Iceland comms chief stands by CEO's horsemeat criticism

The comms adviser to Iceland has said his chief executive Malcolm Walker decided to speak to the media on the horsemeat issue, firing in the direction of local government, because he was 'angry' at the chain being 'tarred'.

Iceland: CEO Malcolm Walker was 'very angry'
Iceland: CEO Malcolm Walker was 'very angry'

Yesterday the supermarket boss appeared on The Andrew Marr Show on BBC One and pointed the finger of blame around the scandal at local councils, claiming they had driven down food quality by pushing for cheap food contracts.

Keith Hann, comms adviser to Iceland and Walker, stood by Walker’s comments, which prompted a swift rebuttal from the Local Government Association (LGA).

Hann claimed that many supermarket bosses had been keeping quiet because they wanted to wait for the results of tests on their meat products.

He said: ‘Malcolm felt that supermarkets in general and Iceland in particular were getting an unfair press, and because you had the Government criticising supermarkets for not speaking out. Malcolm was merely trying to point out that there are a whole range of people also involved in this issue.’

Horsemeat was originally discovered in beefburgers sold by Tesco and Iceland by the Republic of Ireland's Food Safety Authority in January.

However, Hann said that the traces found had not been backed up by further testing.   

‘The simple truth is Malcolm is very angry we have been tarred with this brush. I think the TV appearance achieved a heightened profile for Iceland, and I hope he got across the message we wanted to put out, which is that Iceland doesn’t sell cheap nasty food. When it comes to the general issue of local governments driving down food prices we would happily stand by that.’

Walker was one of a number of senior supermarket figures in the media this weekend, including the boss of Waitrose calling for tighter meat testing controls.

A range of representatives from the food industry are set to meet Environment Secretary Owen Paterson to discuss the issue later today.

Yesterday the LGA used senior figures including its chairman Merrick Cockell to contest Walker’s charges.

David Holdstock is director of comms for the LGA. He said that the focus was on ‘explaining the facts and unpicking some of what was said’, including refuting the fact that local authorities were responsible for hospitals.

One of the focuses was to highlight a drive to impove the quality of school meals that had taken place following a campaign by celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, he said.

‘We were using social media to let people know where and when our spokespeople were appearing, and letting people know in real time what our response was,’ he added.

Last month, PRWeek revealed that the Food Standards Agency had not produced a joint comms strategy to deal with the issue.

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