Gregg Wallace and Babita Sharma lift the lid on the science behind the supermarkets. Gregg finds out how supermarkets decide where to open convenience stores.
Browse content similar to Convenience. Check below for episodes and series from the same categories and more!
Britain's supermarket landscape has been turned on its head.
Over the last few years,
how and where we shop has changed beyond recognition.
The discounters, Lidl and Aldi, are the rising stars.
And the traditional supermarkets
have had to raise their game to compete.
We have more choice than ever before.
And the days of loyalty to one store are gone.
But what does this intense competition
actually mean for the food in our trolleys?
We're going behind the scenes
with the country's leading supermarkets...
..to find out how they are using the latest technology and science
to stay ahead of the competition...
..and keep up with our rapidly changing demands.
I'm Gregg Wallace. I've worked in the food industry ALL my life.
I want to investigate the hidden ways
supermarkets produce our everyday foods.
And I'm Babita Sharma,
a news journalist who grew up behind the counter of a corner shop.
I want to know the tricks of the trade being used to win our cash.
We're looking at the latest tactics in the supermarket wars.
This time, it's the battle for convenience.
The supermarkets are competing to make our lives easier.
From delivering ready-to-eat fish in a flash...
That looks like something out of Star Trek!
..battling to bring us the easiest fruits...
It is SO easy to peel.
..taking on the hard work for us...
All of these are for one dish?
-That looks ridiculous to me.
..even looking into our minds to make shopping simpler.
Why do you need to read my subconscious?
That's quite alarming.
We're going to get the inside track
on how the supermarkets bring us the food we buy.
And what we find may change the way you shop.
If there's one thing we all want, it's an easy life.
When it comes to our food shopping,
we now want food that's quicker, easier
and more foolproof than ever before.
From sarnies to salads, to spag bol in a box,
our need for ease means we now spend more than £10 billion a year
on pre-prepared convenience foods.
So it's no surprise the supermarkets are fighting
for a piece of this fast-growing market.
But does easier always mean better?
And what are we paying for all this convenience?
As the supermarkets battle to win the convenience war,
there is one market everybody wants a slice of.
It's the undisputed king of convenience food,
worth over £3 billion a year.
Maybe it's the fact that we are all so busy
that's led to the rise of these,
the ready meal, but do you know,
we buy 3.5 million ready meals every single day?
To compete for our cash,
the supermarkets launch hundreds of new ready meals every year.
But to stand out in a crowded market,
their new meals have to grab our attention,
so they often take inspiration from the high street.
The hottest trend right now is Mexican,
with the number of restaurants up by a whopping 70% on last year alone.
Now, whether it's tiny burrito bars or national chains,
we are riding a culinary Mexican wave.
But can you turn this high-street hit
into a mass-produced meal in a box?
Already on the shelves are a chicken enchilada
and a beef burrito from Sainsbury's.
M&S have a chilli con carne...
..while Morrisons have brought out a smoky pulled pork.
But one supermarket thinks the way to get ahead
in the great Mexican race
is to try something a little more unusual.
-Gregg, nice to meet you.
I've come to the Co-op's development kitchen in Manchester,
where product developer Paul Dempsey and innovation chef Ben Warran
want to tickle our taste buds with more complicated Mexican.
Most people consider Mexican to be tacos and burritos.
Is that not what you're aiming at?
This is really aimed at a different customer,
ones that will be trying the more authentic dishes
that we are trying to recreate in the kitchens.
Ben and Paul's three new dishes have far less familiar names.
A tinga, a habanero and a chicken mole.
But it won't be an easy ride.
Creating this kind of authentic Mexican is a complicated business.
All of these are for one dish?
Absolutely. They're for our chicken mole.
Mexican food is all about complexity.
Are you kidding me?
Forgive me, I know you're doing your jobs, but with all respect,
that looks ridiculous to me.
It's not just your kind of bland, one-flavour,
It's salty, sour, it's sweet, there's some bitterness in there.
It's a big challenge, but then Ben and Paul have a lot to prove.
Ready meals is one area where the Co-op underperform
against their market share.
Getting this right could score them big points in the convenience war,
and a bigger slice of that £3 billion ready-meal market.
And they ARE trying to save us from some very tricky cooking.
You know I could do this now, right, you just...
Listen, you put it in a pan, right, heat them all up.
Not at all. It's all about the order
the ingredients go into the pan.
Creating Ben's mole requires precision timing.
Different spices work in different ways.
So the ones that are really powerful,
we want to get them into the base layer of the dish.
Spices in, big hitters first.
Now we're going to go on to these nice floral spices.
-You've got chocolate here.
Right, in it goes.
Time to see if it's paid off.
It has the smokiness, it has the chocolatiness,
and it has layers of sweetness.
Yeah, absolutely. I think the sweetness is really noticeable.
It's all that time spent cooking the ingredients.
All right, you may look a little bit odd,
-but you know what you're talking about.
Across the supermarkets, ready-meal standards are high.
A recent study showed that two-thirds of us think
that they now taste
as good or better than takeaways.
So, will the Co-op's Mexican range
be good enough to make us try something different?
I'm beginning to realise just how risky this is,
because you're launching a product that most people may not recognise.
It is a bit risky.
Everybody knows what chilli is,
and there probably aren't that many people that know what a mole is.
But I think when people taste it,
I think they'll absolutely love it like we do.
Mexican may be hot stuff on the high street,
but our top three favourite ready meals are still very traditional.
British, Italian and Indian.
So will we buy Mexican if it's not the burritos and chillis
we know and love?
And will the Co-op scoop a bigger piece
of the £3 billion ready-meal market?
I'll be back later to find out.
Our soaring demand for ever easier food
has penetrated every aisle of the supermarket.
Even some we wouldn't expect.
You might think that the convenience food market
is all about making things ever more processed and manufactured.
But that's not always the case.
I'm on the trail of a product
that's been one of the biggest convenience hits in recent years.
And there's not a single factory in sight.
This orchard in Southern Spain
is growing one of Britain's favourite fruits.
The easy peeler.
While the traditional orange is in decline,
sales of this little citrus are soaring,
up almost 30% in three years.
We probably don't give it a second thought,
but creating this fruit takes real agricultural wizardry.
An easy peeler is any small, easy-to-eat citrus fruit,
like a tangerine, clementine or a Satsuma.
They've become so popular,
they now make up more than half of all the citrus we eat -
almost £500 million worth a year.
So getting them right is big business for the supermarkets.
It's harvest time, and David Northcroft,
fresh produce developer from Waitrose,
is here to check on his latest crop.
So how big are easy peelers for Waitrose?
So last year alone, we sold £30 million worth of these.
30 million? So clearly, we're loving them.
So why are they so popular in Britain?
People don't want to be peeling oranges nowadays.
It's about convenience.
The different types of easy peeler
can have very different strengths and weaknesses,
as Dave is going to show me, with three of our favourite varieties.
First up, the traditional Satsuma.
This is what I'm used to,
and it is SO easy to peel.
But the taste for you, not so good?
It's sort of mild sweet.
Next, it's the mandarin.
Mandarin, beautiful colour here.
I like the balance of flavour in this,
but it can have seeds.
And it seems we don't want seeds in our easy-to-eat fruit.
Finally, the tangerine.
It's really hard to get into.
I can't even get into it.
You're going to have to help me out here, David.
Come on. Let's have a go.
This one's more like the not-so-easy peeler.
But there's a big upside.
When you get into it, you have got this great richness of flavour.
-Real depth of flavour there, isn't there?
That is incredible!
All these varieties have their good points,
but as shoppers, we now want food that's tastier and easier.
What if we could get that great flavour
in a variety that was seedless
and as easy to peel as a Satsuma?
So, what? The best that all of these three can give us in one?
To get ahead of their rivals,
the supermarkets are constantly looking for a new variety
that ticks all the boxes.
So David's Spanish suppliers run a breeding centre,
dedicated to trying to create the ultimate easy peeler.
It looks amazing in here.
It's so impressive, isn't it?
Charo Marin is chief fruit breeder.
So what's happening here?
Well, this is a mother tree.
This is where we do the pollination
and we create new children, new varieties.
To create new varieties,
Charo takes pollen from a plant that has something she wants,
like great flavour or no seeds,
and transfers it to the flower of a plant that has easy-to-peel fruit.
Once you pollinate the flower,
the ovary will grow and will give you a new fruit
and the mandarin will give you those seeds.
So each seed...
..is a new variety.
But to see the new varieties come to fruition is a painstaking process.
So how long before you get to the point where it is fully grown?
Around eight years.
It takes a long time, doesn't it?
Even then, there's only a one-in-a-thousand chance
that the new fruit will have all the traits that they want.
So Charo plants thousands of them.
It's a bit like a lottery.
It is. We are looking for a needle in a haystack.
In the last five years,
M&S, Tesco and the Co-op have all launched new varieties,
but David thinks he's found something to rival them all.
This is the first time anyone has seen it.
Never been seen before.
Never been seen before.
I get the exclusive preview of this.
So what we've got here is easy to peel.
It's seedless, it's got that rich flavour of the tangerine.
-Shall we take a look inside?
This is the moment of truth.
Oh, my gosh. It looks like perfection.
This is the Holy Grail,
to have something that is naturally seedless,
and we're going to have that depth of flavour.
A seedless mandarin.
It's not the way nature intended it to be, though.
Can you remember where grapes were, maybe five, ten years ago?
We bought grapes, they always had seeds in them.
Now, virtually all the grapes we eat in the UK are seedless.
We've been doing this for nearly ten years to get to this point.
So, you know, we're really hopeful
that this is going to be a great variety for the future.
If they're successful in scaling up production of the super mandarin,
then in a couple of years,
you should be seeing it in your supermarket.
I can't quite believe how much work goes into creating the easy peeler.
It's something that we take for granted.
I know that I do, but it's no surprise
it's one of the biggest-selling products on the supermarket shelf.
We've become a time-poor nation,
and nowhere more so than with our evening meal.
The time we spend cooking dinner has halved in the last 20 years.
What we want is convenience
so the supermarkets know that we can be put off
by any food that looks like hard work.
One food with a tricky reputation is fish.
We used to have to buy a whole fish where we'd have to scale it, gut it,
bone it and cut it into portions ourselves.
These days, all the work's done,
and it comes conveniently in packets,
in fillets ready to go.
But could they make it even MORE convenient?
Fish is a fierce battleground in the supermarket wars.
In the last year,
discounters Aldi and Lidl have seen their fish sales rise more than 20%.
Meanwhile, the Big Four supermarkets are floundering
with sales down across-the-board.
So Sainsbury's have a plan to deliver fish
that's easier than ever.
Their technical manager for fish, Alison Anderson, is in Fife,
checking in on their latest innovation.
Alison, what comes through here in this depot?
So it's just salmon coming in here, about 6 million fish a year.
We eat a whopping 60 million kilos of salmon a year,
and last year, it overtook tuna to become Britain's favourite fish.
-Shall I kiss him?
-And it's turned into a Gregg!
Creating Alison's easy-to-eat fish
starts with the cutting-edge technology
needed to fillet 16,000 salmon a day,
all overseen by the factory's head of development, Robin Brown.
This guy, here, he's feeding the fish into the filleter.
That is cutting that fish into two perfect fillets?
It takes about two and a half seconds to fillet one fish.
That is incredible.
Most chefs wouldn't be able to get it that close.
They've even got a machine to take the tiny pin bones out.
I can see there is like a metal cart over there,
and that must be making all the bones stick up.
It's catching them and pulling them up.
But it doesn't get them all.
There's nothing like the human eye and the human touch. Right?
-Yeah, of course.
Because I'm not bad with a bit of fish.
Leave the difficult ones for me, OK?
-If you just go in, just lightly, like that.
-Is there more in there?
Get in there!
You don't pull them out, you rip it out.
We try to do minimal damage to the fish.
Bit late now, mate. They've cut its head off.
To try and ensure her easy salmon
will be a step ahead of the competition,
Alison's got a brand-new trick up her sleeve.
We are brine injecting.
So we are adding flavour into the fish.
And you can see you've got the needles coming down,
then injecting the brine, the flavouring, into the fish.
There is a lemon and herb going in there.
Lemon and herb goes well with salmon,
and some customers don't like fishy flavours,
so, again, it enhances
and takes some of that fear factor away from people.
You are putting flavours in there that maybe aren't fish
-because people don't like fish?
Are you...? Really?!
I think that's weird. I really do.
The salmon is ready to portion up.
Time to meet their newest and smartest machine.
That looks like something out of Star Trek.
It scans every individual fillet.
Using a laser,
it measures the thickness, it measures the length,
and it calculates the weight of the fish
and how many portions to cut from it.
And it gets it right?
It gets it right. Very accurate.
This machine is capable of cutting 120 portions a minute.
120 perfectly-cut portions a minute!
After a quick dusting with herbs, the salmon is sent for packaging,
and it's still less than five minutes
since the fish arrived whole into the depot.
Well, so far so good.
We've gone from a whole head and fins on salmon
to perfectly cut boneless fillets
pumped full of lemon and herb flavour in a matter of minutes.
Now these guys have got their eyes on a new piece of technical wizardry
that's going to make fish eating even easier.
So we're running a trial on a new packaging format.
This is going to revolutionise the way we cook and eat fish.
And what is that?
This is microwaveable packaging,
so the fish in the pack is ready to go in the microwave.
So you put flavour in that fish,
and I can take it off the shelf in the packet,
put it in the microwave in the packet?
-Can I take one of these?
So innovative is this packaging, it opens on its own.
How long, three minutes?
The microwave is creating steam and heat,
and the steam puffs up the packaging,
and when it gets to a certain temperature,
the packaging will release,
and it'll let the steam out rather than it build up too much pressure.
So the packaging will balloon up, and at some stage,
the end of the seal comes away from the packet and lets the steam out?
-Is that right?
It is puffing up.
Mate, I'll tell you what.
THAT is clever.
Personally, I would cook it a little bit less.
However, for most people,
I would suspect that is a perfectly, perfectly good fish
with a hint of citrus and a hint of herb.
And that took, what...? Three minutes?
Mate, that, I have to admit, is very clever.
And it may even be better for you.
Studies suggest that microwaving
preserves more of the nutrients in fish
than frying or baking.
You know, in a way, I'm a little bit sad
that you have to go to all that effort to make us eat fish,
but if that's what it takes to put fish on the menu, so be it.
In an age where everyone's always in a rush,
there's one great British classic that's suffering.
If there's one meal
that takes a couple of hours to put together, it is this.
A joint of roast meat.
It's not something that you can whip up in a hurry.
And I have to say, if I'm honest,
it's rare that I get the chance to do a meal like this.
And I'm not alone.
We're 25% less likely to roast a joint of meat today
than 20 years ago.
Never one to miss a trick,
the supermarkets and their suppliers
are putting in the hours on our behalf
to try to give us roast
in a fraction of the time it takes us to cook it at home.
Easy roasts are part of a supermarket revolution
known as ready-to-cook.
Halfway between a ready meal and cooking from scratch,
this is the fastest-rising category in convenience food,
already worth half a billion pounds a year.
Waitrose have an easy-to-cook collection of meats and fish.
Sainsbury's call their range Just Cook.
But the undisputed top dogs of ready-to-cook,
with 29% of the market,
are Marks & Spencer.
Ollie Redmond is the M&S technical manager for meat.
He's visiting his suppliers near Glasgow
to check on a new Moroccan lamb roast
that you can cook in just over half an hour.
He's been working on it for nine months,
with Scotbeef's product developer Alison Galloway.
And today, he's hoping to sign it off.
Good morning, Alison.
-How are you doing?
Today, we are butchering the lamb
for our first trial on the Moroccan lamb shoulder.
So this is what we end up with.
It's a lot smaller than what I thought it would be
for a roasting joint.
280 to 300 grams was the perfect portion size for two.
Straight away, they are thinking about convenience.
Not everybody wants a full roast,
and 63% of British households now have just one or two people.
The next stage is to coat the meat in a blend of spices to add flavour.
It smells amazing.
But the biggest challenge in bringing us a 35-minute roast
is to stop it drying out when they precook the meat.
The challenge is to retain as much moisture
within the meat during cooking.
Lamb typically contains about 70% water.
That sounds like a lot, but if it's cooked too fast,
the meat can easily dry out.
So they use an innovative cooking method.
I can't see an oven anywhere.
No. So this is the sous-vide part of the process.
Sous-vide means "under vacuum" in French.
It involves vacuum-sealing food and cooking it with water or steam.
This little pouch allows the meat to cook within its own juices,
retaining the moisture and succulence.
Do you know, when you look at it,
to me, it's like boil-in-the-bag stuff.
-It is, isn't it?
-It is much more tightly controlled than that.
You'll see that the technology that we use
to get the precise cook we are looking for,
you just couldn't get that with a boil-in-the-bag product.
To cook sous-vide on an industrial scale
requires some serious equipment.
-So here we are.
Gosh, they are huge, aren't they?
-They look like huge silver bullets.
It's simply a giant, sophisticated pressure cooker
where we can precisely control the temperature
that we are applying to the meat.
Should we get it cooking?
-Let's get it cooking.
-Let's get it started.
Lamb shoulder is a cheaper cut and can be tough.
The lamb shoulder, it does a lot of work,
so there's a lot of structure in there to support the muscles
and then that structure is what we call collagen.
Collagen is a stringy protein which makes meat chewy.
When cooked for a long time,
the collagen breaks down and turns into a more edible gelatine jelly.
That takes time and a certain temperature,
and this allows us to precisely control
that conversion of the collagen into gelatine.
-So if it wasn't precise...
..the taste would be completely different.
If you undercook the meat or cooked it too quickly,
then the fat would not render down,
the collagen wouldn't turn to gelatine.
It would end up being tough and chewy.
The lamb spends three hours in the pressure cooker.
Alison thinks that by cooking with sous-vide,
they can create a dish
that's not just quicker for us than a normal roast,
but also more tender.
And she's got a way to try and prove it.
What we have here, Babita, is samples of our lamb shoulder,
one that we've roasted, and one that we've sous-vided.
It looks completely different.
It certainly does.
The roast lamb, the muscles contract under the high heat,
squeezing out that moisture.
With the sous-vide, the moisture's retained within the lamb.
The oven-cooked lamb certainly looks tougher than the sous-vide lamb,
but Alison has a machine that can actually measure their tenderness.
So that is mimicking my mouth.
It's mimicking the pressure required to eat through the meat.
So like an automated jaw.
The more pressure required, the tougher the meat.
OK, so are we going to test the roast one first?
Roast one first.
It's like a guillotine.
Comes down, measures the force required
to bite through the meat fibres.
In this case 73.96.
So with the sous-vide we're going to try now,
we're looking for a much lower number?
We're looking for a lower number.
Less pressure to bite the meat.
-Are you nervous?
-Not at all.
Confident in your product.
-Gosh! You should be.
That is a massive difference between the two.
It's a huge difference. Yes.
That's melt-in-your-mouth kind of stuff.
That's melt-in-the-mouth tender. Yes.
To be honest, I didn't think all that preparation time
to perfect this sous-vide would actually make a difference,
but when you see the roast next to the sous-vide version,
you really do get a sense that it is fundamentally different.
The tasting moments.
So here we are.
It's passed the machine test.
But will it taste good enough to get on the shelves at M&S?
Well, after just 35 minutes of cooking in a normal oven,
it's time to find out.
Are you pleased with it, Olly?
The smokiness is still there, but it's not overpowering.
Just a little bit of chilli heat, but it's not too much.
I think we're there.
-Are you pleased?
It takes so long to create this.
It looks like it's a pretty expensive process.
Are we going to have to foot the bill of that?
Well, this is going to be on the shelf at £5.50 for a pack,
which we believe, given the amount of work that goes in,
is great value.
That's around double the cost it would be
for the same piece of lamb with no preparation or precooking.
So, while I'm convinced that Olly's lamb
is more convenient than doing the work myself,
there's no doubt that convenience costs.
One of the most obvious signs that convenience is taking over
is the big increase in convenience stores.
Small high-street style supermarkets are popping up all over the place.
Sometimes you can have four or five in the same high street.
A convenience store is any grocery shop that's under 280 square metres,
but still stocks a certain number of core products
like booze, bread and bananas.
Over the last five years,
the big brands have opened up more than 1,300 convenience stores.
That's over half of all their new stores across the country.
So, why do we want them?
And how do the supermarkets know
where a new store will make the most cash?
I've come to CACI, a company of data experts,
who tell the supermarkets where to open new branches.
There's a very exact science
to determine where any new supermarket should go.
You get it right and the customers will come flocking in.
Get it wrong, and it could cost a lot of money.
Louise is head of grocery and convenience.
It's her job to track the rise and fall of supermarkets
across the country.
The blue shows where there's been an increase in the market share
that the convenience stores are taking from the market.
The darker the blue, the greater that increase in market share.
For convenience, in most parts of the country,
there's been an increase.
More than a fifth of our groceries are bought in convenience stores.
That's an increase of more than 50% from ten years ago.
Why has this come about?
People are less planned with their shopping,
so they're not writing a big shopping list
and going there once a week.
Lifestyles are getting busier
and that's where convenience really fills a gap.
But to cash in on convenience,
the stores have to be in spots where the right customers will use them.
And the key to that is knowing who lives where.
By using sources like the Land Registry,
the Government's benefits database, and customer surveys,
Louise's team gather in-depth information on potential customers
in any area.
Things like just how likely they are to own their own property,
and what their income levels are.
How much sort of disposal income they might have.
Each postcode is broken down into 17 different groups,
from lavish lifestyles,
to comfortable seniors,
to struggling estates.
Got a lot of these dark purples, which are city sophisticates.
Generally they'll be on much higher incomes.
Very, I guess, cash-rich and time-poor.
They actually want to cook,
but maybe don't feel like they've got the time to sort of
buy the ingredients for it.
-They want to almost cook.
-They want to almost cook.
We've got a lot of these blue dots which are struggling estates.
-How do they shop?
-They're very, very price conscious.
Less likely to cook from scratch.
They want convenience food.
They're more likely to buy daily
and they've got just the money that they've got.
This information helps the supermarkets make crucial decisions
about where to put their stores,
based on who their customers will be.
You can see Sainsbury's there, for example,
has got a lot more city sophisticates and career climbers
in its catchment than the Co-op there,
which has got a lot more struggling estates.
You can tell virtually how much they're earning,
how much they're spending, what they're spending it on?
It's about having the right store,
and making sure that what you're putting in the store
is right for that group.
George Orwell would not be surprised!
This precision targeting
should bring the right store for your needs into your neighbourhood.
But watch out -
they may make life easier, but these small high-street branches
tend to have higher rents and running costs,
so buying your groceries in one could cost you up to 10% more.
On average, we each spend 45 minutes a week buying groceries.
Over a lifetime of shopping, that's around four months
every single one of us spends in a supermarket.
And yet most of us just aren't very good at it.
We've all been there, wandering up and down the aisles,
trying to find that tinned tuna, or being on one side of the store,
realising that you've forgotten something
and then you have to go right back to the front to find it,
and why do they keep moving the pasta aisle?
But what if there was an easier way?
I've come to the Cotswolds, where local entrepreneur Will Broom
has been working on a plan to help us find our way around.
I was navigating the supermarket, not knowing where anything was
and finding it really frustrating,
and I noticed everyone was doing the same thing,
so I thought, wouldn't it be cool if the shopping list was magic
and you walked in the store and it immediately snapped into order
and guided you round the store in aisle order,
showed you where everything was and enabled you to have a much,
much faster, more stress-free experience when you're shopping?
Will's solution is a mobile phone app called Uber Market,
that acts like a sat nav for your supermarket.
It arranges your shopping list into the order of the aisles
and tells you where to find each product.
As you shop you scan items with your smartphone to speed up checkout.
Will has developed a trial version of the app
that works in his neighbourhood Budgens.
So I'm putting it to the test with local couple Ben and Laura.
What I've got is 12 shopping items
that I want you to find in the supermarket.
12 have been loaded onto a mobile phone, and the other 12
are on a shopping list on the traditional piece of paper.
I'll take the paper list.
-I'll take technology.
-OK, that was easy!
So, as Ben goes around the store,
he's scanning the items that are showing up on his list.
You hold the phone against it, and it will pick it up and scan it
and cross it off his list, and on to the next item.
OK, butter, aisle two, left.
There it is.
As Ben shops, the app tells him the aisle number
and location of each item.
Oh, they're neck and neck, right behind each other.
How's it going, Ben?
Yes, all right. I'm getting through this quite quickly.
Not that I want to put any pressure on,
but Laura's got more in her trolley than you.
Has she? Oh, no! She's ahead of me!
-I'm just going to go and see how she's doing.
-Bagels, right. This section... You're here, I think.
How do you think Ben's going to do?
Hopefully not as good.
I get it, the convenience of it and speeding up the process,
but I'm a real impulsive shopper.
I like to go down the aisles, see the special offers,
and see what's out there - how is that going to work for me?
If something catches your eye that isn't on your list,
or you change your mind,
just pick up that item, scan it, it will add it to your list.
-Is it even here?
It's... I don't know!
They were hiding it!
Go, go, go!
Remember, it's fastest wins.
Oh, no! Yes!
-All right, Ben, so...
-Five left. Fabric conditioner.
Yes! There it is. Right. Fabric conditioner.
How much are you relying on the app or just looking at things?
If I'm honest, I'm relying solely on the app.
Well, the app, it seems to be working,
but this is just one supermarket and one layout.
My biggest bugbear is that shops are always moving things around.
So I wonder how Will's app will cope when things get a bit more tricky.
What happens if they move the baked beans from aisle 13 to seven?
Everything about the app's in real time.
If they move milk from aisle two, to aisle three, the app will change.
The app talks to the store in real time at all times.
The app connects to the store's real-time stock database,
so it's always up-to-date with where things are and how much they cost.
There it is! Right.
Now, that's it, I think.
Think. That's it.
Laura and Ben are neck and neck.
Laura's got them all!
But the app has a secret weapon.
You're scanning the items directly?
Yes. Checkout list has transferred successfully.
-There we go.
-And now I pay for it.
I hate to break this to you.
-But Ben has actually done it.
He's all paid up and he's gone through.
Look at that smug grin on his face!
Thank you very much!
Sigh of relief for you, Will!
Little bit. I was pretty confident though, but that's great.
So the app prevailed. So, how much will it cost me?
So it's totally free to use.
What do you get out of it? How much money do you make?
That's a bit of a slow-burn thing,
because what we're based on is a licence fee to store as you want it.
So that's the idea.
The app wasn't light years ahead of the old fashioned list,
but it did win.
And I can definitely see the benefit of scanning your items
before you get to the till.
Right now it's only available in this store,
but it's being rolled out to thousands of supermarkets
later this year.
As the supermarkets find ever more innovative ways
to make our food convenient, old favourites can get left behind.
Take the potato. It was a convenience hit in years gone by,
but it's falling out of favour.
We're eating 25% fewer spuds than ten years ago,
partly because they take so long to prepare.
But there's another reason.
I'm very fond of the humble spud. It's healthy and it's so versatile.
But there can be a problem that we can't see.
Look, it's perfect on the outside.
But bruising on the inside.
It's one of our most common complaints,
and it can stop us buying potatoes,
but how do you solve a problem that's invisible?
One supermarket is going to great lengths
to find a solution to bruised tatties.
I'm in Lincoln, where Tesco's technical manager for potatoes,
Rebecca Schofield, is overseeing the harvest
with one of their biggest suppliers.
Every potato in Tesco, you're in charge of?
-That's a mammoth job!
Rebecca is responsible for delivering
up to a billion British spuds a year.
And that includes solving the bruising problem.
Bruising is one of the top complaints we have from customers.
It's not easy, is it, because you can't tell if your potato's bruised.
No, and potatoes are surprisingly delicate as well.
A bit like me. Looks rough and hardy,
but actually it's quite fragile and bruises easily.
Rebecca has a nifty piece of technology
that she thinks can bring us a perfect potato every time.
This what we hope is going to solve our problems with bruising.
It's what we call an electronic potato.
It's full of sensors which measure the acceleration and deceleration
during this process, which helps identify any points
which are causing bruising or damage to the potato.
I bet they make lousy chips.
This electronic spud keeps a record of every bump and drop it encounters
on its journey from the field to your shopping trolley.
So, on this tablet, if you were to hit or drop it,
-it would then register that point on here.
So, if you look at that, it shows you there where it impacted.
-All right, can I have another go?
-I'm having fun with this.
It actually works. Let me get this right,
this is recording every time this drops or bangs?
-Which is exactly what is happening to the potatoes...
-When you get that information,
-you can then reduce the distance of the drop.
The high-tech tuber travels with the newly harvested spuds
to the packing house, constantly gathering data on its journey.
They're bouncing around all over the place!
I can see why they'd get bruised!
Inside the factory,
the potatoes travel through hundreds of metres of washing,
braiding and salting,
all overseen by innovations director Vee Gururajan.
Roughly how many drops will a potato do from here to a plastic bag?
-Somewhere between 15 and 30 drop points in the whole process.
Since using the electronic spud,
they've redesigned the conveyors to reduce the number of drops.
But one of their biggest changes isn't exactly rocket science.
We've now put some blue cushions that softens the drop.
The drop is now cushioned, and it's reduced the impact, as you see here.
Anything less than 150 is very good.
This is 63.5, which means this potato is not going to get bruised.
So, you put some blue cushions down there, that's all you did?
And it really reduced the impact?
It has significantly reduced the impact.
-That was simple, wasn't it?
The electronic potato has reduced the bruising by around 30%,
ensuring we get more usable spuds than ever before.
But the ones that are damaged don't go to waste.
Spuds that don't make it into bags are used to make chips or mash.
And even the small percentage that are unfit to eat still have a job.
If it's something like a rot or a mould, which we can't use,
they will then go to our anaerobic digester,
which is used to power the factory.
-You're kidding me?
So, the anaerobic digester is a little bit like your stomach.
You feed it, it breaks that food down, it produces gas,
and that gas is then used to produce electricity,
and that electricity powers the plant.
This goes in a digester that farts and feeds the factory?
I'll never look at a simple bag of spuds the same way again, ever.
In the battle for convenience,
intelligence is crucial to staying ahead of the competition.
Supermarkets want to make our shop as pain-free as possible
so that we'll keep coming back.
They want to know why we buy with them over their competitors,
and why we choose one particular product rather than another.
And to find out, they've even started looking into our minds.
Doctor Jane Leighton is a cognitive neuroscientist
at market research company Nielsen.
When supermarkets want to know how we'll respond to a new store layout,
or different packaging, they turn to her.
You might think you choose one product over another
because it's better or cheaper,
but what Jane tests is what your subconscious thinks.
Many of our everyday decisions, such as what to buy,
are driven by non-conscious, emotional processes,
and that is what we have been able to measure.
To get inside our heads, Jane uses some cutting-edge technology.
Jane, what are you about to do to me?
We are going to measure your conscious
and non-conscious responses
to some supermarket shelves.
OK, and how are you going to do that?
We're going to do it in two ways.
We're going to have a look at your eye movements
to see what captures your attention,
and we're also going to measure your brain response.
The eye movements tell her where I'm looking,
but to read my reaction to what I'm seeing,
she needs an electroencephalogram, or EEG cap.
What that's able to do
is capture the electrical activity
that's on the surface of your brain.
So that's essentially reading my brainwaves?
The EEG is measuring
the split-second emotional responses my brain has
to the world around it, that I'm not even aware of.
So, I just need to sit here and do nothing.
Yep, sit here, relax, and look at some pictures.
Babita, can you hear me OK?
-I can, Jane.
-We're just going to start the study now.
OK, I'm ready.
The images I'm seeing are part of a bigger project,
testing our responses to different types of packaging.
It all just looks like shampoo to me,
but when Jane combines the results of lots of people,
a pattern emerges.
When we look at a group of participants,
we can have a look at which areas they focus on the most.
This red part here indicates the areas
where people spend the most time.
The eye tracking tells her where we're looking,
but it's the EEG readings that tell her why.
So, the green areas with the high scores
are areas that they are emotionally engaged with,
and that means those are areas that people are drawn towards.
So, the higher the score, the better they feel about that product?
Exactly. So, in a supermarket, this is very important,
because if you're drawn in to something,
it means you're much more likely to pick it off the shelf and buy it.
And in this case,
Jane thinks it's the packaging design that's making a difference.
So, if we were to test these two packs, for example,
they're very similar.
The main difference between them is that there is a lot more information
on the one on the right than on the one on the left.
Now, if you ask somebody what they want on a pack,
very often, they will ask for more information, but actually,
what we find when we test these kinds of images
is that people are much more engaged with the simpler one.
And that tells us that they're more likely to buy it.
So, actually, what we think we want, we don't actually want at all.
Sometimes what our conscious brain says we want
is not the same as what our non-conscious brain wants.
And that means that the results can be far more reliable
than just asking customers what they want.
Jane's research is already being used
by at least one of the big British supermarkets,
leading to changes in everything from store signs
to the way they promote their products.
The UK ready meal industry
is the biggest battlefield in convenience foods,
worth over £3 billion a year.
It's been 12 months since the team from the Co-op
started trying to grab a bigger slice of it,
developing a new ready-meal range
based on complicated Mexican cuisine.
Well, they've ground a lot of spices
and they've undoubtedly chopped a lot of chillies.
They have got their Mexican ready-meal range.
Now's the big test - can they scale it up?
Can they reproduce hundreds of these dishes
and make them taste as good as they did
in the development kitchen?
Today, product developer Paul is in Cambridgeshire
for a trial run of one of his three dishes,
the spicy chicken habanero.
So, this is what we have been building up to for the past year,
Seriously. It's been a year in the making.
If it goes right today, then great. If not, then...
Well, back to the drawing board.
Jane Reeve is the technical controller on site,
and Paul's habanero is making her job even harder than usual.
This is the protective equipment we have to wear
to protect us from the hot chillies.
I can't remember the last time I wore rubber gloves and goggles
making a sauce.
Right, what do you need?
Vegetable oil, please.
Going into the sauce are 45 kilos of onion
and over 12 kilos of chopped chilli.
Now I see why I need the rubber gloves and goggles.
I've got a cook's respect for chilli,
and this much chilli actually makes me very nervous.
The fumes from this are actually making my eyes water.
That is Vesuvius.
The complexity of the dish means
every part of the process must be carefully monitored.
Why can't you just hand over the recipe and say,
"Do this, but make it bigger?"
The scaling-up process is actually really a complex thing to do,
because the timings will need adjusting.
30 seconds here and there can actually have a big effect
on the final dish.
Just 90 minutes later, my volcanic sauce is ready.
This is the sauce that you made!
This is our sauce!
It's being added to chicken and rice to complete the dish.
Sounds like it's groaning.
Can you make that machine not groan like that?
OK, that's it, right?
That's the finished article?
So, does it taste good enough
to win them a slice of the lucrative convenience pie?
Here it is. Here's your dish on a plate.
I do like that sauce.
I do. Starts fruity, goes salty, ends hot.
I'm not convinced about the colour,
and I'm not convinced about the citrus rice.
The chicken is soft and moist, and your sauce is good.
But for the pair of you,
there's quite a bit resting on this, isn't there?
It's a really important launch for us.
It's been a huge amount of work.
This is a realisation of a massive project for the site.
Before Paul's ready meals can launch, there's one big final test -
the taste panel, run by Taste Centre manager Lisa Connelly.
Would you like a bag, Rachel?
All right? Thank you.
Her team aren't professional tasters or chefs.
Every new food the Co-op produces is tested by their staff members...
-What's your name?
..but that doesn't mean they'll go easy on it.
Sometimes they're very honest.
Which is quite challenging at times,
because the developers have put their heart and soul
into the development of it,
but it's good, it is a robust way of doing things.
Here you are, Zoe. Enjoy.
-Thanks very much. See you.
I have no idea what a chicken tinga is,
but I'm looking forward to trying it.
We've got habanero hot one tonight.
I don't really like sweetcorn,
but I think the actual flavours and the texture go really well together.
-That's got a kick.
-It should say it's hot, though, on the packet.
It probably should say it's hot.
The testers score the flavour, texture
and look of the dishes from one to nine.
And it's all through an anonymous website,
so they know they won't get in trouble with the boss
for a bad score.
Oh, gosh, that's spicy.
But the habanero is proving too hot for some.
I think I'm going to have to have some water here.
I'm sweating cobs.
-Are you done?
-"What chilli rating do you think you should have?"
-The top one.
"If you had to come up with a name for this product,
-"what would you call it?"
See, I told you it was Vesuvius.
It's been an anxious week since the taste test panel tried Paul's meals,
but today the results are in.
It's a really important score because, actually,
the pass-fail means our products might not launch.
Actually, it's really good, which I'm very happy about.
Out of the three lines...
..all three have passed, which is really good news.
A couple of them have scored really, really well, actually.
7.3 for two of them.
But the spicy habanero has only just scraped through.
6.7 is still a pass.
It just means there are some things that we need to be aware of.
Three weeks later, at the Co-op's Manchester city store,
Paul's Mexican range is finally launching -
the culmination of over a year's work.
Well, this is a very big week for you, mate, isn't it?
Big week, big day, really excited.
Is this the first time that you've seen it in store?
In store, yes.
So, I'll spend probably four or five days this week just visiting stores
making sure everything's looking all right, but this is it.
Here we go.
That blue makes it really stand out.
You can see it a mile off.
-Go on, mate, how do you feel?
I feel great, I'll be honest with you.
Yeah, it's been such hard work,
and it's taken...
Yeah, a lot of time, but actually, do you know what?
It's kind of worth it. Just hoping that people buy it now.
Cross my fingers and see what happens.
Everything else now is down to whoever comes in and picks it up.
Paul is right to be nervous.
Over two-thirds of new products fail within their first year.
Perhaps that's a sign of just how competitive
the supermarket wars have become.
It's been fascinating in this series
to discover what's really going on
in the fiercest retail war on record.
The discounters have clearly had a huge impact,
and we've seen the big guns respond.
From borrowing their rivals' tactics,
like stocking fewer products,
to using social media to try and win young shoppers.
-Don't do it!
New battle grounds have emerged, such as "luxury on a budget."
And everyone is scrambling to find the innovation and technology
that will set them apart from the rest.
Now, that is straight out of Willy Wonka, mate.
The supermarkets are fighting to bring us food that's better,
healthier and easier than ever before,
and gives them an edge over the competition.
Gregg and Babita look at one of the fastest-growing battlegrounds - convenience. Gregg finds out what it takes to bring us the easiest ever fish and discovers how supermarkets decide where to open convenience stores. Babita travels to Spain on the trail of our favourite convenience fruit - the easy peeler.