ALDI 101: Why I Shop At Aldi
Ok, I’m interrupting our regularly scheduled recipe programming to
hop on a little soapbox and share a 3-part series with you about one of my favorite places as a foodie — ALDI!
Over the years, countless friends have been surprised and intrigued when I tell them that I do at least half of my grocery shopping at Aldi. Yes, I also frequent Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s (did you know they are owned by the same company that owns Aldi?), and our local Kansas City large grocery stores. But about eight years ago, I set foot in my first Aldi and have been a happy and loyal customer ever since!
A few weeks ago, though, I asked my Facebook followers what they thought of shopping at Aldi. And I was surprised when quite the heated discussion took place. People seem to have some pretty passionate opinions about Aldi! So I am fully aware that I may take a little heat for this series. But in talking with many friends about the store over the years, I have found that most reservations I hear about the store come from old rumors that aren’t true. And often, people are just iffy about going for the first time because they simply don’t know what to expect or how to navigate some of Aldi’s quirks (carts, debit cards, etc.).
So I thought I would do a brief Aldi 101 series because:
- as a foodie, I have grown to really love and appreciate the store for what it does (and does not) offer
- as a business student, I have studied and come to really admire their business model
- as a blogger, I’m all about sharing any great tips I know to make cooking (and shopping!) fun and affordable
And people, this series has no disclaimer. It is 100% me. It is not endorsed, paid for, or in any way associated with Aldi. I just thought it might be cool to offer a little behind-the-scenes glimpse of why this food blogger likes buying affordable groceries there. And I am really hoping it might spark some discussion and that some of you might share your tips about Aldi too!
How I Began Shopping At Aldi
I have to confess that my first impression of Aldi was not a positive one. When I was in elementary school, I remember one of my best friends telling me about her mom took them to “the poor people’s grocery store”, where there were no name brands and the food was really bad. Yes, Aldi.
Ok, I’m pretty sure we were both 5 at the time. But for some reason, that description stuck in my mind for decades. Our family never shopped there growing up, and it wasn’t until I moved to an apartment nextdoor to an Aldi in (a very nice suburb of) Kansas City right out of college that I decided to venture in and see what the tiny “poor” grocery store was all about. I was out on my own for the first time, and low-priced anything sounded good!
What I found in my first Aldi experience completely surprised me! The store was incredibly clean, the food looked great, it was all perfectly organized, and holy smokes — those cashiers moved at lightening speed!!! But of course, I made plenty of first-time rookie mistakes. From only bringing a credit card, to giving the cashier a blank look when she asked if I wanted to “buy a bag”, to asking if they carried tahini — I realized that there was a bit of a learning curve to the store. And I realized there was also a ton to learn about the store’s business model once I learned they have 8,000+ stores worldwide!
But as I continued shopping there, I began to learn what Aldi is and what it is not.
What Aldi Is:
In a nutshell, I believe that Aldi is an awesome place to buy low-priced basics.
Clearly, Aldi grocery stores are only a fraction of the size of traditional larger grocery stores. On average, they are each only about 10,000 square feet of retail space. So there’s no way they are going to be able to carry an enormous selection! But the inventory they do carry of their basic grocery food and and non-food items is consistent, as are the low prices and the quality.
I will talk more about the specifics of the selection of groceries and non-food items that Aldi carries in my upcoming What To Buy At Aldi post. But from pantry items, to frozen foods, to baked goods, to dairy, to produce, to meats, to beverages/wines, and everything in between, I think that their selection of the basics is fantastic.
They also have a sizeable non-food section, with everything from TP to dog food to cleaning supplies and makeup. But one of my favorites is the “Special Buys” section that adds in new fun and seasonal items each week, usually with a theme. It can be anything from SuperBowl specials (footballs, to sporty paper plates, to green sprinkles, etc.) to summer camping gear (actual enormous tents, to sleeping bags, to tiny grills, etc.). Then don’t forget to also check out their clearance section, where a lot of the special buys go on sale at even more ridiculously low prices! I have bought so many random things there that I love!!
Consistently Low Prices
Most of the time, I find that Aldi’s prices beat even the sale prices of most larger grocery stores. This is because they have fine-tuned a business model that eliminates the crazy overhead costs that come with large store buildings, large inventories, large staffs, and large advertising budgets.
Be sure to keep an eye out for their low-price signs too. If something is clearance-d, or on sale that week, they put a special sign to mark down the prices. Then you’re really in for a treat!
Contrary to the assumption I have heard people make about low prices equaling low quality, I have actually found the quality of Aldi’s products to be as good as the larger grocery stores I frequent. I have read before about their rigorous test kitchens, and their high commitment to quality products, but I judge by what I buy. And 95% of the time, with the occasional produce fluke or their version of Cheerio’s (I’m a name-brand girl there), it’s great.
Here’s the thing, though — you have to be smart about quality with what you buy. Just like at the normal grocery store, if you notice that the lettuce is looking wilty, it’s probably not going to last you for more than a few days. The same goes for Aldi. Sometimes particular pieces of produce there may look a little past their prime, so just be wise about what you choose. I happen to love their produce section, and buy most of my thick-skinned produce there all the time. (I buy thin-skinned produce organic.) But if it looks iffy, ask if they have more in the back or just wait a week until the next batch arrives.
The one thing I will say is that if you ever do get something home and it’s not up to par, Aldi has an amazing thing they call The Double Guarantee. It reads that “if for any reason you are not 100% satisfied with any product, we will gladly replace the product AND refund your money.” Um, I don’t know of any groceries stores that refund and replace. I think that says something. Way to go, Aldi.
Consistent Store Designs
One of the other things I love about Aldi stores is that they are all similarly designed! So if you get to know your neighborhood Aldi layout, chances are it will be a breeze finding your way around a new one, which I LOVE.
The inventory is also similarly organized on simple pallets in the store, kind of like a Sams or Costco. Most items are organized in cardboard boxes, which you can also take with you to help carry your groceries once the box is empty. And each cardboard box is color coordinated to go with the item.
A Great Business Model
Ok, I know that I seem to keep coming back to this with every point. But as someone who loves to study business development and entrepreneurship, I am SO impressed by how Aldi has developed and stuck to their business model.
The store was founded 100 years ago this year (in 1913!), and now has over 8,000 stores worldwide. Crazy! But across the years and across the countries, from what I can tell, they really have kept a consistent model as they have grown. And clearly it has worked! From the innovative cart check-out system, to minimal building size, staff, operating hours and inventory, to bring-your-own or pay-for-them grocery bags, to minimal advertising, and more — I think the model is smart and sensible. I think of them as the IKEA or the Southwest Airlines of the grocery world. ;)
A Great Employer
This final point is one that I have read and heard over the years, but can’t confirm with personal experience. (So if any of you have worked at Aldi, I would love to have you weigh in!) I have heard that Aldi takes good care of their employees.
If you have ever been to an Aldi, you know that they clearly only hire the super-speediest-of-speedy cashiers, who also do double-duty stocking and cleaning the store as well. But they can hire the best of the best because they pay them 50% more than the standard rate for grocery cashiers. And Aldi employees are also eligible for full benefits if they work 20+ hours/week.
So no minimum-wage workers at Aldi. Their employees are well-paid for being the superheroes they are.
What Aldi Is Not:
Your One-Stop Grocery Store
I think the #1 complaint I’ve heard over the years about Aldi is that people can’t find everything on their “list” there. But I always tell them that’s kind of the point of the store — it is not meant to be your one-stop-shop!
As I said, I do about 50% of my grocery shopping at Aldi on average. I stock up on the basics, and then catch the rest of my “specialty” items (organics, name brands, or anything that’s not a basic ingredient) at a larger grocery store. On occasion, Aldi might be out of stock of a popular item, especially some of the hot produce buys that can fly off the shelves. But on the other hand, often they surprise me by carrying a new specialty item I never knew they had (like I found natural almond milk this week!).
Still, they will never be your one-stop-shop, especially if you are cooking recipes from my site and might want some truffle oil. ;)
So if you happen to be doing your grocery shopping all in one day at two different stores, I recommend going to Aldi first. Then you can hit up the bigger grocery store to finish off your list afterwards.
You may ask — is it worth the time and two trips? Well, that will depend on your budget. But for someone like me who goes through tons of groceries in a week, I believe the considerable savings to hit up Aldi and an additional grocery store is always worth it!!
As I said, Aldi’s cashiers are lightening-fast. They hire the best of the best to be sure that they can run efficient stores and checkout lines.
But in order to keep overhead costs down, there are typically only 1-4 cashiers on staff at a time. So if you happen to show up at a busy time, the lines can get lengthy and you may have to wait a little longer.
Most of the time, I zip in and out. But it’s always wise to allot an extra 5-10 minutes for standing in line if you’re on the clock.
Clearly, Aldi is also not open 24/7! For years, I worked a job where I was off work at 8pm each night, and was always annoyed that I couldn’t swing by the store on my way home from work.
But currently, I believe that most Aldi’s in the US are open from 9am-8pm Mondays-Saturdays, and 10am-7pm on Sundays. Those are peak shopping hours, so they are trying to keep overheads low by not staffing the store during low traffic hours. But plan accordingly!
A Health Food & Organic Grocery
Finally, Aldi is not a Whole Foods or the health food section of your grocery store. The majority of the items there are not organic or natural, or even all healthy, as is the case in a typical grocery store. (Apparently Americans must buy a ton of potato chips, because they carry a zillion!)
But that said, they do have a large produce section, more and more organic and natural grocery items, and they also have a fantastic grocery brand called “Fit & Active” that displays the healthier nutrition facts on the front of the package. That brand is all across the store from snacks to frozen goods to cheese and more, so be sure to check it out.
So the store is kind of as healthy as you make it. You can buy the junk food, or you can buy the fresher healthier side. But if you’re an all-organic-er, or are looking for specialty gluten-free or similar items, your selection will be very limited.
Top 10 Reasons Why I Love Aldi:
Finally, because I’m a list-maker, I thought I would end with a few of my favorite reasons why I heart Aldi:
10. Aldi was “green” before green was cool, with low energy costs and fewer shopping bags.
9. You can shop at Aldi literally all around the world.
8. Aldi’s cashiers are ninja-fast.
7. Aldi carries my favorite razors that I used to buy at Target for half the price.
6. I never have to ask for help finding an item, since they are always in the same spot.
5. You have the chance to make someone’s day by being a “cart angel” and leaving a surprise quarter in there for them. (Try it!)
4. Aldi’s low prices help me fit even more produce and juicing into my budget.
3. Aldi’s incredible double guarantee.
2. Aldi’s unapologetic low overhead business model.
1. $0.99 pineapples!!!
(Ok ok, their pineapples are usually (gasp!) $1.99, but either way — they are cheap and fabulous and often on sale. I buy one every single time I go!!)
Be sure to check out the final two posts of this series coming next: