Supermarket Secrets: Feeding a nation

Wednesday 3 July 2013, 09:46

Gregg Wallace Gregg Wallace Presenter

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In presenting Supermarket Secrets I have had the most incredible insight into one of the undoubted phenomena of the modern era.

Quite how supermarkets have become such an essential part of our lives is an amazing and thought-provoking story.

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The weather plays a huge factor in what we buy, especially when the sun comes out

I know of no other industry that is so interwoven into the fabric of our society, yet gets so little love from that very society.

Can anyone reading this think of any other business or service that is used by such a high percentage of the population, yet comes under such criticism?

Virtually everybody in the UK uses supermarkets, yet few of us seem to enjoy it. Many of us go as far as to say the supermarkets have not only destroyed the High Street but also parts of our community and even our Britishness.

Why if this is so, do so many of us visit them and spend our hard-earned money?

Never before this series have the supermarkets allowed television so much access to their inner workings.

Over the course of a year I watched, worked, probed and filmed the technical teams, the product developers and the buyers from Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Waitrose and the Co-operative.

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Has Gregg got what it takes to be a master butcher?

It is an incredible story. These people play a huge part nowadays in the feeding of a nation. How on earth do you do that? How do you get so many eggs fresh on a shelf every day? That’s just for starters.

What do we want when the sun shines? What do we want when it gets cold? Do we all want the same thing?

I, like most of us I should imagine, don’t give it a moment’s thought. I wander in to my local supermarket with a list of the things I want. It’s mostly food but it could be carpet cleaner, mouth wash or a television.

I don’t wonder how these things got into the store: I just take it for granted that what I want is going to be there.

Once I started thinking about it my head exploded. Every sporting occasion, every bank holiday, every religious festival and every single change in temperature will dramatically alter what it is we want to buy.

I, with the help of some very dedicated and patient television makers, have followed the story of the produce on our shelves from planning, through purchasing, transport and packing.

I promise you, the scale, the work and the science that goes on behind it is amazing.

Gregg Wallace is the presenter of Supermarket Secrets.

Supermarket Secrets begins on Thursday, 4 July at 9pm on BBC One. For further programme times please see the episode guide.

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.

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  • Comment number 1.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

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    Comment number 2.

    Having taken eight years to develop a strawberry, let's us sincerely hope it is better than the flavourless pap we have been conditioned by supermarkets to eat.

    I bought some from a local fruit shop recently and the difference was huge, that is to say much better.

    Another BBC programme showing signs of promise but with the subject matter diluted with the by now inevitable distracting serious / comedic presentation.

    Just turned off.

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    Comment number 3.

    This programme is quite an eye opener and a sad reflection on how we shop for food today.

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    Comment number 4.

    What a sad little programme to prove how stupid the UK public are. No wonder supermarkets are more expensive than local shops and markets. All that money wasted to 'test' what we want when all we want is good food at a fair price - not something any supermarket will provide.
    This will boost local shops and markets no end as people realise how dumb all these ghastly shops really are.

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    Comment number 5.

    "Quite how supermarkets have become such an essential part of our lives is an amazing and thought-provoking story. "
    Not for many of us, Gregg. There are many millions very happy not to use supermarkets and get their much better food elsewhere and to support their local economies. Supermarkets are by no means 'essential.'

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    Comment number 6.

    I am afraid that Greg Wallace has been naive and "captured" by the supermarkets PR people and is telling the story as the supermarkets would like it to be presented. For example they show "we put in the weather forecast 3 times a day enabling us to forecast demand." What they don't tell you is the growers were forced by contracts to invest in seeds, substrates, fertilizers months in advance. If the supermarket doesn't need the product, with one email or phone-call they will cancel the product that has been contracted even as it is on trucks to go, forcing the loss *regardless of contract* and probable destruction of the crop onto the growers and wholesalers. Of course the growers and wholesalers could enforce the contract on the supermarket. They'd win. But they'd never do business with another supermarket in the UK again.

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    Comment number 7.

    Hi Greg. I really enjoyed the programme. Coming from a retail background and having studied retailing at university. Really looking forward to the next programme. One final point you referred to strawberries throughout the programme as berries. This is technically incorrect. As strawberries don't belong to the berry family. Although strangely bananas do. Thanks for your time. Hywel.

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    Comment number 8.

    In the section about bananas the boxes have been unloaded from Ffyfes and are being re-packaged for a Co-Op consignment. It appears at 46.40 on the programme that the bananas are being packaged with Fairtrade labels on them. Does this mean that all Ffyfes bananas are all Fairtrade, or is the Co-op packaging misleading the customer by claiming to be Fairtrade when it obviously isn't?

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    Comment number 9.

    It's been now a year since I moved to Archway in north London. I feel incredibly fortunate for having this litte Turkish shop in Archway, North London. Everything taste 100 times better than it does in any of the supermarkets mentioned on this programme and I'm saving half the money I used to spend in all of them before. And they don't need to send two posh ladies in a cab to have an expensive lunch to Moro to see if they can reproduce it 'Sainsbury's dog food style'. Seriously, I just cannot believe Gregg, as a 'food expert', has shown so little if not zero criticism towards this insane and unhealthy way of processing food and consume it.

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    Comment number 10.

    I was out of the country when this documentary was flighted. I am told it featured my ripening machines being used at Fyffes. Is it possible to get hold of a copy of this insert ? I could not find it on I player
    Peter Evans [Personal details removed by Moderator]

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    Comment number 11.

    When are the next episodes on and why is the first episode not available on the iPlayer? Please put all 4 episodes on the iPlayer after the 4th episode has been shown so that we can download them.

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    Comment number 12.

    If you live in a big city with specialist shops, or in a rural area where produuce is grown then you can perhaps avoid supermarkets. But the rest of us have no choice. Luckily my nearest
    supermarket is a Waitrose and so is slightly less depressing than most, but of course you pay a premium for anything fresh.
    It was a very interesting and thought provoking programme, but I am sure I will miss the next one as we have no idea when it will be.


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