It’s the show that can catapult small brands overnight from obscurity to a national supermarket listing in 1,000 stores.

But Aldi’s Next Big Thing has been getting some flak on social media for precisely that reason, with some worried the requirements of rapid scale could place too much pressure on new operators.

The show sees new British suppliers compete for the prize of a listing at the discounter as one of its Specialbuys, meaning it’s not temporary, on a ‘when it’s gone it’s gone basis’.

Hosted by Anita Rani and former greengrocer Chris Bavin, with Aldi buying MD Julie Ashfield picking winners, the show recently returned to Channel 4 for a second series, with the first having aired in 2022.

North PR founder Vickie Rogerson, who last week started a debate on the topic on LinkedIn, fears brands could invest too much in ramping up production capacity, only to find within weeks they no longer need it.

The winner of each episode will “normally be a very small brand who is expected to scale very, very quickly, change packaging, change ingredients, change all those things, for a one-off listing”, says Rogerson.

Jess Mackenzie, who appeared as contestant in series one as founder of kids’ ready meals brand Jess Cooks, but was not a winner, sees a “mismatch” between the small-scale producers who compete and the volume and price expectations of Aldi.

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Mackenzie, who has herself previously worked in TV as a researcher and associate producer, sees the exposure as an opportunity for any brand – but with the caveat that they should go into it with a “realistic attitude to what Aldi are looking for, the kinds of products they sell, the volumes they sell in”.

Aldi says winners are supported in scaling up and insists the show is positive for every brand involved thanks to the exposure, with around a million viewers per episode.

“Behind the scenes, the level of support for every winner is extensive,” says and Aldi spokesman.

“We do everything we can to ensure their success and mitigate risk.

“This support has included cashflow assistance, buying equipment for suppliers, directly buying and paying for their ingredients, introducing them to other manufacturers who have made similar products and offering advice and help during every step.”

Aldi also says it does not set a volume threshold, but works flexibly with suppliers. It points out it has always been made clear the prize is for a Specialbuy listing.

The Grocer caught up with winners from series one for their perspective.

The founder of Crave

Howard Kinder, owner of Malton Brewery, whose Yorkshire Pudding Beer was one of two winners in the final episode of the series, says: “After winning the order, the level of support we received was excellent and I could not fault it. We had weekly conference calls and any issues with the product listing process was quickly resolved.

“We fully understood the process and that the opportunity was for a one-off Specialbuy order.

“We were fortunate to get our product listed again in 2023, but had that not happened our positive experience would have still been the same.”

Kinder also notes: “We have been trading for a number of years and already had experience dealing with supermarkets, so we did have an insight into how the process works.

“From our perspective, our journey continues and we get great support from Morrisons, English Heritage, Booths, Proudfoot Superstores and a great range of independent traders.”

Rob Brice, founder of free-from brand Crave, which won in episode five for his Pickled Onion Monster Feet and Smokey Bacon Streakers, says: “We had to had to have a winner’s logo which had to go on [the packaging], but anything that was outside our normal scope of production, they paid for.

“They went out of their way to make it as easy for us as possible.”

Crave was forced to rename three products last year following legal challenges from PepsiCo and Ferrero, and Aldi’s Julie Ashfield was also supportive then, according to Brice, though the products were not listed by the discounter at the time.

“We stayed in contact with Julie. I dropped her an email when we those infringement issues, and she replied.

“They’ve always been really good to us.”

Brice adds that his brand was in discussions with retailers prior to the show and already “had scalabilty”.

Crave now has its products listed in Sainsbury’s, Morrisons and Ocado.

Paul Rostand, founder of The Artful Baker, was a runner-up on the show and nevertheless went on to gain a Specialbuy listing for its artisan biscotti.

“I don’t have anything but positive feelings about the whole thing.” Rostand says. “I think, yes, it is difficult for really small suppliers to potentially gear up, but at the end of the day you know what the score is when you enter. So you could ask the question, ‘Why did you enter?’

Recently appointed liquidators

“From my experience, the buyers are extremely supportive. They helped us determine flavours and what volumes were likely to be.

“They will potentially help the really small suppliers to produce the volume through one of their existing suppliers.”

Rostand adds: “You know it’s a two-week centre aisle promotion from the start, so it wouldn’t be common sense to go and invest in a new production plant or bakery or whatever.”

And though The Artful Baker recently appointed liquidators, Rostand says the collapse is entirely unrelated to the brand’s success with Aldi. “Our problems were basically raw material prices. Our basic ingredients were butter, sugar and eggs and over the past two years they had trebled in cost.”

Laurie Fermor, co-founder of Freddie’s Farm, which won for its kids’ dried fruit snacks in episode three, says: “We had an incredibly positive experience of the show and found them to be super supportive.

“Our first listing sold out really quickly in November and we got a second Specialbuy listing the following April. We’re in regular contact with them and hopeful of another listing.

“It was undoubtedly one of the most stressful periods for us, scaling up. We knew what was riding on it and what could come from it – the difference it could make if we got it right.”

The brand had to quickly scale to produce the 425,000 packs for the first order. “We have our own manufacturing site, so we we’re kitchen table operation, but it was by far the biggest order we’ve ever had.

“Now, it would be nothing for us – it would be easy.”

In September 2023, Freddie’s Farm launched in all Tesco Extras and some superstores. The brand is also going into Sainsbury’s with three SKUs at the end of this month.

“Having the show pushing us to scale like that was the best thing that ever happened for us,” says Fermor.

“But the hard work started the minute they said we’ve won.”

Perhaps the scaling-up called for of a winner will put brands under pressure – but so will success.

Aldi’s Next Big Thing is next on C4 tonight at 8pm.