Monday, June 9, 2014

My ALDI Shopping Experience

I knew very little about ALDI prior to attending BlogHer Food in May, where ALDI was a major sponsor of the conference. While at the event, my exposure to ALDI was limited to the bottle of wine I received when I checked into the hotel and an evening event called the Sensory Tasting Experience – a wine and food-tasting session that opened my eyes to the way tastes can be combined.

I was told that the bottle of wine cost a mere $4.50. I can’t recall ever being able to buy a full-size bottle of wine for less than five dollars, but this one rivaled much more expensive wines. So, I was thrilled when I received a $25 gift certificate to ALDI (thinking that I’d stock up on those wines) but I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to find a store near me. (I’m still waiting for a Whole Foods to open close enough to make regular trips.) Much to my delight I discovered a store just a few miles down the road. (So that’s what opened where Borders used to be…)

And since I did indeed have an ALDI store near me and some good friends didn’t, I ended up with three gift certificates to spend – gold mine!

My impression of ALDI just after the event was that it was similar to a Trader Joe’s – all private label, catering to high-end, health-focused clientele. What I found when I visited the store was a bit of a surprise.

The first thing I noticed when I entered the store was the lack of traditional grocery store shelves. Most items are stacked in boxes on the floor, or on less structured shelves. It reminded me of the warehouse store style – without the bulk packages. There are no price labels on the packages but some items have signs with prices. There are no bags; the cashier places the items in a cart after ringing them up, as the warehouse stores do.

The first products I encountered were the gluten-free products – a line that I had learned they were test-marketing. I bought every one on these that were suitable for my family’s food allergies including:


What I couldn’t bring home were the gluten-free baking mixes. Even though the packaged cookies were made without wheat, dairy, eggs, soy, or nuts, the baking mixes included dairy in the mix. However, I did find some great Mexican products and chips.

The only non-dairy milk I found (oddly placed in the refrigerated section) was almond milk (okay in my house).

Due to my lack of familiarity with the ALDI branded products, I spent a lot of time reading labels. What I found were extremely well labeled products – no guessing as to what the ingredients were. I also found that the product ingredients were mostly “clean” and healthy. So I filled up my cart.

The refrigerated section, produce section, and meat section were sparse – this is not the place to go to find lots of veggies – but I did pick up a couple meat products to try.

I headed off to the register thinking that I probably spent about $100. The total bill came to $38. In shock, I handed over one of my three $25 certificates and gave the cashier a credit card. I was informed that they don’t take credit cards – just debit cards and food stamps. Yes, they also take cash.

So I decided to buy a few more things to bring the bill up to $50, guessing that a couple more boxes of gluten-free cookies should do it. I’ve never had difficulty spending $50 at a grocery store before but at ALDI it was surprisingly hard because the food was priced so low. I added another package of cookies ($2.49, compare to $4.49), an almond beverage ($1.69, compare to $3.59), gluten-free penne ($1.29, compare to $3.39), gluten-free spaghetti ($1.89, compare to $3.99), and a large package of chicken breasts ($5.85) to my cart. Whew!

What I didn’t find was wine (and they have no plans to stock it in that store). Despite the fact that my plan was to try the gluten-free baking mixes and stock up on the wine (neither of which I was able to do), I came home with four grocery bags full of food for $50. What’s more impressive is that everything we have tried so far has been excellent!

Nevertheless, I am still baffled by my ALDI shopping experience. ALDI appears to be offering low cost, healthy packaged foods without sacrificing quality. In fact, the nutrition facts on the ALDI gluten-free snickerdoodles are nearly identical to the nutrition facts on the label on a very popular allergen-free brand of cookies with the ALDI LiveGfree cookies having slightly more fat (but the same calories). The ingredients labels of the two products are nearly identical (with the ALDI brand using sorghum rather than rice flour).

ALDI appears to be keeping costs down with their no frills approach, low overhead, and private label packaged foods. Check out their "ALDI truths" here. I particularly like truth #10: Impressively high quality at impossibly low prices. However, I do wonder who their customers are.

Have you shopped at an ALDI market? What did you think? Can they change the way we think about grocery shopping?


Heidi Roberts said...

I am a "typical" suburban wife and mother of (soon to be) four boys. I was raised on Aldi groceries and when I got married and started my family, continued the tradition. I have seen Aldi transition in the last few years to meet the needs of conscientious eaters. Almost all of my weekly groceries come from there, and our produce section is fairly large, even including organic items. With two dietary intolerances in our household, it is a blessing to be able to follow our clean, whole food, allergy friendly diet without having to break the bank.

Colette said...

Heidi, I'm so glad you have a store nearby and that it works for you! I'm definitely going to be going back frequently!