In 1985, I met Phil Sokolof, a successful Omaha businessman who led the fight and spent over $15 million of his own money to warn consumers about the risks of a high-cholesterol diet. In national newspaper ads he laid out the culprits and singlehandedly forced many CPGs and fast-food chains to alter their recipes. One of those ingredients he warned about was palm oil.
Palm oil producers funded a campaign to dispel the facts and remade the image of palm oil. Aside from those conservationists who fought hard against the palm oil industry's desecration of the rain forest, many believed—until recently—the hype, and went back to using palm oil as it is inexpensive and easy to use in recipes and manufacturing.
All that is about to change.
Across the pond, and hopefully making its way to our shores, Selfridges department store has become the first major U.K. retailer to make its own-brand of foods completely free of palm oil, nine months ahead of its original target and as part of its long-term sustainable strategy.
The upmarket department store is poised to announce that the nearly 300 products in its Selfridges Selection range on sale in its food halls, including chocolates and biscuits, are free of palm oil, along with its own-label cakes and mince pies for Christmas this year.
Palm oil is found in more than half of all supermarket products, from foods such as bread, pastry, biscuits, cereal and chocolate to household items such as soap and detergent.
Simon Forster, the managing director of Selfridges, said, “We’re committed to buying better to inspire change. The removal of palm oil from our Selfridges Selection range is the latest demonstration of this approach. We believe that until certified palm oil guarantees zero deforestation, our customers should be given the option to buy palm oil-free products. Our expectation is that all brands we work with are aware of and actively engaging with the issues surrounding palm oil and deforestation.” In January, online supermarket Ocado launched a palm oil-free “aisle," listing more than 5,000 branded items free from the oil, ranging from bread and cereal to spice mix and shampoo.