My wife and I have been looking for new places to buy groceries. Food prices are rising, and there is only so much coupon clipping you can do. Sometimes you just have to find new and less expensive places to shop. On Wednesday, in Do You Really Save Money at Dollar Stores I considered the use of dollar stores as a way to save at least some money on groceries. Today, it?s an ALDI review.
Over the years, I?ve heard and read a lot about ALDI. But three months ago a store opened just up the street from our neighborhood. We?ve been doing what you might call some experimental grocery shopping there, kind of as test run. ALDI isn?t one of those stores that jumps out and embraces you the first time you walk in. You have to work with it for a while to make it fit.
We try to use the grocery store portfolio method of food shopping, which is maintaining a short list of several stores that we shop at in order to take advantage of the best qualities and prices that each has to offer. For us, that includes a popular grocery store chain (Publix), food warehouse Sam?s Club, and some judicious supplementing of certain items at various dollar stores.
I?ve been looking for a replacement for Sam?s Club. Quite frankly, prices have increased there to the point where they?re now largely comparable to full-service grocery stores. It is rapidly becoming all the inconvenience of shopping in a food warehouse, but with little of the savings.
I?m not saying that ALDI is the replacement store ? at least not completely ? but it?s most certainly reducing our dependence on Sam?s Club.
ALDI is a German owned company that operates in at least 16 countries, including the US. It was founded by brothers Karl and Theo Albrecht. The name ?ALDI? is short for Albrecht-Discount. Officially, the company started operating under the ALDI name in 1962, though it?s roots go all the way back to 1913.
It is actually two companies, ALDI Nord and ALDI Sud, and both operate in the US. ALDI Nord is also the owner of Trader Joe?s. Interestingly, the company split into two entities in 1966 over a dispute between the brothers over whether or not to sell cigarettes!
Worldwide, ALDI operates well over 9,000 stores and is growing rapidly. It began operating in the US in 1976 and now has 1,200 stores here, plus 355 Trader Joe?s outlets.
ALDI is not your typical grocery store
As I said at the opening, ALDI is one of those stores that takes some getting used to ? and I think I?m starting to. The issue is that ALDI is not a typical grocery store. For one, it has a warehouse type layout, much the same as you see at Sam?s Club and Costco. But it is also a good bit smaller than either of those giants.
There is also a process of shopping at ALDI that is – shall we say, unconventional ? at least by US standards. And being a German owned company, maybe that?s to be expected.
If you don?t like ALDI the first couple of times you go there, keep coming back. It does kind of grow on you once you get used in the different flow.
What?s good about ALDI
ALDI seems to me to be what Sam?s Club used to be ? a limited selection warehouse store selling items at substantial discounts below full-service grocery stores. Here?s what I like most about ALDI:
- Low prices. Without exception, prices are lower than full service grocery stores, and Sam?s Club too. For example, milk is currently $3.19 at Publix, but only $2.69 at ALDI. A 10 pound bag of Russett potatoes is $3.38, compared to $5.19 at Sam?s Club. That?s typical.
- Small store size. Though most people love big-box retailers, they turn a basic grocery run into a 90 minute ordeal. ALDI stores are small, and I can be in and out in under 30 minutes. This is especially good in my situation – I can be home writing a paid article in the hour that I save.
- They don’t accept credit cards. Most people would see this as a negative, but given my dim view of the widespread acceptance of credit card usage, I see this as a strike in favor of the good guys. Food, in my opinion, is the last thing anyone should buy using credit cards. But that’s just me.
- The staff is friendly and helpful. Though there are fewer people on staff than the typical grocery store, they seem friendlier and more helpful. I have a sense that employee empowerment is part of the job description there.
- The staff is well paid. ALDI pays it?s employees more than the going rate for grocery stores. Minimum wage is the industry standard, but where I live ALDI is rumored to be paying $10 an hour. That could explain the better attitudes. And I’m of the opinion that better paid employees makes for a better and more prosperous community.
- Uncluttered layouts. The store is clean and easy to navigate. When you arrive at the checkout stands they?re not all cluttered up with magazines, candy and other impulse items.
- No advertising. ALDI doesn?t advertise, at least not in the way that traditional grocery stores do. I?ve never been a fan of in-your-face advertising, and I fully appreciate the fact that absentee advertising is a big part of the reason for lower prices.
- It?s mostly staples. ALDI isn?t trying to be all things to all people. It?s mostly staples, which is what I?m there for. In addition, the lower selection is part of the reason for the lack of clutter and the simplicity of store layouts.
When it comes to grocery shopping, you typically find that there?s a wide variation in product quality from one store to another. ALDI is no exception ? some of their products work, and others don?t.
ALDI Items that are on our ?buy list? (advantageous blend of price, quality and quantity) include:
- Cooking oil
- Breakfast cereals
- Macaroni and cheese
- Cheese (sliced and block)
- Paper towels
- Potato chips (close to Lay?s in taste, but much cheaper in price)
- Frozen fish
There may be more, but were still experimenting.
What?s isn?t so good about ALDI
So far, there are actually more negatives than positives about ALDI, however the positives are stronger, and many of the negatives just aren?t that big of a deal ? at least to us.
- Limited product selection. Most products have only a single selection, and that?s usually a store brand. On some items, there may be a second choice, and that?s usually a brand name. But that?s more the exception than the rule.
- They don?t have everything. ALDI will never be a one-stop shopping experience for groceries. Even if you love everything that they have, you?ll still have to rely on a full-service store to fill in the gaps.
- Small store size. In the previous section I listed this as an advantage ? and to me it is – for the reason given. But a lot of people like the big-box concept, which ALDI is not.
- Limited hours. At our local store, they open at 10 AM (11 AM on Sundays), and close at 8 PM. That doesn?t fit with the 24/7 concept that is so popular today, but the limited hours are a big part of the reason why prices are so low.
- Limited staff. If you like your grocery store to be a boutique, don?t even bother shopping at ALDI. Understaffed is the word that comes to mind. Once again, this is a big contributor to the low prices.
- Shopping cart deposits. Part of the way that ALDI minimizes staff is by eliminating the need to have employees retrieve shopping carts in the parking lots. They do this by requiring shoppers to pay a $.25 deposit on a shopping cart. You put the quarter in, get your shopping cart, and when you return the cart, you get your quarter back.
- Purchase quantity limits. Since prices are so low, the number of items you buy is limited. For example, at our store, you can buy no more than four gallons of milk at the time.
- They don?t accept coupons. They don?t accept manufacturer?s coupons, but since prices are already low, the need for those coupons really doesn?t exist anyway.
- The meat selection is lacking. One of the shopping bonanzas I was hoping to find with ALDI is meat. Not gonna happen! Though meat prices are fairly low, and the quality is good, there?s no capacity to buy in bulk.
- The stores aren?t pretty. This isn?t at all important to me, but for some people that can be a deal breaker.
- The stores aren?t always convenient. When it comes to grocery shopping, most people don?t want to drive 10 miles even if it means saving money. Grocery shopping is mostly a local affair. Unlike Walmart and the various local grocery store chains, you won?t find an ALDI in every community.
There are some products we have experimented with that we find totally unsatisfactory, even if they are far less expensive than what you can get in a full-service grocery store. This list includes:
- English muffins
- Ice cream (it?s OK, but not worth the savings)
- Produce (other than potatoes and onions)
- Meat (for reasons given above)
Again, there may be more, but this is still new to us.
ALDI Review – Why we?ve added ALDI to our ?grocery store portfolio?
Even with the negatives, we?ve added ALDI as a regular part of our grocery store portfolio. The time and price savings outweigh the various negatives, and on balance the quality is pretty good. I also personally like the fact that I can save time by getting out of the store more quickly than at Sam?s Club or full-service grocery stores. In my personal situation, time really is money, and I?d rather spend it making money than shopping.
We haven?t dropped Sam?s Club from our list, simply because there are certain bulk items, like meat and laundry detergent, that really are a better deal than elsewhere.
Still, ALDI is allowing us to lower our dependence on Sam?s Club and Publix too. There’s no doubt that we are saving money by adding a third store to the mix. Yes, it would be easier to do all of our shopping at one store, but rising food prices make that practice a luxury. So for now, we’ll work in all three stores ? Publix, Sam?s Club, ALDI – and the occasional bread run to the dollar store.
That?s our way of fighting back at higher grocery bills. What?s yours?