Although I write fairly regularly about saving money on groceries, believe it or not I’ve never been to an Aldi supermarket before, that bastion of discount grocery shopping! When I saw a coupon in the newspaper for a local one opening up, I knew the time was right to check it out and report back here on what I thought.
Saving on Groceries
Even though there are lots of other ways we can save money, our food budget is still one of the largest parts of our annual expenses. After all, we all need to eat! Food accounts for about 8% for the typical American family’s budget. Therefore it’s only natural we would seek out lower grocery prices without sacrificing on quality.
So that brings me to Aldi. One of the players I hear a lot of buzz about is this German based supermarket chain, now the fastest growing supermarket in the US. This past week, Aldi announced a 1.6 billion dollar commitment to continue their upgrade and expansion of their stores and are now on track to have over 2,000 stores here in the US by 2018. They are currently operating in 35 states with over 1,600 stores and they will be opening another 700 by 2020.
This past Saturday, I finally got a peek at our local Aldi which opened nearby and so it’s about time I had my Aldi experience, and share it with all of you.
What’s it all about, Aldi?*
(* with apologies to Burt Bacharach and Hal David)
Aldi isn’t like supermarkets you have been shopping at most of your life. For one thing, the stores are smaller than your typical supermarket, with about 50-60% fewer items in their assortments. That’s because they stock their store with what they call “Aldi Finds” which are offered in many instances for limited time frames at prices that can save you up to 50% or more compared with similar products in other stores.
Aldi claims that their products, many of which are their own or imported brands, are made by the same manufacturers found here and the quality is at least equal to or better than the national brands offered elsewhere. They are so sure that you will love their products that they offer a “Double Refund” if you aren’t 100% satisfied with your purchase. Not only will they replace the item for you, they’ll also refund your money! That’s an unheard of level of satisfaction guarantee so you have nothing to lose by trying their products.
Categories and Layout
Aldi is bright and clean and its products are clearly shelf-priced with good signage. They combine a supermarket look with a warehouse feeling. The shelving is built in long rows with a break for cross aisles and end cap displays in the middle of the store. The layout features all of the basics you’d expect like cereals, canned veggies, cookies, crackers, and soda. They also carry many organic products. Oddly, they also have some items you wouldn’t expect to see in amongst the groceries like some clothing and hardware items but all of those are said to be at great prices and opportunistic limited purchases.
Along the perimeters of the store is where you will find all of the grocery basics like produce and meat and the refrigerated merchandise like dairy and frozen veggies. There is no “butcher”. Everything is packaged. The main differences here are that the assortment choices are more limited than a traditional market and that when some items are sold out, a big empty space is left behind. The store I was in wasn’t very crowded and it made the shopping trip fairly easy through the aisles.
Aldi has a promotional flyer that does feature promoted specials every week and that merchandise is highlighted. But when it’s gone it is gone…no rainchecks. I was looking forward to picking up a 12 ounce frozen package of scallops for $9.99 and a 16 ounce package of strawberries for $1.49, but since I shopped at the end of the sales cycle, both were long gone.
The “Green” Thing
Aldi prides itself on being a green store where a real effort is made to be earth friendly. For one, they don’t give you bags but they will sell you a recycled bag at the checkout or you can bring your own from home. Speaking of checkouts, there are only a few of them (5 in the store I shopped in) and they use a system like the big club stores use of checking items from you own cart and then placing it in another cart for you to bag yourself (there is an area for you to do just that after you pay).
They do take credit and debit cards but do not accept checks or participate in the W.I.C. program.
In order to control the shopping carts, which are plentiful, you get one before you enter the store by inserting a quarter in a lock which releases the cart and when returned in the lot you get your quarter back. This certainly helps avoid the dings you get on your car in the big store lots as all the carts wind up back in the place they belong.
Coupons, Emails and Other Shopping Tips
Aldi is right on board with tech and the internet for your benefit. They have a really informative website and you can sign up for their emails and promotional flyer to be sent to you each week.
Stores do not have a telephone number for you to call directly so their staff isn’t “distracted” and can spend all of their time working and servicing customers. Not really certain I like that, but they have to save somewhere, don’t they?
If you are a coupon hound like I am, you’ll be disappointed here. They don’t honor coupons and it’s because they insist you will save more from their pricing than to play “the game of cents off” with the coupons that other stores offer. The one exception is that I did have a coupon for $10 off my $40 or more purchase that was in the newspaper for this “now open” in our area event. That coupon saved me almost 25% on my $43.15 purchase.
There’s a lot more on the website like an app you can download to your smartphone and recipes as well as all the information about location, directions, and store hours. Information gets updated each week so there is always something new to learn and used to be creative about your shopping experience.
Based on my first time in Aldi, I’d have to say I was happy overall with what I experienced. On a scale from 70-100 with 70 being passing, I’d give them a 78. The best part for me was using the coupon to really make my trip a big saving experience.
As far as their prices go, I definitely saw some savings versus my regular supermarket. For example, a package of goat cheese that would normally sell for $3.99 or more was a mere $1.99 at Aldi. And a 75 foot roll of aluminum foil that would typically sell for $2.69 was only $1.99. Turkey Hill ice cream which has a regular price of $4.49 sold there for $3.69 which may be good, but doesn’t beat the other supermarket sale price of $1.99 or $2.49. Most items were at least below regular prices at my other supermarket, even if it didn’t match their sale prices.
I don’t think that I will be doing a lot of shopping there however for a couple of reasons. One, although they have good prices, there are certainly enough deals where I currently shop to get better prices especially when I combine sales with coupons. Secondly, although I am not brand loyal, I do like having a larger assortment to choose from because I can always choose a brand on sale rather than have just one or two brands to choose from as Aldi displays.
I can see myself going to Aldi for a particular advertised special or two (if I get there early enough for scallops and strawberries!). But for me, I would only be going there as a supplement to my regular grocery shopping.
Have you been to an Aldi supermarket in your area? What was your experience like? Are you a convert to the Aldi experience and if so, why?