How Aldi, Lidl and the middle aisle lured in the middle-classes at Christmas

Denise Van Outen presents Secrets of the Middle Aisle at Christmas - Channel 4/Channel 4
Denise Van Outen presents Secrets of the Middle Aisle at Christmas - Channel 4/Channel 4

Are you even middle class if you can’t hold a lengthy conversation about the relative joys of Aldi? My mother spends so much time in her local branch that she may as well move in. We all have a view of the things worth buying (wine, ham, wooden toys) and those to avoid (their version of Weetabix, so cardboard-y that you may as well keep going and eat the box).

Please don’t sit next to me at a dinner party unless you want to hear about my bitter regret at choosing Aldi’s heated clothes dryer, which only dries the inch of clothes that are touching the rails, when I really should have shelled out for the Lakeland version.

But would you buy your mince pies and Christmas presents there? Secrets of the Middle Aisle at Christmas (Channel 4) explained the strategies that Aldi and Lidl deploy to entice us over the festive season. Apparently, people who shop in these supermarkets all year tend to switch to the posher ones in December for indulgent treats.

Denise Van Outen presented the show, gabbing away as she toured the aisles and hosting taste tests (results: Aldi for Christmas pudding, Lidl for cream liqueur, but M&S for mince pies). Contributors included Harry Wallop, the Stanley Tucci of consumer programmes, whose insights into shopping habits and retailer secrets are always worthwhile. Wallop explained how the discount supermarkets had benefited from the trend for German Christmas markets, cheekily produced items that bear more than a passing resemblance to brand names, and harnessed the power of social media with silly gifts – anyone for a Lidl slogan jumper? – that can go viral on TikTok.

Along the way we met die-hard Aldi and Lidl shoppers. One woman showed off the results of her trips to the middle aisle, which always has a pot luck quality: some stollen, a keyboard and a mini-sewing machine. Another recalled a tussle in the middle aisle over the last Kevin the Carrot stuffed toy. “Some lady wanted it for her toddler. I wanted it for my 18-year-old, and I won,” she explained, without a hint of embarrassment. As for the scientific comparison test on Aldi’s own-brand cast iron cooking pot – a great buy for £19.99, but can you call yourself middle class if you don’t have a Le Creuset on the hob?