loads more mums (and dads, I hasten to add) will be going to Iceland before too long.

  • Bryan Roberts, senior vice-president and knowledge officer EMEA, Kantar Retail