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Response to consequence

5 April, 2022

Sunflowers – the national flower of Ukraine, and symbols of peace and the  power of the sun. However, the war has led to a global shortage of sunflower oil and the national flower now has deeper-rooted symbolisms: hope, resistance, and the instability of food supply chains.  

Russia and Ukraine account for 70% of the global supply of sunflower oil. As one of the most popular cooking oils and a staple ingredient in fried and baked foods, its value is clear. Walkers crisps have already changed their recipe due to shortages and local crisp-producers in Herefordshire are worried about the rising prices of the oil.   

And there are other consequences. Note Iceland’s regretful decision to substitute sunflower oil with palm oil, after their much-heralded move away from palm oil a few years ago. In a well-crafted press release last week, they notified customers of this temporary solution “as a last resort” with the use of certified sustainable palm oil clearly marked on new packaging. With links to deforestation and habitat devastation, there is a question (highlighted by the Iceland CEO) about whether palm oil can ever be sustainable, but we appreciate Iceland’s bold commitment to transparency and to talking consumers through the difficult trade-offs that businesses sometimes need to make.  

Re-introducing palm oil is not ideal for a business committed to sustainability, but it is keeping reasonably priced food in people’s refrigerators and freezers. In a time of soaring costs of living, they are able to circulate affordable products and reduce food-waste by continuing frozen-food options.  

The ongoing crisis is likely to force many other businesses to reconsider how to deliver their sustainability principles as supply chains reconfigure and evolve. These choices won’t be easy, but Iceland’s approach shows the value of clear and honest communication in building trust with audiences.  

By Bertie Bateman

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