The Cult of ALDI is real and it is powerful. Fans of the chain love its distinctive approach to the customer experience just as much as they love its low prices, and are quick to evangelise it to everyone they meet.
According to CNN, the German grocery chain is set to open 130 new stores in the US next year. It has also transformed shopping in Australia, reportedly contributing $3.2 billion to our GDP.
It turns out that ALDI’s cost-saving idiosyncrasies — small stores, limited staff, plastic bag fees, and trolleys you have to rent with a dollar — are really paying off. So if you’ve never set foot in an ALDI and don’t exactly understand its whole deal, that could be changing soon. Here’s everything you need to know before your first trip.
It’s a seriously no-frills experience
In exchange for low prices, ALDI shoppers have to put in a little more effort than they might at other stores. You have to deposit a dollar to unlock a grocery cart, which means you have to lock it back up to get your money back. Plastic bags also cost money, so you’ll either have to pay up or plan ahead and bring your own. Finally, you have to bag your own groceries — but there’s a convenient little shelf at the front of the store for exactly this purpose.
This has been described as “brutal efficiency,” but to me, it’s common sense. Fewer bells and whistles mean lower overhead, and in turn, lower prices for consumers — and all you have to do is bring a $1 coin and a couple of bags. To me, that’s a fair trade.
The stores might be smaller than you’re used to
Compared to a massive Coles or Woolworths, ALDI stores have smaller footprints and a much smaller variety of products to choose from. There’s also not a lot of product redundancy — ALDI sells a pretty wide variety of potato chips, but there aren’t eight different brands of each flavour — and pretty much everything but the staples is constantly rotating.
This is very much a love-it-or-hate-it thing. Personally, I love it. The small selection makes it easy to learn the layout of your store, which means that you can get in and out in 15 minutes if you’re lucky. I also love that there’s always something new to try: since I mostly shop at ALDI for pantry and fridge essentials, all those seasonal snacks and cheeses are just bonuses. The downside, of course, is that you might not find every last item on your list, but I think it’s still worth a shot.
They probably won’t have your brands
You won’t find big brands at ALDI — in fact, with the exception of some Coca-Cola products, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a name brand product at my store. Instead, nearly everything is sold under private labels. If you’re loyal to particular brands, the ALDI equivalent might still be worth a shot: I’ve found that what ALDI lacks in brand recognition, it more than makes up for in quality and price.
Always read the weekly specials
Skimming the weekly ads is a must before every ALDI trip. There’s one weekly ad for chain-wide food sales, plus an in-store ad with deals at your local store, including Special Buys — weekly sales on seasonal home goods, cookware, toys and even furniture and electronics.
The Special Buys often contains some great products. I own a ton of their cookware: silicone spatulas, cups, mixing bowls, a waffle iron, and an enameled cast iron Dutch oven, all of which I use constantly. There’s so much more than kitchen equipment, too. To give you an idea, this week’s Special Buys includes Educational Books and Toys, winter clothing and DIY power tools. New stock usually shows up on Wednesdays and Saturdays, so those are the best days to try to grab an item you’re eyeing.
Whether or not ALDI’s unique style appeals to you, if you’re looking to save some money on groceries, it’s undeniably a great place to shop. Just don’t forget your quarter and your reusable bags.