Blog: Dean BestSeeing the palm oil for the trees

Dean Best | 10 January 2019

Ocado has set up an ‘aisle’ on its website displaying products that do not contain palm oil, in response, the UK online grocer says, to growing interest from consumers in the ingredient.

The retailer said searches on its platforms for products free from palm oil rose 28% year-on-year in 2018. A dedicated section is now live on the Ocado site showing more than 3,000 products without the controversial ingredient, the cultivation of which can cause deforestation in areas such as south-east Asia and Latin America.

“Palm oil is a key issue for many of our customers,” Alice Mannion, head of grocery merchandising and product at Ocado, said this week. “While we always include comprehensive lists of ingredients on the Ocado website, we’re aware that not everyone has the time to check these thoroughly when making their weekly shop. We want to provide our customers an effortless and enjoyable shopping experience. This now means providing simple ways to help align shopping habits with a desire to reduce one’s environmental impact.”

It is an eye-catching move. Consumer awareness of what poor cultivation of palm oil can do to the environment and wider ecosystems is rising. Some manufacturers are seeking to try to source the ingredient in more sustainable ways – just-food spent a morning in London last autumn listening to Nestle outline the efforts it is making – while there are suppliers and retailers that have sought to launch palm-oil free products. These are not just lofty moves made for PR purposes; companies are seeing consumer interest in the issue rise and feel the need to act.

Palm oil is one of the most ubiquitous ingredients used in consumer products, used in foods ranging from biscuits to fish fingers, as well as in non-food items from soap to candles.

A retailer moving to make it easier for people to shop for products to minimise their consumption of palm oil should be applauded. For punters wanting to minimise their impact on the environment, Ocado’s initiative gives them a reason to at least explore using the online pure-play for food deliveries.

The key to how successful this move is, of course, how Ocado meets consumer expectations in other ways. Rare is the consumer who shops solely with sustainability considerations in mind. Price, offer – and in the online environment – convenience and service are important motives.

Still, an initiative not to be sniffed at.


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