Iceland comms chief stands by CEO's horsemeat blame

The communications adviser for UK-based supermarket Iceland has said his chief executive, Malcolm Walker, decided to speak to the media about the horsemeat issue, firing in the direction of local government, because he was "angry" at the chain being "tarred."

The communications adviser for UK-based supermarket Iceland has said his chief executive, Malcolm Walker, decided to speak to the media about the horsemeat issue, firing in the direction of local government, because he was “angry” at the chain being “tarred.”

On Sunday, the supermarket boss appeared on The Andrew Marr Show on BBC One and blamed local councils, claiming they had driven down food quality by pushing for cheap food contracts.

Keith Hann, communications adviser to Iceland and Walker, stood by Walker's comments, which prompted a swift rebuttal from the Local Government Association.

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

“[Walker] felt that supermarkets in general and Iceland in particular were getting unfair press, and because you had the government criticizing supermarkets for not speaking out,” he said. “[Walker] was merely trying to point out that there are a whole range of people also involved in this issue.”

Horsemeat was originally discovered by Ireland's Food Safety Authority in hamburgers sold by Tesco and Iceland.

However, Hann said that the original traces were not backed up in further testing.

“The simple truth is [Walker] 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,” he said. “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 UK 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 were scheduled to meet UK Environment Secretary Owen Paterson to discuss the issue later on Monday.

On Sunday, the Local Government Association used senior figures including chairman Merrick Cockell to contest Walker's charges.

David Holdstock is director of communications for the Local Government Association. He said 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 improve 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 UK revealed that the Food Standards Agency had not produced a joint comms strategy to deal with the issue.

This story originally appeared on the website of PRWeek UK, the sister publication of PRWeek at Haymarket Media.

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