Founded in Germany, Aldi is taking America by storm by offering a great (but minimalist) shopping experience with lower prices than the regular supermarket. Aldi is not for everyone, but I think many people will like the Aldi shopping experience. Aldi’s parent company also owns Trader Joe’s, another popular grocer.
Some things to know before your first trip to Aldi
You need to bring a quarter to rent out your shopping cart
Shopping carts are neatly organized by the entrance, and to get your cart, you need to put in a quarter deposit, which will unlock the shopping cart. When you are done with your shopping, you bring the cart back and get your quarter deposit back. This enables Aldi to offer lower grocery prices because they do not need to hire employees to return the carts from the parking lot to the grocery entrance.
The store is much smaller than your typical grocery store
Aldi is much smaller than your typical grocery store. It has 90-95% of what you need, but they will often carry only one type of each item, instead of 5-6. Many times, they will use their private label brand to offer a generic version of common products. You can zip from one end of the store to the other much faster than you can at your regular grocery store.
There are no paper or plastic bags
Aldi does not have paper or plastic bags at the register. You will need to bring your own bags, and the cashier will just put your items into the cart for you to bag yourself. You can use spare cardboard produce boxes to bag your items or buy a plastic tote bag at the register.
Advantages of Aldi
This is one of my favorite aspects of Aldi. Some of the big-box grocery stores, in a quest to have everything, are massive, feeling like the size of football fields. Aldi’s stores often seem like they are 10% of the square footage of the big grocery stores like Kroger or Stop & Shop. You can walk from one end of the store to the other in about 60 seconds. Nothing is more frustrating when shopping in a big-box grocery store than to realize that you forgot to pick up the milk, which is at the other end of the store.
Checkout line is super-fast
With barcodes on every surface, the checkout line is freaky fast. This allows lines to move quickly, and you’ll never have to deal with a self-service checkout line.
By having less staff, no paper or plastic bags, and requiring that you bus your own grocery cart, Aldi runs with much lower overhead than your typical grocery store. These savings are passed on to consumers. On almost every item, Aldi is cheaper than the comparable item at your regular grocery store.
Lots of organic options
Through their Simply Nature private label brand, they offer many organic options.
Greener / More environmentally friendly
They do not offer plastic or paper bags — if you want to purchase a tote bag for your groceries, they are available in the checkout line. I use my big blue Ikea bag to carry my groceries, but some people will use the cardboard cartons scattered around the store to hold their groceries. In any event, you don’t see any environmentally unfriendly plastic bags at Aldi, and you don’t have to indirectly pay for plastic bags through higher grocery prices.
Quality of produce is better than Walmart/Target, but lower than Whole Foods / Kroger
I’ve found that the quality of produce at Aldi is adequate for my needs. It certainly isn’t the freshest produce — you know that Aldi does not get the first pick of produce (Whole Foods gets that). But their quality control is good, and you know what you are getting when you buy their tomatoes, lettuce, or strawberries.
Accepts credit and debit cards
For many years, they did not accept credit cards (cash or debit only) to avoid having to pay the credit card merchant charge. But Americans’ obsession with credit led them to accept credit cards in 2016. They probably realized the line would move faster and more people would shop if they accepted credit cards. Also, people spend more when they pay with credit cards instead of cash.
Disadvantages of Aldi
They won’t have 10 types of BBQ sauce like Kroger, and they use their private label brand as much as possible. They also won’t have many specialty produce or meats, which can be frustrating if you can get everything on your list except for one item.
The decor at Aldi is minimalist. It’s certainly clean and better than your average mom-and-pop ethnic grocery, but the decor can be a turn-off to some people who are used to shopping at bright, squeaky-clean groceries.
No full-service option
A lot of full-service amenities are not available at Aldi. It often seems like they only have 3-4 employees running the entire store, compared to the tens of people working at a typical grocery store. This means that there will be no deli counter to get your freshly-sliced meats, no bakery for custom cake orders, no one to roll sushi, make sandwiches or bake pizza for you, and no in-store Starbucks.
Lower socioeconomic clientele
The socioeconomic status of the average Aldi shopper is lower than say, Whole Foods. This can be a turnoff to some people.
It doesn’t typically make sense to take a separate trip to Aldi
You’ll save a lot of money at Aldi, but you probably won’t save hundreds of dollars a month compared to your regular grocery store. You’ll probably save 10-15% on your shopping bill, but if doing so requires an extra trip each week to get your staples at Aldi and your specialty items at your regular grocery store, then it might make more sense to just get everything at your regular grocery store. If you’re lucky, your Aldi will be right next to a specialty grocery store, and you can go to both in one trip.
If you aren’t buying any specialty items, then go to Aldi
If you’re a meat and potatoes guy and don’t need some fancy herb or vegetable to make your meals, then Aldi will save you money and time.
If you are not picky about produce, go to Aldi.
Some people are very picky about their produce; Aldi is not the place to shop if you want the freshest produce in town.
If you are picky about brands, don’t shop at Aldi.
Some people are picky about certain items like their beer or their cheese. If that’s the case, you can go to your regular supermarket on the weeks when you purchase these specialty items, and to Aldi on the other weeks.
Aldi is rapidly gaining market share, as consumers of all socioeconomic levels are drawn by their minimalist shopping experience and rock-bottom prices. It’s not for everyone, but if there’s an Aldi near you, I encourage you to check it out and see if you like it.
What do you think? Is there an Aldi near where you live? Where do you do your grocery shopping? What are your favorite items at Aldi?