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?
I love Aldi. One of our first posts on our blog was about how much money we saved by shopping at Aldi.
Since I do a lot of couponing, Aldi’s a tricky store for me sometimes. I can’t use my coupons at Aldi, so instead I find out what price Aldi has a product and use it to decide whether it’s worth using a coupon elsewhere. Case in point: I love Aldi’s Donut Store blend coffee. At my store, it’s $3.99 for a 11oz bag of whole coffee beans.
That’s a really great price, but with coupons, I’ve been able to score bags of Eight O’Clock coffee from Publix for much cheaper — $1.68 per 11oz bag on my last trip. Using coupons sometimes blows Aldi’s price out of the water.
Hi Adam – I’m glad for the affirmation! We’re still ALDI novices, and it does take some time to figure it all out. Mostly figuring out if their store brands are as good (or close enough) to name brands to justify the savings. So far we’ve been pleasantly surprised. We’re buying a few new products each time we go to test them. This week we tried macaroni and cheese, ice cream, peanut butter and popcorn kernals. Next week we’ll try some others.
Interesting factoid on Eight O’Clock coffee…it was actually the store brand coffee at A&P. It was their most successful brand, so they spun it off as an independent product that could be sold in competing stores. That makes a strong case for trying store brands, some of them are better than the name brands!
I think Aldi is pretty amazing. Just like Adam, I split my time between Aldi and Publix. The staples at Aldi (eggs, milk, etc) are a great deal and can’t be beat. The BOGO’s at Publix are pretty great as well.
There are a few things I won’t buy at Aldi like certain meats and coffee. I’m just too picky on that stuff. But over 50% of my groceries come from there.
BTW, their customer service is amazing. And the time I save shopping because of the smaller store layout is awesome too. I’m just glad that there’s one close to me!
Hi Joel – You and I have a lot in common (Publix and ALDI, choice of what to buy at each). We’ve bought some meats at ALDI, and they were fine, but we need larger packages, especially on chicken and ham, that Sam’s is really good with. Our split right now is probably 40% Publix, 30% Sam’s, 25% ALDI, and 5% at the dollar store. Sounds complicated, but it works, especially with four adults in the house.
I’m tempted to try that Donut Store blend coffee at ALDI, now that Adam has recommended it. It sounds like a play on Dunkin Donuts coffee, which I rate as the best coffee available to the average consumer.
The Donut Store blend is pretty good — I do think it’s supposed to be a take on Dunkin Donuts coffee.
But I prefer the taste of Eight O’Clock, although that’s likely a personal preference because it’s the brand I drank when I first started drinking coffee.
Either way, give the Aldi brand a shot! I keep some on hand for whenever I can’t get Eight O’Clock at a good price.
Thanks Adam, I’ll do that. I worked at A&P 100 years ago, and I remember how much of a pleasure it was to grind the beans at the cash register. Back then, A&P sold Eight O’Clock Coffee in bean form and in a bag. People brought the bags to the front and we’d grind it right in front of them. I think that extra service contributed to the attraction of the brand.
I enjoyed this post – not an Aldi’s shopper, but this piece made me more receptive to checking it out some time.
Yeah, check it out. But seriously, you do have to work with it a bit because it is unconventional by traditional grocery store standards.
As anAustralian shopping at Aldi in Australia, I love Aldi. In Australia we have 2 major supermarket chains that control about 80 per cent of the grocery $. We spend about half our grocery budget at Aldi, the other half on specials at one or both of the major chains. Limited choice works for me. Their willingness to stock foods with no artificial clours etc works for us with our kids.
A couple of other things. They seem to treat their suppliers right. They pay low prices because of volume but help the suppliers source discounts on packaging etc. Also treat staff well.
Hi Ray – That actually describes the grocerty market here in Atlanta in the USA. We have two major chains – Publix and Kroger – that are about 80% of the market. Others come and go, but the two mainstays are always standing. ALDI is the best alternative to either, though we continue to rely on Publix for a good deal of what we buy.
In the end, there isn’t as much choice as we like to believe, not even with a product as ubiquitous as food! Alas, the privately owned, small family grocery stores are long gone.
I like the low prices but the queues are often very long to check out. In France they do accept credit card payments, as our card work like debit with an overdraft on the account. I would find it annoying to have to bring cash to shop. For me Aldi is worth it for a big shop but just to buy a couple of items it is not worth the queue.
Hi Pauline – We seem to have the same issue at our store. They rarely have more than one check out line open. I think this is also how that keep staff to a minimum and keep prices low. Maybe it’s a necessary evil. Still, I get in and out of ALDI a lot quicker than at other stores.
Good Post Kevin, hadn’t been in an Aldi in years. Last thing I remembered about it, was there were very limited options of most everything, at least the one I went to, and you had to bag your own groceries. Which come to think of it, is not a bad thing. Walmart seems to waste bags, they’ll put one box of cereal, one package of cookies in a bag and send you on your way. At least if you bag your own, you’re often more conscious about packing the bag to where you have less of em. Maybe I need to go to Aldi, thanks for the post!
Hi Jim – The limited options are part and parcel of what ALDI is. I think that’s another way of lowering operating costs. You can’t be all things to everyone and also be a low cost provider. I’ll accept the trade off for lower prices.
At our store there are no bags at all, but I’m used to that from Sam’s Club – no bags there either. We can really get used to anything once it becomes normal.
We’ve found that Aldi produce is as good, if not better, than our local Publix grocery store. And a heck of a lot cheaper. We also like to stock up on snack foods for those times we are asked to provide snacks to soccer games, class parties, etc. After all, kids don’t care if the cheese crackers are “Cheezits” or an Aldi brand.
Hi Tyler – I agree on all those points though I haven’t gone to deep on their produce. So far, their potatoes and onions are excellent and a lot less expensive then Publix. But we were in there again last night, and I’m still disappointed with their meat selection. It’s very limited and not much less than Publix cost wise. For now, I think we’ll stick with Sam’s for chicken, fish and ham, and Publix for beef. Meat just doesn’t seem to be ALDI’s strong suit.
We love ALDI! There is one very near our house and we haven’t driven to a supermarket for years – ALDI for basics and the ‘village’ small artesan shops for the more refined parts of our tastes do the job. According to a German PhD student of mine, there is a big difference between the North and South ALDI with one being far superior. I am not sure which one we have but there are two kinds of products that are good and are not on your list: cold meats (ham, sausages etc.) and, interestingly, fruit and veg (they stock in season and compared to other supermarkets it’s good; then again we do live in the UK and fruit and veg are inferior and imported),
Hi Maria – As time goes on, we’re getting more comfortable with the product lines at ALDI and buying more of our groceries there. I haven’t updated my list in a while, but we’ve added cereal, bread, block cheese, ice cream, bacon, orange juice, whole chickens and pancake mix to our list. We’ve also had good luck with frozen fish. Still not working so well with red meats and produce though. But mixing ALDI with a mainstream grocery store seems to be getting the job done at lower cost. I haven’t gone to Sam’s Club in months as our reliance on ALDI has grown (that and the fact that the nearest Sam’s is about a 15 minute ride away, where ALDI is literally in walking distance).
There is an Asian supermarket (HMart) in our area that we plan to investigate next. That might be the topic of an upcoming post!
I frequent Aldi mostly during holiday seasons for the imports from Germany that are actually sold cheaper here. On those occasions I also pick up tissues, water, Tuscan bread, and other staples. The prices are really low, but the selections don’t offer everything I need. I don’t mind the shopping cart quarter since I am used to that from Germany and there are no carts blocking parking places as is the case at other grocery stores.
I never thought about the fact that there are no shopping carts in the parking lot! That quarter really makes people behave better. I agree about the limited selections, but we’re finding that the products we do buy are good once you get used to them. We’ve gotten very comfortable with with ALDI cereal, butter, cheese, frozen vegetables, cooking oils, potatoes, ice cream and even bread. Meat however continues to be a problem. It guarantees that ALDI will never be a one stop shop for us.
Great blog. What you must add to your list is CHOCOLATE. Aldi has the best belgian and german chocolates at a good price. Give it a try.
Hi Ines – We recently moved to an area where the nearest Aldi is 20 miles away. Thanks for the advice, but it may be a while before we try those chocolates. And we will!
The first thing we loved was the quarter cart deposit. It thrills me that the hordes of lazy bums who will not return carts to corrals are finally being addressed This system is even self-policing because the local homeless folks gladly return the stray carts for the quarter. Compare the parking lot in front of an Aldi to other stores, especially the warehouse clubs! We applaud Aldi for doing something about the cart issue. We like most everything else and suggest looking at the amazing produce prices as a start. One recent example: a 4-compartment specialty lettuce was $3.99 at Publix, $2.50 at Walmart and $2.19 at Aldi. You gotta like that.
Hi Bob – That’s similar to our experience. Unfortunately, now that we’ve moved to New Hampshire, the nearest ALDI is 20 miles away! I’m hoping they open one near us. In the meantime, we’ve been shopping at New England based MarketBasket, and I’ve got to say that this is the best full service grocery store chain I’ve ever seen. We don’t miss ALDI because of them, but it sure would be nice to have both close by. That would be a win-win! Also, ALDI has certain products that are better than the name brands, and we’d sure like to get those back in our pantry.
I’m posting this in JUly 2016, and an Aldi’s opened in our neighborhood. We like how quickly we go in and get out. They do take credit cards now. I don’t use a card most of the time even at large “normal” supermarkets–I always keep reusable jute or nylon bags in my trunk for spur of the moment shopping–because if I can’t carry it to the car on my own, I figure I bought too much.
I do have to go to a Farmer’s Market or get additional produce and specialty items elsewhere, but I’m finding we do the bulk of our shopping at Aldi’s now. We’re GF, and they have a GF line ( I hope they expand). The total cost at checkout convinced us to return every week.
If they pumped up the produce–not enough selection for me, and I always buy heavy on fresh/whole/produce–and got some free-range/pasteured eggs and better GF bread, we’d be able to cut down on extra runs. But, really, we have a cheap farmer’s market nearby, so we do the double-run on Sunday afternoons and have our food for the week at much less than Publix or Winn Dixie or Whole Foods (which is insane, but we like the level 5 animal products and organic dairy and free-range/pasture eggs).
I’m really a happy customer, even though checkout is a slight pain. We always bag our own stuff–even Publix–but they have to rush you so much, we’re hustling to put stuff in our bags. I know it’s not the cashier’s fault (they are on a timed process), but it’s a very unappealing thing to rush to bag all madly and rush to pay. It’s the only part of Aldi’s I intensely dislike.
But I can put up with that for the prices. 😀
Hi Mirtika – They just opened an ALDI near us, and we’re happy to be able to be back in there. We do most of your shopping in Market Basket these days (used to be at Publix when we lived in GA), but ALDI is still lower on a lot of staples. Food is costing us a lot less these days!
I object strenuously to Aldi’s absolute disregard as concerns unsubscribing to their annoying e mails. I’ve tried to unsubscribe to getting their unwanted advertising more than 10 times to no avail. If I had signed up for it by mistake, I deeply regret it.
Does anyone know how to get their attention? I am disgusted and seriously thinking of not shopping there anymore.
Hi Robert – There should be an “unsubscribe” link at the very bottom of their emails that allows you to opt out. But this is one of those times when I try to remember that as annoying as email ads are, they’re incredibly minor within the scope of the of possible problems life can bring. I was in the ER this weekend over something that turned out to be nothing, but when you see some of the people being brought in there on stretchers, it’s a good time to count your blessings. I try to remember these experiences when something annoys me.
Also, if you stop shopping there because of the emails, you’ll be hurting yourself. There’s so much they have that you can’t buy for less anywhere else. ALDI even made us give up the grocery warehouses. ALDI is cheaper, and doesn’t make you buy the huge quantities that often go to waste for non-use.
There is a new German grocery store – Lidl – that is very much like Aldi but a little better in my opinion. They have a very small bakery and wine section. Most of there store brands are very good and although small, the meat and produce sections have good quality products. They even carry a clothing line by Heidi Klum which is very reasonable. The prices and concept are very much in line with Aldi. Unfortunately, they have just started on the east coast but I would definitely recommend them to readers with one in there area.
Hi Linda – I’ve heard of Lidl, but haven’t seen them anywhere. I’m on the east coast so hopefully they’ll make their way to our area. Since moving to New Hampshire, we’ve been doing our shopping at Market Basket, which is reputed to be the best run grocery store chain in the county. I agree with that, and we do most of our shopping there, even though there’s an ALDI not far away. When we lived in Georgia, there was no Market Basket equivalent, and we did close to half our shopping at ALDI. I’d like to see what Lidl has to offer.