Review: ‘Iceland Foods: Life in The Freezer Cabinet’

There are those who would have us believe there is no such thing as the acceptable face of capitalism. Meet multimillionaire Malcolm Walker – he might change your mind.

For non-UK residents, Iceland is that island nation, home of singer-songwriter Björk, and didn’t it stand up to the banks recently? For UK residents though, especially working class shoppers, Iceland is the frozen food store.

It is also Britain’s friendliest big company to work for, and that is due largely to the man at the top, its charismatic founder and CEO Malcolm Walker, a plain speaking Yorkshireman who believes in keeping his staff happy, all twenty-three thousand of them.

This three part series goes onto the shop floor, behind the scenes and to Thailand with one of the company’s buyers to source bargain basement but exotic delicacies. Among other things we see the opening of a new store in Wales, and the subsidised staff canteen at head office.

Walker has had only three paid jobs in his life, and was fired from two of them; the second was with the now defunct Woolworths, which he says he hated. In 1970 he and a friend went into business on their own account opening one store. Now Iceland has around 2% of the UK market compared with Tesco at around 30%. It hasn’t all been plain sailing, he left the company for four years at one point; you can read about Iceland’s slightly convoluted history here. It went public in the 80s but is now a private company again.

Then the word convoluted took a whole new meaning with the horsemeat scandal, which is also covered here, and which Walker dealt with in his own forthright manner.

Though his bullishness may have rubbed up many people the wrong way, at the end of the day he was right, the horsemeat scandal may not have been quite a storm in a tea cup, but neither Iceland nor any of the other big supermarkets did anything wrong.

This week’s episode was part 2; Walker was awarded a CBE in 1995, the big question is, when will he get a knighthood?

[The above review was first published October 29, 2013, not October 28 as indicated here.]

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