The True Cost of Cheap Food – Is apparently extreme boredom

by Lynn Connolly

In last night’s Dispatches, food critic and author Jay Rayner examined – at tedious length – what goes into the budget ranges that have become increasingly popular in supermarkets and asks why, too often, low cost means low quality.

I could have told him the answer to that question in about two seconds… because low cost food uses low cost ingredients. Whether that’s pies, burgers, sausages or chicken… the more you pay, the better the quality.

It’s very, very simple… if you pay £10 for a sirloin steak, you get a sirloin steak. If you pay £4 for a sirloin steak, you get hoof. If you pay £6 for two chicken fillets, you get two chicken fillets, if you pay £3 for two chicken fillets, you get a bunch of chicken trimmings all glued together with glucose and pumped up with water.

Roll credits…

Sadly, they didn’t and the programme went on, and on, and on…

The fact is, this programme told me nothing I didn’t already know. As a woman who’s been doing the household shopping for about twenty years, I know – as do most regular grocery shoppers – you get what you pay for.

Generic brands – the supermarket’s own value lines – contained less of everything… less vitamins, less minerals, less protein, less meat, chicken, veg etc.

With each brand tried, Jay ran through the facts and figures of how much meat was in a value burger against a premium range burger or how much chicken was in a value chicken pie compared to premium range chicken pie for instance.

And I do mean how much as in 15.9 or 6.7 or blah blah blah…

This show could’ve actually lasted about three minutes and told us the same as it took an inordinately long hour to achieve; the more you pay, the better the quality. That’s it, end of.

Jay also tried to come up with his own ‘fine-ish’ items such as pies with about 1p’s worth of extra meat added and he discovered that people liked that more than the pie that cost just 1p less to make. Again Jay, this is no newsflash… the more you pay for ingredients, the better the food is going to be and the better it’s going to taste.

The show also featured two families in Leeds who tried to reduce their weekly shopping bills; one by choosing supermarket value brands and the other by shopping at local independent stores.

As to the families, the Ferguson family were living on value ranges from supermarkets while the Johnson’s didn’t use supermarkets at all, they shopped at butchers and local markets etc.

The Johnson’s did find that they could get good quality meat and veg on a budget at alternative outlets, but again, if you work and have a family, the chances of you having time to wander at leisure around markets and high street butchers is slim.

The Ferguson family found that while they could manage on value lines, they weren’t always offered the variety of foods they were used to and the mother of the family found that the quality wasn’t as good. That said, her very sweet children without failed said they enjoyed every meal she cooked. Bless ‘em.

The main question Jay put that was of any value was, why don’t supermarkets improve the quality of their value ranges and, as he said, “take the hit” to their own pocket given that they’ve made massive profits lately?

Well, good question but it’s a bit like asking why don’t pigs fly. It’s not going to happen; the share holders and bigwigs of the supermarket upper echelons aren’t living on value burgers and therefore don’t give a stuff.

As long as they make a profit and can themselves afford fillet steak and Boli, they aren’t remotely bothered that the rest of us have to eat value mince that has the texture – and nutritional value – of cat litter.

As I say, this show didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know, at all, nada, and to be honest, that’s an hour of my life that I’ll never get back!

What did you think of it?


Lynn is an editor and writer here at Unreality TV and is trained psychotherapist and the author of two books. She's addicted to soaps, period drama and reality TV shows such as X Factor, I'm A Celeb and Big Brother.