Channel 4’s Dispatches chose discount supermarket chain Aldi as the target of its latest undercover investigation last night. Okay, fine. One question however immediately springs to mind: Why Aldi?
I mean the German retailer has revolutionised supermarket shopping in the UK since it opened its first branch here in 1990. Its model of quality products at reasonable prices has proved a sensation in the UK and abroad.
So why have a go at Aldi? That’s the question I couldn’t help asking myself as Channel 4’s undercover snoopers went to work on the supermarket. Did the programme makers have an axe to grind against this business?
Had the programme been investigating the practices of the discount supermarket industry as a whole it might – might have had a little more validity.
But no. Aldi was its target. Not Lidl, not Netto, nor any other supermarket for that matter. I kept my eyes peeled when it was time for the commercial breaks, half expecting to find that the documentary had been sponsored by Tesco or Asda or another of the big boys.
Going undercover the documentary makers discovered some terrible things, not least a bag of carrots that were a week past their sell-by-date. Shocking. For all those of us who have ever picked up a punnet of grapes from Tesco only to find a veritable eco system of all things purple and mossy in the place of grapes, it seemed like harsh criticism.
And it didn’t stop there. Undercover reporters were sent in to two (out of 600) Aldi stores tasked with finding dark and dastardly Germanic retail practices. Apparently Aldi workers are expected to be in store a whopping fifteen minutes before their shift is due to start! Fancy that, arriving for work in good time to start your shift. Fascists!
Worse was to come. One of the undercover reporters sneaked off into the warehouse where he discovered (or so he says) a couple of trolleys blocking a fire exit. Reporter-cum-Aldi-plant whipped out his secret camera to record the violation. Too busy filming the offence, he seemed blissfully unaware that as an Aldi employee, his duty was not to film the damned things, but to move them! Problem solved.
What was wrong with him? Did he have a trolley-allergy? Or was he just being wilfully dumb? It’s not as if supermarket warehouses up and down the country would pass every ‘elf and safety test is it? So I ask again: Why Aldi?
Undercover cameras caught the dramatic moment an employee gashed her knee. She’d knelt on the glass cover of a refrigeration unit. Conclusion? Don’t kneel on glass cabinets.
Oh and then there was an employee bitching about the sheer volume of work he was supposed to do. In the light of the revelation that Aldi pay their employees a considerably higher hourly rate than all their rivals, it was a complaint that any sane (or insane) judge would have thrown out of court in seconds. F**K off to Tesco would have been my retort.
When customers who had been door stepped outside the store sang its praises, this documentary started to look and feel desperate. Oh how they tried to find fault, scandal and malpractice.
Even their ‘retail’ experts were struggling to find anything particularly wrong with the supermarket’s practices. They nodded their heads sagely as some poor bugger of a store manager went up a ladder. And that really is as awful as this documentary got.
My abiding impression from this curious programme had nothing to do with Aldi, but everything to do with Dispatches. Just what was their agenda? What are Channel 4’s connections with the big supermarkets? Does somebody at the channel have a beef with Bratwursts?
Could be a documentary in there somewhere…