Food companies were left bemused after Channel 4 held an event seeking food advertising on the same day as screening a Dispatches documentary attacking cheap food.

Major food brands were invited to the event last Thursday, in which Channel 4 discussed its food programming for the year and pushed the channel as a good target for advertising. But that same evening, it aired food critic Jay Rayner’s The True Cost of Cheap Food, which heavily criticised supermarkets’ budget ranges.

“It’s a bit bizarre to make a grab for cash with one hand while you beat the industry with the other,” said one branded supplier. “If it thinks this is the best way to attract advertising, it’s not got a clue”

The British Poultry Association also attacked the Rayner documentary for scenes showing Rayner and Heston Blumenthal injecting chicken with water.

“Rayner and Blumenthal are wilfully misleading consumers in their portrayal of value chicken lines sold in supermarkets,” said CEO Peter Bradnock. “It is illegal to add water to chicken breasts and pass them off as fresh chicken. Chicken and all meat has some level of naturally occurring water content, but any water added has to be labelled.”

Another supplier rejected the programme’s claims that cheap meals compromise on ingredients. “We would never compromise on quality, whether on value or premium ranges,” he said. “The quality of ready meals has improved markedly over the past decade. We’ve seen these sorts of programmes before.”

Channel 4 said it had deliberately held its event during the Food Fight season while food programming was at the forefront of advertisers’ minds.

“We take editorial independence very seriously,” said strategic sales group manager Chris Briathwaite. “Food Fight is a campaigning series raising issues of interest to consumers. But campaigning programmes are only a small proportion of our food offer. It all attracts food lovers, which is the market many advertisers are looking to attract.”