My Take On Visiting An Aldi

I have a confession.  I’ve been hanging around the personal finance blogosphere for nearly 5 years now (holy cow, that’s a long time) and only recently found my way inside an Aldi.  There have been a couple of times I’ve walked past an Aldi – most notably in the Blue Mountains in Australia!  But I had never actually been inside one until now.

For those as out of the loop as I was, Aldi is a discount supermarket chain.  It’s low-cost to the extreme, to the point that the check-out folks won’t bag your groceries for you (or provide bags), and you need to bring a quarter in order to unlock a cart if you want to use one while you’re shopping.  But frugal folk seem to swear by it as a way to keep grocery costs nice and low!  

An Aldi finally opened up near-ish to us, so while Mr PoP was out of town on a long weekend, I (armed with a quarter for the cart – though I forgot my reusable grocery bags!) made the time to drive down there and check it out.

And I’m sorry to say… Aldi didn’t really live up to the hype.

First, the good.

Good #1 – The Food Was Cheap

As promised by hundreds of visitors to personal finance blogs over the years, the food was, in fact, quite inexpensive.  I managed to leave the store with the equivalent of ~3 Publix-sized bags of groceries for a grand total of $21.20.  That’s a heck of a screaming deal, especially considering it was at least half produce (in hindsight another package of $0.89 blackberries would not have been a bad move).

Good #2 – The Employees Were Friendly and Seem Fairly Compensated

As I’ve mentioned in the past, I try and keep my grocery shopping to chains that are known to treat their employees well (which I’ve also found to correlate pretty well to a positive customer experience).  While Aldi didn’t seem to have a ton of employees around (actually the only ones I saw were the two manning the cash registers), the sign out front that stated they were hiring with wages from $12-$16/hr (that’s roughly 1.5x – 2x Florida minimum wage) made me smile.

But for me the bad seemed to outweigh the good.

Bad #1 – It’s Super Inconvenient

I can (and do, quite often!) bike to all of the other grocery stores I frequent (Publix, Trader Joes, and Whole Foods).  I stop on my way to or from work all the time.  Aldi, however, is further away from us, and in an area of town (that I call Big Box Land) where I would NOT feel safe riding my bike.  It also has really weird hours… Why on earth does it not open until 9am?  All that means that going there requires advance thought, not to mention the patience to put up with bad drivers while being behind the wheel of a car myself.  It made the whole experience a lot less pleasant.

Bad #2 – There Seemed To Be a Reason The Food Was Cheap

img_6636It was not an uncommon occurrence for me to encounter rotting food sitting out for sale during my brief trip to Aldi.  Apples seemed like a steal at 3lbs for $0.99, until I grabbed a bag and felt my hand squish into a completely rotten apple inside the bag.  I had the same experience with a spaghetti squash, had to put back a package of cilantro that was starting to get slimy, and saw eggplants that were dimpling as they started to go bad.

Intellectually, I know that for us to avoid food waste as a society, we need to be more okay with seeing foods like this and being able to use the parts that were still edible… but I’m not there.  Sorry, I’m just not.  I got totally grossed out and probably spent too much time ruminating on the fact that while we’re often quite near the geographic end of most supply chains*, other stores seem to avoid grossing me out with food going bad on the shelf.  And then I had to reflect on how much unseen waste those other stores also have and felt bad about it.  So I ended up not only grossed out, but also feeling mildly bad about the large amount of waste in our food supply as a whole.

Bad #3 – The Selection Wasn’t Awesome

img_6638

“Natural” peanut butter… made with 90% peanuts. What’s the other 10%!?!

The “natural” peanut butter wasn’t*.  The dried bean selection had only 3 beans, none of which were the two we eat most often – kidney and garbanzo**.  All the dried fruit had sugar added and none of the nuts were raw.

I get that having too many choices can be overwhelming and I’m generally a fan of streamlined shopping – I actually tend to like stores like Trader Joes that have smaller selections, but it seemed like there weren’t nearly as many options for the unprocessed (or minimally processed) foods to which we’ve grown accustomed.

(Sidenote – I apologize for how much of a food snob I sound like here… I didn’t think we were food snobs, but maybe we’ve become them so gradually we haven’t noticed?)

 

 

My Aldi Take-Home

As long as I don’t have super-high hopes going in, adding the occasional trip to Aldi (likely when I’m already in a car in that area of town) would probably be good on the whole.  But for now, despite the good prices on most items, it didn’t seem like it was worth going out of my way for (round trip it’s ~1 gallon of gas from home) on a regular basis.

 

 

* We’re pretty darned far south in Florida, so we’re probably not the first stop when food is getting distributed from other parts of the country.  =/

** A few years ago I started only buying peanut butter with 2 ingredients, peanuts and salt.  The old-school “Jif” style peanut butter actually tastes sickly sweet to me now and I am occasionally baffled when I see “natural” peanut butter have sugar and palm oil listed as ingredients.  WTF?!?

*** Recipe for Mr PoP’s “Healthy CornNuts”: soak 1lb garbanzo beans overnight, then cook in pressure cooker (15 min on high with natural release).  Alternatively, drain and rinse ~4 cans of garbanzos (aka chickpeas).  Arrange the beans across 2 baking pans.  Onto each baking pan, toss 1-2Tbsp olive oil, 1-2tsp salt, 1 tsp onion powder, 1tsp garlic powder, 1-2 tsp oregano, 1-2 tsp basil and mix with garbanzos.  Roast pans at 400 degrees in oven for ~45 minutes, removing every 15 minutes to stir and rotate the pans so they brown but nothing burns.  Let the garbanzos cool on the counter.  When done, they will be salty and crunchy – like CornNuts, but better.  =)

 

What’s your take on Aldi?  Was my experience about par for the course?  Or was it way off base?

25 comments to My Take On Visiting An Aldi

  • Wow, I didn’t realize there were any Aldi virgins left! 😉

    Ha ha, yeah you’ve hit most of the good and bad that I’ve heard in the past (and experience first hand occasionally!). Some of your bad I consider good though. Limited hours and limited selection. I don’t mind the slightly reduced operating hours since I’m usually not shopping for groceries before 9 am (though stopping by one on the way to work would have been nice except they were all in the opposite direction a mile or two away from home). Less operating hours equals lower costs I’m sure, and they probably aren’t losing a lot of business between 9 pm and 9 am when they are closed (our local grocery store rarely has anyone in the store past 9 pm).

    The limited selection is a blessing in disguise. I don’t need 25 different versions of tortilla. I’m happy with the big ones or the small ones or the whole wheat ones or the corn ones. Others dislike it because their favored brand or flavor blend isn’t available. For those with kids it’s incredible because you can get in and out in under 30 minutes with a cart full of groceries. Try that at Costco/Walmart/Target.

    I’m with you on the highly variable quality of produce. I equate it to shopping in an open air produce market in Latin America – check what you’re buying before you grab it and beware of rotten produce. The good news is that their extremely liberal return policy means if you find out you bought bum produce when you get home, you can always return it later for a refund. Or take a cell phone pic and explain it’s rotten and they’ll give you new ones (done this a few times with rotten watermelon, rotten avocados, etc). In fact, if you have the receipt they will insist on replacing the merchandise AND giving you your cash back (“double money back guarantee”). I’ll usually turn them down on this since I’m happy enough with what I paid for the items. I’ve never been denied the replacement products and done it maybe a dozen times with fresh goods and packaged goods.

    We shop there all the time but it’s also extremely convenient (2nd closest store; walkable but not convenient if I’m buying more than a few things).
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    • Well, now there’s one less Aldi virgin in the world! =)

      Good to know that they’re good on returns, etc. All the other stores we shop at (Publix, Trader Joes, and Whole Foods) are pretty stellar about that as a rule, but it’s still a pain in the butt to have to go back to the store and deal with it, especially if it’s one that’s off the beaten path.

      I just thought the 9am thing was kindof weird! It was weird enough moving to Florida where our Publix doesn’t open until 7am, but 9am opening for a grocery store!?! I was trained to go grocery shopping with my dad at the crack of dawn. We would go to the stores that opened at 5am first, and the ones that opened at 6am after that hitting the sales. I don’t do the sale shopping the way he used to anymore, but part of me still idealizes getting in and out of a grocery store super early. I LOVE it when I’m the first customer in and out of Trader Joes in the morning on the way to work. =)

  • I like Aldi in moderation. I go there to buy canned stuff for when I make chili (beans and tomatoes). Their goat cheese is good and well priced. Ground beef, milk, etc are all fine, but the steak selection is poor. I have a similar problem with some produce but always get good berries there for some reason. Same with mandarins and onions. I like that it’s small (I’m a TJ’s afficiando, but our nearest one is almost an hour away, so that’s for rare trips when already in the Twin cities).

    They have really affordable “pouches,” which are things like applesauce or other fruit purees in a little pouch. The waste really bothers me, but the convenience factor is high with a little one. After she spilled a container of applesauce on a plane, I don’t take open containers on trips. Pouches run ~$1 each at most places, and I can get a multi-pack of 4 for $2 at Aldi. Tho I really should buy one of those reusable pouches and just refill that, but it is less convenient. Considering we go through about 4-6 pouches a month (maybe less), I just try to cut waste in other ways.

    Aldi is convenient enough to get to, since we live in a town that takes 10 minutes to cross. So, I go there sometimes but not for my regular, every day shopping.

    In short, I don’t disagree with your assessments, but my scale is a little different. We have three grocery stores in town (Aldi + two midwestern chains), and we bounce around between all three depending on what we want. Nice steak = chain with awesome meat counter while organics or good produce equals other chain. All three places are known as good places to work in town, and all hire from the diversity our town has.
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    • I’ll have to take a closer look at the dairy stuff next time I go. Do you know does it tend to keep well? I tend to get most of that from Publix since I’ve found TJ’s can spoil faster if we don’t use it fast enough. I think it really comes down to where in the supply chain we are – Publix has it down to a science with dairy, other stores I’ve found aren’t as reliable down here.

      The pouches sound like an awesome convenience for the little one. And with a soon-to-be #2 on the way, I think you’ve definitely earned a pass for convenience. =)

      • Hard to say. We go up and down in milk usage so have had to toss bad milk from multiple places. I don’t think the Aldi milk goes bad any faster than any other place. I find goat cheese just doesn’t last super well no matter where I get it from, so at least ours sells a tiny log so I can try to finish it or not feel bad if I don’t. I buy it rarely because we like it but don’t eat it regularly enough.

        Given the drive, tho, I’d save Aldi for a “I’m on that side of town anyway and need some canned goods” type shopping and nothing more.

        And, honestly, if I had a Publix nearby, I’d likely do the majority of my shopping there anyway. I LOVE shopping at Publix whenever we are in the south. Unfortunately, our trips to Florida are curtailed until we are done reproducing :-( But we will visit again! Such good birdwatching in your state, and maybe someday I’ll be able to come to see those baby sea turtles you talk about. I think my little gal would LOVE that, as she’s obsessed with all things Finding Nemo.
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  • Tara

    I love Aldi, but I rarely buy produce there. Here in the Philly area we have a lot of cash only produce stores that have far better prices, selection, and quality than any grocery store (Produce Junction is one) so I just stick with dairy, meat, and nonperishable items at Aldi, plus the random sale item. Where Aldi excels is in their home products, especially considering their return policy/warranty is similar to Costco. They were selling a 1500 watt blender that looked like a Vitamix rip off for $70. Yes, it’s not a Vitamix but that is a STEAL of a price for a 1500 watt blender. Since they have good warranties on their products, it wouldn’t be money wasted if for some reason it died. As big yogurt eaters and half n half with coffee drinkers, their prices are excellent on dairy. In addition, they sell baby products like formula and diapers for similar pricesand same quality to Costco generic but in smaller packages which is easier to buy (especially for those who can’t afford to buy in bulk).

    Another favorite item is all their chocolate. Very high quality duper dark chocolate (85%!) for super cheap. They also get great European imported cookies and chocolate for Christmas.

    Also, I’m surprised about that peanut product. Our Aldi doesn’t sell anything like that, so it could be that location caters to a different audience?

    With Aldi, you gotta know what you like and what to look for. Once you see what they have that does work, you keep Aldi in your rotation. But if you are tied to brand name foods and/or you prefer high end deli meats and cheeses or a wider variety of produce, then the store probably isn’t for you.

    • I totally bypassed the home-products aisle, so I’ll have to make sure I check that out next time I go. AND pick up some of that super dark chocolate. Mr PoP loves dark chocolate so he can be the taste tester there. In general we’re not super tied to brand name foods or super fancy meats and cheeses, we just tend to buy a lot of stuff that’s minimally processed. Fresh produce, dried beans, flash frozen veggies, milks, eggs… stuff like that is usually 3/4 of our cart. Even meat usually only makes it into the cart once (maybe twice?) per month. =P

      Yeah, I was kindof weirded out on the peanut product too – it seemed pretty out of place for here. Sure, I’m not gonna find 100% peanut butter at Dollar Tree, but our Publix has a store brand peanut butter that’s just peanuts and salt which is really good. Same with Trader Joes. So who knows? Maybe Aldi needs a little more time to learn the market – it did just open there pretty recently.
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  • spiffikins

    Interestingly, both Trader Joe’s and Aldi are owned by the same German parent company :)

    Here in northern California, we have only Trader Joe’s and no Aldi. I actually only shop at TJ’s about 2-3 times a year – I find the employees to be really snobby/snooty – I *clearly* don’t measure up to whatever their standards are? Also, I am annoyed by TJ’s prepackaged produce – want to buy a red pepper? Here are 4, wrapped in plastic and packaged up for you!

    I have hears a lot about Aldi’s online, but have never been in one – interesting to see that it’s not the Holy Grail of grocery stores :)

    I will keep shopping at my discount FoodMaxx and be happy with what I have – considering we have a lot of local produce, it seems like we’re at the *other* end of the supply chain from you!

    • That’s funny that you found the TJ’s employees snobby! What did they do? =)

      More and more it’s seeming like grocery stores operate very differently in different regions. In our TJ’s red bell peppers aren’t packaged, just in a little pile (or in the case of when they are in season in FL a much larger pile with a much smaller price on the sign). Publix will sometimes package package produce, though they were always ok if you broke open a package and took exactly what you needed. And it seems like they do that less than they used to.

      The supply chain is strange – FL has a decent amount of produce, but I think less variety than the west coast. So we end up with items from california or mexico or guatemala pretty often – and that’s a long ride in the back of a truck!

  • I love Aldi for one reason: they have an amazing selection of gluten free food that is cheaper than anywhere else around. Their bread is actually the best gf bread I’ve found anywhere. I tend not to buy anything else (maybe some cheap bananas or other fruit). I got a gf angel food cake mix that was absolutely amazing. I almost cried a bit while getting to eat strawberries on it!
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  • Kelly B

    I love Aldi but admit I didn’t go until I found out that Trader Joe’s and Aldi is the same company. I’m lucky that the store is very close and their produce selection is fantastic. Definitely not the experience you had. I am able to get most of my basic groceries there with a trip to Trader Joes or Giant Eagle for more specialty items. I love how far my money goes when I shop there.

  • Mama PoP

    We shopped for a 12 x 12 freestanding outdoor canopy for our deck and found them to be $300 and up (on special sale) at big box stores. We got a tip from a fellow customer to go to Aldi’s. There we found exactly what we wanted for $99 and it has lasted for 4 years so far!

    I find that the produce at Trader Joe’s and especially their cut flowers have a short lifespan. Really recommend their house products, though, such as the raw sauerkraut in the jar. We eat it cold at breakfast!

  • This sounds about what my childhood experiences with Aldi were growing up, except you didn’t see any mice.

    People tell me that the newer Aldis are a lot nicer than the ones that have been around for decades, that they’re upscaling and don’t have rotting produce.

    My father still brings us Belgian chocolate, marzipan, and eastern european syrups from Aldi when he visits at Christmas. They’re very good and the chocolate is different from what we get at TJ’s. They also had pretty good Stollen near Christmas when I was growing up, though I don’t know if they still do.

    (btw, Aldi and TJ’s are not the same company– they’re owned by different branches of the same family, if my reading of the internet is correct– this is important because my town still has neither, and getting an Aldi will not make it any easier to get a TJ’s)
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  • We really like Aldi but we find that there are things that we target. Our trips there don’t replace going to the big grocery store, but it just substitutes a lot of items at lower costs.

    We also have the same problem in that the closest one is 6 miles away.

    I think the issue you have with fruit might be local. I’d probably report that to the corporate staff via their web page. We’ve been to quite a few different locations and we’ve never experienced that.
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  • Yeah, people seem to love some Aldi’s here in upstate NY, but I’ve never really gotten on board for the same reasons as you.

    It’s very inconvenient. They are in weird, big box-y locations. Though there are many in the area, I have to drive 20 minutes to get to one! Those quarters are ugh, but I like that they encourage people to put the carts away. And I don’t think they accepted credit cards until a few years ago.

    The number one problem for me is lack of selection. I like to make one trip per week to the grocery store, and I don’t want to go to more than one store. So I have one grocery store, Hannaford, that has good everyday prices, no coupon nonsense, pays their employees well, and they have everything that I need. It’s a routine that I wouldn’t alter just to save a few dollars.

    Over Christmas with the in-laws, we always end up going to three grocery stores for Christmas dinner food, and one of them is Aldi’s. So my annual trip to Aldi’s is probably coming up, and I’ll walk out with some cheap dark chocolate and dried fruit.
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  • That’s very interesting! We don’t have an Aldi here, but that may be because the Phoenix area is so saturated with grocery retailers that competition is pretty stiff to begin with. Walmart neighborhood stores seem to serve about the same purpose you’re describing: prices are pretty cheap and service is minimal.

    IMHO it’s not being a “food snob” to feel you shouldn’t have to pay extra to get foods that are not adulterated with unhealthy ingredients like sugar, excessive salt, preservatives, and fake flavors. It should be the other way around: if you like that stuff added to your food, you should have to pay for it.

    There’s a low-end chain here that markets mostly in poor neighborhoods: their produce also is often on the “elderly” side. On the other hand, you can buy killer peaches there in season, because the things are always ripe. 😀 The one in our neighborhood was forced out of business during the Late Great Recession — the landlord refused to negotiate the rent, and after 7 years without a tenant he finally rented to the dreary Walmart. That was too bad, because ethnic stores can be great, as this one was. I really miss those big smokers set up out front where they would roast pasillo peppers! Num….so good to eat!
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  • I will echo what Leah said – buy the cheeses and non-perishable goods at Aldi…though have to confess I’ve never been there. My father-in-law shops there, so I’ve eaten their food. Our Aldi is also in an inconvenient location. That, and the quirks of the store (quarters needed for carts, no bags, etc) keep me away. I’m okay paying a bit more for convenience and better location. Saving money on groceries is great, but isn’t what keeps me up at night in early retirement.
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  • Papa POP

    I sure hope you remembered to get your quarter back when you returned the cart to the proper place in the que. At least that’s the way it works for us when we are in the cold North! Papa POP

  • Scoop DeVille

    I couldn’t wait to shop at Aldi because I had heard that the Duggars shopped there because it was so cheap. Having just recently opened in California, I took an afternoon to shop near one so that I could stop in and check it out. I am OK with limited selection and secondary brands (used to shop at Big Lots before those prices became higher than regular stores).

    Impressions: Some food was cheaper, but it was nothing I needed. I looked for meal items and found that either there was no selection at all or the price was higher than the local store. They did have a couple items really marked down on sale, but it wasn’t anything that I really needed.

    I did get a jar of applesauce for about $1.17. Ate it that night. It had begun to turn to wine. The bad apples processed? Within a few days in the fridge as leftovers, it was BAD.

    One type of canned cat food. Cats thought it was okay, since it was in pate form, which is all they will eat, but waaaay stinkier than the other brands. (Not a huge thing, except the house still smelled like it the next morning.)

    Got some good German Christmas cookies.

    Overall, disappointed. It was alright, just nothing to write home about and I don’t know that I need to go back.

  • Admittedly Aldi has a somewhat small selection. I usually go there to stock up on staples for 50 – 70% of compared to other stores (TJ, WF, Safeway, Giant, Shoppers) in the area and on the way back stop at ethnic stores and aupermarkets for everything else. The produce section is hit or miss and very much depends on the individual store, the one I go to recently renovated and now has an excellent one – just the boxed salad greens (a pound for 2.79) are worth the drive. Same with household items – the toilet paper, paper towels, dish soap are unbeatable. As to dairy, I find it lasts longer than what I get at TJ.

  • You need to visit Aldi in Germany. They have clothing on sale. But you have to go there when they open. Half of my daughters wardrobe is Aldi. My favourite black t-shirts that i wear at home are almost three years old and in the wash daily. They are still going strong (3 shirts for 5,99 Euro). I also buy button down shirts for my husband that he wears at work. A year ago my husband bought a toy kitchen for our daughter for christmas. He was first in line and got one. Behind him to mothers were screaming at each other for the last kitchen. We are Aldi fans but we also never had problems with produce here. In order to get competitive with other discounters over here they recently started selling brands such as coke.

    Greetings from Munich, Germany

    Mrs Heller

  • Aldi’s good for some things, but not all. I stick to organic and get produce and meat elsewhere

  • Good to know. My daughter in-law shops there often; and just like you, the store is not conveniently located…So, I haven’t shopped there. I do know, from talking to a few friends, that occasionally, Aldi does have good sales on certain products; but you have to look at their flyers. Which I don’t.

    After reading your article, I probably won’t rush to find a deal.

  • Maverick

    I agree with your comments on Aldi, it was not appealing to us either. Now that we’re “retired”, I’ve found a grocery mystery shop where we “earn” about $60 a week in groceries after coupons. It’s a store that we normally go to, so it’s a win-win.

  • Aldi got my hopes up too. I’m glad people realize that as well.

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