Is Iceland now cool?
- 16 February 2017
- From the section Business
What thoughts do the store Iceland conjure up? Luxury goods, lobsters for £6 and award-winning mince pies, considered better than Fortnum and Mason or Selfridges?
Or rows of freezing aisles stalked by former girl band members in track suits, and your mum, who can't be found elsewhere, because she has, of course, gone to Iceland?
For a frozen goods specialist that's been around since 1970 and now has 900 stores, its image is remarkably fluid.
But for customers today, it is seen as having excellent customer service.
The consumer group Which? asked 7,000 people to rate the leading chains and they voted Iceland best for online - for the second year running.
Respondents considered categories such as quality, value for money, service from delivery drivers, how easy it was to find products, and whether shoppers would recommend the retailer to a friend - and Iceland scored tops.
Retail analysts have also got the Iceland message.
"You could have seen it as a bit of a dinosaur," says Paul Martin, head of retail at consultancy KPMG.
But now, he is remarkably impressed at how Iceland's management team have updated a business that was "not seen as cool".
And it's not just the online service he admires. "They have improved the look and feel of stores, there's a new website, [and] they focused more on the healthy side of frozen. You can also now buy fresh food - something that just didn't exist in the past," he says.
Ah, the past.
Back in the 1970s, frozen food was hip. A chest freezer - the size you could put a body into - was the smart TV of its day. Not everyone had one, but if you could, you did.
Bejam was the go-to High Street supplier, and they even provided the freezer. Iceland bought the chain out in 1989.
It has ticked along outside the big league since then, changing ownership - neatly, actually owned by an Icelandic company at one time - but its core remains frozen food.
'Atomic Kitten woman'
But frozen food hasn't been cutting it these days with the upper echelons of society. Style arbiter Peter York, who has advised many luxury firms and enjoys the high life himself, has always thought it's not quite his thing.
"I see frozen Christmas treats full of sugar. I don't see [Iceland] as having things that won't make you as big as a pig. The imagery of Iceland is the Atomic Kitten woman [Kerry Katona, who fronted its TV ads in 2008].
"I fear it wouldn't meet my metropolitan liberal elite needs."
But, given its popularity, even he would be willing to explore its range, as long as he didn't have to walk too far: "I'd be in like Flynn if there was one near me. 'Dear Iceland, send us one - we the people of Pimlico want an Iceland.'"
I explained that its popularity was in fact for online shopping, and therefore he needn't extend his morning walk.
"Oh," he says. "I'm going to make the person who does my food ordering have a look."
Perhaps it should not be a surprise that it scores so highly on home delivery. It started doing this in 1999 - way before its rivals got serious.
Not a lot of people know that. And that could be why, says KMPG's Paul Martin, it scores highly. "[Because it's not as popular as the Big Four supermarkets], it's easier to book a delivery slot."
But he has praise for both the design of the website and the "very friendly" drivers.
Iceland's joint managing director, Nick Canning, promises there will be more to notice the chain for in future. "It feels like people are finally opening up their eyes to the quality we deliver, and we have much more innovation planned for the year ahead, so please stay tuned - Iceland's customers won't be disappointed."