Weaver's Week 2022-10-30

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"It's the next big thing!" shouted Endemol Joe. Just for once, they're right.

Aldi's Next Big Thing

Aldi's Next Big Thing

South Shore for Channel 4, from 20 October

New decree from the Fashion Police! Apparently, it's now cool to like Aldi. The discount food retailer was founded in Essen back in 1913, and has since spread throughout the western world. The company is known for its pile 'em high sell 'em cheap philosophy, and for operating to its own priorities – shops were very slow to accept debit cards, and still feature aggressive scan 'em quick checkout operators.

Aldi's Next Big Thing Aldi Towers, a high-rise block completed in a hurry.

Aldi's Next Big Thing is a Channel 4 show, so it has to have an incredibly long introduction. It's the house style, waste the viewer's time with statements of the obvious. What is a supermarket? What is this contest? Why should we care? It's almost three minutes before the programme begins, and three minutes is far too long to wait for anything to happen.

Six boutique foods arrive at the corporate headquarters near Nuneaton. The foods haven't come on their own, they're accompanied by some humans, the people who cook and make them. The cooks gather in a "tasting room", and meet each other. They also meet the show's hosts, Chris Bavin and Anita Rani.

Aldi's Next Big Thing Chris Bavin and Anita Rani, the show's hosts.

The first challenge: impress the boss. Julie Ashfield is the "managing director of buying", who tells us that there's a big opportunity in this part of the supermarket. Of course there is: the Grow With Aldi competition has been organised for some years to help fill their own shelves, and the company will ask for products in the areas where they think something fresh can fill a little hole. This year's competition is the first to be televised.

Aldi's Next Big Thing As if by magic...

We see the contestants fiddling about with their food, cooking some things up, wiping bowls and placing decorations. It's a wholly artificial construction, something done purely to give the television people something to look at. It's a framing device to tell us stories of some products – are these the ones going furthest in the competition? Our interest may be piqued.

Aldi's Next Big Thing ...the shopkeeper appeared.

Julie Ashfield strides into the room, as though she's a very busy person who has only just finished an important meeting. Along with Anita and Chris, she talks about the product. "It's got to be as good as it looks", lots of flavours and textures. All three taste the food, and compare notes.

They start to discuss production. While it's a boutique product, a box of six cakes might retail for £10 (€11,50). If it's mass-produced, you could buy ingredients in bulk, and automate some of the production, and bring the price down to £5. The supermarket is known for selling things at low prices, and sells a comparable product for £1. Can the supermarket make enough of a profit from this more expensive idea? Or can it be converted from a fresh dish into frozen?

Aldi's Next Big Thing Steaming glasses of spiced rum.

And this sort of discussion is what we're here for. Aldi has chosen to occupy a particular space in the market: cheap, uncompromising, a bit unfriendly. Perhaps they cut a few corners to keep the headline price down. Smaller portions, lower-quality ingredients, that sort of thing. Customers can go to other places: the calm and friendly store, the emporium with a security guard to keep the riff-raff out, the hypermarket selling everything under the sun, the gourmet stalls that cost the earth.

Aldi has its little corner of the market, and will defend it well. But anything that isn't part of that little corner will be ignored. Meringues, for instance, are a niche product at the best of times: a range of vegan meringues was shown the door in very short order. Gluten-free brownies could work as a standard brownie, so the makers there are invited to stay and talk some more.

Aldi's Next Big Thing How will the people pitching insect food fare?

After hearing all six pitches, a few of the products have been sent away and leave the programme. The remainder stick around for further discussion in the second half of the show. The discussion's between Julie and the hosts, the people who have eaten the product. They weigh up the pros and cons of each dish, the taste and the packaging and the price. A lot of emphasis on price. This is Aldi's major point of difference, and we're never allowed to forget it.

Aldi's Next Big Thing The insect burgers are shown the door. There it is, go check it works.

Two of the products are selected for the next stage. The cooks are given some notes, challenges from Julie to help decide what she's looking for. They'll need to think about how to scale up, perhaps how to freeze and distribute, maybe ways to change the packaging. The cooks are also given some outside help, companies who are used to handling this sort of dish at great volume.

Aldi's Next Big Thing Anita Rani (left) visits one of the competitors.

A month passes. The cooks do their research, work out how they might fulfil the order – perhaps with a small industrial freezer in their own back room. During the month, either Chris or Anita pays them a visit, and we see how they're getting on. Perhaps we'll see a professional food photographer, the sort of person from Jamie Oliver's Cookbook Challenge at the start of the year.

Jamie's Cookbook Challenge told us a lot about the publishing industry, how myopic and conservative it is. Do we get the same vibes from Aldi's Next Big Thing? Not sure we do; the dishes we've seen are familiar ideas done differently. Fish and chips … in a pie! Indian pastries … but they're sweet! The sponsoring company are pushing the boat out, taking some risks and broadening horizons.

Aldi's Next Big Thing Julie discusses which food to choose with Chris and Anita.

But there's still the pennypinching mentality Aldi is famed for. In this week's show, we hear about a factory-made pastry, made to the usual recipe. Rather than very expensive Normandy butter, they've used margarine throughout; it's still very nice, but not as nice, and distinctly cheaper than the original recipe.

Back in the factory, Julie hears about what's happened, and what the dishes have been up to. How have they scaled up, how have they addressed the specific points she made earlier. What's been done, and what is still to be done? Where is the risk, and what is the reward?

Aldi's Next Big Thing In stores now!

All of this was filmed some months ago, so the winning dish is on sale in the supermarket as soon as the show's aired. Strike while the iron's hot, and turn the promotional activity into something the viewer can go out and buy tomorrow. That's so much better than Jamie's Cookbook Challenge, which finally crept onto bookshop shelves in the summer, just in time for the really hot spell when we didn't even think about cooking.

That was the show, but are we buying it? We're not particularly impressed. It's very much a programme of two halves, beginning with a Masterchef-ish round of slight drama. Will Julie pick this dish, or not? Can the makers convince her to take it further? It's doubtless brilliant to film, but it's all shown in a surprisingly bland way. There's no fight from the cooks, they don't get to defend their dish, just take what is given.

Aldi's Next Big Thing This tray is decorated attractively, but is the food any good?

The second half of the show is quite technical, discussions of how to mass-produce a zillion cardboard boxes for 0.1 new pence each. There are some insights into how food gets on the supermarket shelves, and why everything is in dodgy plastic wrapping, but this information is spread so thinly through the series.

The hosts constantly talk about this multi-squillion pound lifechanging contract, but the show somehow fails to convey this excitement on screen. Aldi's Next Big Thing manages to turn its big contract into something entirely undramatic. The high stakes contract turns into extremely low stakes television.

Aldi's Next Big Thing Julie confirms the winner: her company.

"With thanks to Aldi", an unusual item in the end credits, suggesting there might be a financial arrangement. It's certain that the supermarket gets six hours of prime-time television to sell its wares, and six hours to burnish its credentials as "part of the community" and "interested in your locale" and "pushing the boundaries" and "surprising".

Do we come away with a higher opinion of Aldi? Yes, we didn't know they sold that particular interesting item. Do we want to go and buy the product? Might do. Do we remember how snappy and unhelpful the staff are? Yes, and that's enough to put us off.

In other news

The 99% Club is coming to Seven Network in Australia. Their localised version of The 1% Club will be hosted by comedian Jim Jeffries. A press release trumpeting this news described the programme as a "comedy quiz show", accurate only in the final word.

Best of the web There's a bit of a backlash against Bake Off. And by "bit of a backlash", we mean "we've got two pieces critiquing the show and its production. But not the bakers. The bakers are wonderful. Everyone else, not so much."

From Tumblr, anyroads compares Channel 4's Bake Off against the BBC version. "It used to be this wholesome, lovely show! We used to watch it for the bakers! And the learning! And the light banter and occasional bit of coy innuendo! What happened?"

From Eater.com, James Hanson looks at the recent Mexican week. "A dangerously smiling kind of twee cack-handedness that recasts ignorance as charm and attempts to excuse itself from offence by implying that it couldn’t possibly know any better because it’s just a silly little baking show."

Are they right? Honestly, we don't know: we've not watched the regular Bake Off series in years.

This week we learned a lot from University Challenge

  • There is a European Tree of the Year competition, won this year by Oak Fabrykant from Lodz. The award is organised by the Environmental Partnership Association, and voted by anyone with an internet connection.
  • Panini was an artist. Giovanni Paolo Panini was the leading painter of views in Rome and Lazio during the early 18th century, the local counterpart to Canaletto in Venice. He shares his name with a type of food, just like his Wigan counterpart Joseph Meatpie.
  • Mamluks were briefly mentioned on UC. Lads from Central Asia were taken as slaves, overthrew their Persian "owners", beat off an advance by the Mongols, and came to rule Egypt and Syria for three centuries.

Slapped wrists to House of Games (3), which asked a question about multiple winners of the FA Cup. "Doncaster!", our answer, they were almost unbeatable in the late 1980s. But the Belles were missing from the list, which appears to have been compiled solely from winners of the men's FA Cup. They're usually very good at pointing out questions excluding half of humanity, and we'll put this down as an editorial slip.

Quizzy Mondays has been all over the place. Only Connect (2) went out at 7pm on Tuesday, only 23 hours late. It was the first elimination game, and the Statisticals beat the Road Runners by 22-20. Key spot in their favour was knowing the colour of Blue Peter badges (and the question setters can be smug about omitting the Silver badge, which has recently changed definition). The Road Runners made a few mistakes – took an extra picture to confirm Old Testament books, and offered a definition of "bill" for a question seeking "bills".

Biggest problem of the night was the Road Runners' wall, which reminded us of the news with about ten million prime ministers. We hesitate to contribute to the problem, but we'll be reviewing Channel 4's Make Me Prime Minister next week.

University Challenge was also 23 hours late, Christ's College Cambridge beat Oriel Oxford by 150-130. Oriel were good on the buzzers, but 10/24 on the bonuses isn't promising. CCC trailed by 80 points at one stage, but froze the opposition out of the last ten minutes, and were perfect on a round about scientists born in 1822.

Mastermind was delayed by a full 48 hours. That'll teach 'em for travelling on the West Coast mainline. George Scratcherd won the show, taking the Wines of Portugal for a near-perfect round, and a total of 26 points. He just beat off Pippa Smith, whose excellent general knowledge couldn't quite overcome a few drops on her specialist, the composer John Cage.

Our cooking's never like this, Masterchef The Professionals is back (BBC1, from Wed). On the channels, family talent show Réalta Agus Gaolta is back (TG4, Sun). MTV gives us The Challenge: Ride Dies (Tue), where they laugh at the days.

Unified Field Theory of Creep alert! Quizzy Mondays is on Tuesday this week. Christmas season starts on Guy Fawkes' Night, as Celebrity Mastermind returns (BBC1). ITV finishes the low-rating Celebrity Lingo then Queens for the Night is a celebrity drag performance show which claims to have a competition.

Pictures: South Shore.

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