Opinion

I watched all the documentaries about Lidl so you don't have to

It's the place you'll find sleeping bags, Arnold Schwarzenegger-endorsed leaf-blowers and all manner of other things we simply cannot live without

Lidl in Bodmin, United Kingdom. The supermarket has now inspired multiple TV shows. Image: Wikipedia (by Michael Garlick)

It feels like we’ve been living in the middle aisle of Lidl for quite a long time now. We’ve been besieged by lots of random and seemingly unconnected things that change with no warning, and there is really no way of predicting what’s coming next. 

One day someone throws a potato masher and a trampoline at us, the next we find ourselves drowning under a job lot of Neoprene sleeping bags and Rita Ora hairdryers. The only thing we know for sure is that this change is constant and relentless, and that one day we can be riding high, holding a leaf blower endorsed by Arnold Schwarzenegger, and the next, rolling around on the floor with one fake Croc and a toilet brush. 

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We must have become inured to this unpredictability, because Brits have developed an absurd affection for Lidl that seems unlikely to ever diminish. Obviously, one reason for its success is that it’s cheap and we actually can’t survive without it any more. But the major draw seems to be its randomness. In fact, it’s so random that it makes you feel like you’ve taken ayahuasca in the desert with a Mexican shaman.

Add some smart PR moves, such as unlikely celeb collabs and branded trainers, and Lidl has been elevated from a depressing German budget supermarket to a cultural icon. And what do we do with cultural icons? Why, we make boring documentaries about them, of course! 

Well, something has to explain the current proliferation of Lidl-themed TV shows. The other night I watched an extremely tedious Channel 5 show called Lidl: Middle Aisle Secrets & More. Then I went on Netflix, and in at number three in the charts was a full-length documentary called 24 Hours in Lidl, which seemed to be the SAME SHOW, but longer and with more talking heads discussing snooze-worthy subjects like pricing structure and retail psychology.

This smells a bit fishy, and I’m not talking about Lighthouse Bay salmon fillets (£3.89). What’s happening here? Is Lidl attempting some kind of coup? Should we surrender now by waving a packet of Alpenfest potato rosti and a large red pepper? 

I only ask because these shows are not balanced in the slightest, having presumably been heavily influenced by the supermarkets themselves. Channel 5’s dubious ‘documentary’ strand is just propaganda masquerading as balanced and informative programming. They pretend to be taking ‘a wry look’ at Britain’s shopping habits, but really it’s like watching some pretty ladies dance for Kim Jong-un. In fact, I’ve seen more unbiased reportage from Russia Today, or that man who does a serious news report about Seven Seas cod liver oil capsules.   

The Channel 5 version at least tried to inject some fun into the proceedings by asking some people in Blackpool to test out the best off-brand Cornettos. (The winner was, believe it or not…Lidl!) But ultimately it failed. The workings of a supermarket, however much you try to manipulate the outcome, are DULL. It’s all just defeated-looking people pushing trolleys or waiting at tills.

And as I was watching a Lidl employee browse the Tesco website to check if their sweet potatoes were more expensive, I thought I was going to expire, like a pot of Milbona fat free high protein yoghurt (75p). However, you may be dimly curious to know – if you’re still awake – what the secrets of the middle aisle are. Well, let me reveal them. 1) they change the stuff every Thursday at midday. 2) they deliberately throw in a ton of incompatible crap to make you buy a wetsuit, a bird bath and a spoon for no reason.

Fascinating eh? I mean, er…gosh, yes that’s really interesting. Lidl really is Britain’s best supermarket, and I for one welcome our new German overlords! *Looks to camera, holding a delicious Lidl Cornetto*

Lidl: Middle Aisle Secrets & More is on channel5.com; 24 Hours in Lidl is on Netflix. Lucy Sweet is a freelance journalist

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