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'I plan to become an MP - and still give my all to running Iceland,' says frozen food boss

Climbing frozen waterfalls in Norway might sound like a busman's holiday for a man who runs a frozen food chain. Richard Walker has just been on a short break in Rjukan, Norway, which boasts of being Europe's Mecca of ice climbing. His companion – and you couldn't make it up – was a mountaineer called Kenton Cool.

The increasingly vocal boss of frozen food chain Iceland is in high spirits. It is his first interview since officially taking the reins from his father Malcolm, the firm's founder, as chairman earlier this month.


Christmas was a record breaker for the £4 billion family firm. And, if all that were not enough, the 42-year-old is launching a bid to join Westminster's elite.


It has been a busy time for Walker.


His theory is that shoppers are more likely to flock to Iceland in hard times because its products store for longer in the freezer and are, therefore, less likely to be wasted.


'People are switching to frozen,' says Walker. 'It's the fastest growing category in the market.'


That has helped Iceland increase its share of the nation's frozen food spending, so it now rivals that of supermarket giant Tesco. The growth in demand could also be down to its reputation for keen prices. Around 20 per cent of its products are priced at £1 or less, he says.


Shoppers clearly haven't been put off by his father's recent admission on BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs that 'a third of the population of Great Britain love us, a third don't care and a third of households wouldn't be seen dead in an Iceland'.


The chain began selling frozen produce more than 50 years ago. This has since been expanded to offer a variety of fresh produce from bananas to baked beans.


Walker says his shops are attracting more customers 'seeking value' and its price promotions – including a three-for-£10 offer on a variety of products – are striking a chord. Attractions for those watching the pennies also include a 10 per cent discount for over-60s every Tuesday.


'On the Tuesday before Christmas, we had 300,000 customers taking advantage of that offer on a single day,' says Walker. 'It's helping pensioners who are feeling the pinch.'


This optimism is a far cry from his gloomy outlook only a few months ago. Back then, Walker told The Mail on Sunday he was shelving plans to open new stores after the chain's latest energy bill rose by £20 million.


But the recent drop in global wholesale gas prices means his shops, which rely so heavily on electricity to keep fridges and freezers running, are no longer fighting to keep the power on.


'We expect our fuel bill to be less this year. The price of energy is still uncomfortably high, and much higher than it was before Ukraine, but at least now we can plan.


'We're looking at being as energy efficient as possible. We're reducing the number of chilled products in our shops and including more on-shelf food such as tins and packets. We're also installing solar panels on the roofs of our shops and depots,' he says.


Iceland's confident start to the year may dampen concerns over the firm's £550 million debt pile, which have sparked rumours of a takeover.


But he is adamant the family will have a stake in the Iceland brand 'indefinitely'. He stresses that the firm will not face issues refinancing its debt when the time comes to do so, in 2025.


'There are no hedge funds circling and there's no debt battle looming,' he insists.


He has not been allocated a seat to contest at the next Election, but he is on the Conservative Party's candidate list.


His foray into politics has been another cause of speculation in the City, with some observers claiming it could cause an unnecessary distraction.


'That's laughable,' he says, insisting he has no plans to step away from the family firm. He argues that 'plenty of MPs have second jobs' – which is true, but not usually ones as demanding as being boss of a major supermarket.


'I think it is important that people know what the outside world is like – what it is like to pay the wages on a Friday,' he adds.


'I'll give it my all – but with regards to Iceland, nothing changes. It is important politics has people that aren't just inside the Westminster bubble.'


Despite his privileged upbringing – with his family's fortune worth around £250 million – Walker says Iceland has provided him with an 'interesting barometer of Britain' through its five million customers.


'I have used the business to stand up and speak out on issues that are important to them,' says Walker – a Leave voter who urged former PM Boris Johnson to embrace business.


He describes his politics as One Nation Conservatism and has ambitions that include 'investing in our high streets' and 'making life as easy as possible for local businesses'.


But all of this begs a simple question, particularly given widespread disillusion with Westminster.


Would he not have a better chance of helping ordinary Britons by focusing purely on running one of the country's best-known supermarkets?


'I've already got a great platform without the public scrutiny,' he admits.


'And this is something I have thought to myself quite a lot. But I want to be a player – not a commentator.'





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