'Smoked salmon is smoked salmon': why you'd be a mug to shell out for fancy brands this Christmas

Denise van Outen presents a festive edition of Secrets of the Supermarket Own-Brands on Channel 4
Denise van Outen presents a festive edition of Secrets of the Supermarket Own-Brands on Channel 4 - Channel 4

Every Christmas the cash-strapped British put their money worries to one side and, between them, spend 80 billion quid. Last year 12 billion went on groceries. 

Secrets of the Supermarket Own-Brands (Channel 4) spent a cheerful hour explaining how, if we’re canny about it, those billions can go a lot further, just so long as we can put up with packaging that outs us as skinflints and cheapskates. Take cheese. The hoity-toity cheddars with the come-hither wrapping cost 70 percent more than the own-brand alternatives which are made by – surprise! – exactly the same manufacturers. It was always clear that this was the case with breakfast cereals. Et tu, Brie?

There were plenty more exposés of this ilk from every aisle of the supermarket. Boxes of chocolates, foundation and eye-liner, scented candles and cardigans – you name it, the own-brand alternative costs way less and is just as or almost as good. It wasn’t always clear if there was any difference.

Lidl flog their own cheapo champagne with a fakey sort of label that is from the makers of Lanson. Ditto Co-op from the people who bring you Piper-Heidsieck. It would have been instructive to have an independent expert on hand to blind-taste them and verify if nearly twice the price equals twice the quality. This was consumer journalism wearing a Rudolph jumper, presented with a big grin by Denise van Outen at her most Big Breakfast-ish. There were plenty of experts on hand to dish out the startling facts, as well as someone with the important-sounding job title of brand psychologist.

Much the liveliest contributor was Harry Wallop, whom loyal readers of this organ will perhaps not know plies his trade at another outlet. “Frankly,” he reasoned, “smoked salmon is smoked salmon is smoked salmon.” It always helps with this quite samey content to bring in a knowledgeable wordsmith. “Pigs in blanket is where there’s been an absolute arms race in recent years,” he said excitably. You can always tell the difference between an own-brand expert and someone with a more bespoke turn of phrase.