Supermarkets have lots of secrets. It’s a shame Gregg Wallace didn’t have a go at revealing the important ones
Towards the end of Autumn’s Supermarket Secrets (BBC1) Gregg Wallace asked the buyer responsible for introducing premium Norfolk Black chickens to Sainsbury’s stores whether she would be going back to making the tea if the new range bombed. Not for the first time in the programme, Wallace missed the point entirely. The only person who was going to be out of pocket if customers didn’t like the chickens was the farmer who had invested more than £100,000 of his money developing the new breed.
Far from revealing any secrets, the story in which Wallace seemed most interested was just what an amazing job the supermarkets were doing to bring us all the different foods and household products we wanted. Over on the commercial channels, supermarkets have to pay for adverts like this. The closest to criticism that Wallace got was to make a few lame jokes. By the end, I wasn’t sure if he was working to a very tight brief or was just a bit thick.
It’s hard to know where to start with Wallace’s dimness. The most obvious example was when he asked a supermarket manager why the fruit and veg were always nearest the entrance. Could it be because the supermarkets have worked out that people buy more of them if they are located there, he wondered, briefly hinting that his synapses might be connected. “Oh no,” replied the supermarket apparatchik, “it’s simply because the aisles are wider at the entrance and we know customers like more space when they start their shopping.” It was clearly total nonsense – supermarkets are purpose-built to maximise sales and the idea that they are somehow having to fit their layout into awkward spaces is just laughable – but Wallace merely nodded as if he had just been initiated into one of the mysteries of the universe.
There are any number of secrets that a half-awake presenter might have wanted to prise out of the supermarkets. How much do they pay their suppliers? Do they think it’s moral that their profits are increasing when so many farmers are finding theirs squeezed? How much do they spend on packaging? Do they care about how many food miles a product accumulates? What percentage of their perishable foods are thrown away? How much of that do they give to charities? How much do they pay their staff? What employment rights do they have? These are just some of the ones that came to me within a few minutes, but not, apparently to Wallace.
In a pie factory, Wallace looked approvingly at a couple of butchers hacking at a juicy cut of lean red meat, without wondering where all the nastier animal parts of gristle, hoof and ear that would go into the economy range were being ground up. Down on the chicken farm, he got dewy-eyed as the chickens ran around in the Norfolk sun: any chickens cooped up elsewhere in the country in battery farms, pumping out eggs as fast as they can till they die, didn’t even get a mention in despatches. Alan Partridge would have done a better job than Wallace. And he makes better gags.
Some rather more searching questions were raised in The Dark Matter of Love (BBC4), a documentary about an American couple adopting three children, Masha and twins Marcel and Vadim, from a Russian orphanage, and yet there were still too many that went unasked. Claudio and Cheryl were former Disney employees from Wisconsin with one daughter, Cammy, and had longed for, but were unable to have, three more children. Whether their desire was a fairytale fantasy or something well thought out was not fully explored. We were never told what processes they had had to go through before they were given permission to adopt, nor were the ethics of bringing three children back to the US from Russia ever up for grabs. From the way it appeared on camera, their Russian heritage was something to be eliminated and forgotten as fast as possible.
What was noticeable, though, was that the couple’s daughter seemed far more aware of the potential pitfalls and changes in the family dynamics than her parents. “I’m going to become someone else’s,” said Masha as she said goodbye to her foster mother in Russia. A year on, it was still unclear just how much someone else’s she had become. She was smiley, well socialised and relatively compliant but she remained hard to read. There was an acceptance, a willingness to make the best of things. But was there love? I couldn’t tell. Then maybe you could say the same for most families.
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