**Disclosure: as of this writing, Aldi is still not widespread in the United States, so I apologize if you can’t gain anything from this or any of the other Aldi-centric information online 🙁 **
My introduction to Aldi wasn’t first-hand.
In fact, I never even heard of it before.
At least not until I met Lauren Greutman.
She’s a published author (read her book).
She’s a frequent guest on The Today Show.
And she’s the original “Queen of Aldi”.
Just by knowing her and what she does I became highly aware of the chain.
So, when I discovered a local store I had to check it out and see what the big deal was.
That was toward the end of 2017.
In the time since Aldi & I have developed a love-hate relationship.
I absolutely love certain aspects, but then when I get there my love morphs to hate and annoyance, but I always go back for more!
Before we begin, I’d just like to point out this isn’t one of those “How to shop at Aldi” articles.
It isn’t an “Aldi 101” article.
It’s not even a “Guide to all things Aldi”.
This is all personal preferences and opinions.
It’s simply a list of things that draw me back and then make me rethink my choice of shopping at Aldi lol.
4 Reasons I LOVE Aldi
There are four prominent reasons for my love of Aldi.
One is the obvious, most common reason.
The second is sorta related but surprised me.
The third is kind of counter-intuitive for many people.
The last is just a personal preference.
1. Aldi’s Super-Low Prices (Naturally)
Who wouldn’t want to save money on food items?
After all, with the prices of so many common items like meat and dairy products continually rising, it’s nice to catch a break!
I’m not talking about pennies here, either.
That wouldn’t even make the drive worth it with the time it takes and the gas consumption.
Remember you have to factor everything into your “savings” since it’s more involved than the surface savings!
I’m talking some huge savings on many things.
For instance, I purchased a 10lb bag of russet potatoes for $2.99 in Aldi compared to my local Publix around the corner which charges $3.99 for a 5lb bag. (yes, I like potatoes!)
25% savings on double the size sounds like a big win for me.
It’s the same thing with meats.
Aldi sells “family pack” sizes of boneless, skinless chicken breasts which the last time I went in were priced at $1.69/lb compared to Publix’s own “savings size” which was priced around $4.69/lb.
And eggs, my beautiful friends lol.
The Aldi I go to sells 12-count cartons of large, Grade A eggs for $.89-$1.29 each (when there isn’t a shortage due to health concerns) compared to Publix which sell them for around $2.25.
Heck, even on sale, CVS has a range of $1.29-$1.69 lately and Walgreen’s sale price is $.99 which is close.
Fresh produce is another area I’ve seen huge discounts–items like whole pineapples as low as $1.25 each when the nearest competitor was at 2/$4; Haas avocados as low as $.59 vs. $1 each; 16-oz clamshells of strawberries for $1.39 vs. 2/$4 at the cheapest I can recall.
These are just a few specific examples I can point to from my own first-hand experiences.
And it’s important to realize as well that these are just in the one specific store I shop from.
Prices at Aldi as well as the competitors may vary wildly where you are!
2. Aldi Discounts Meats Nearing Due Dates
Now, this surprised me since I can’t remember ever seeing it before.
I must rhetorically ask once again: who doesn’t like saving money?
I know I freakin’ love it, especially on food!
Then imagine my surprise when I walk into Aldi and just happen to scope out the meat section just for the hell of it and find the boneless, skinless chicken breasts with little red star stickers on them.
Those red stars had “$ off” on them!
Naturally, I looked at the “sell by” date to make sure the store wasn’t trying to sell past-due foods.
None of the packages were even going to expire next day–they were 3 days away!
You know I grabbed all 3 packages that were additionally discounted: one $4 off, and two $3 off!!!
I walked out with 3 packages totaling roughly 11lbs of chicken for something like $15 and change (the total on my credit card was $18.57 but I know I bought something else besides the chicken lol).
But the point is that it’s a great way to squeeze a little bit of extra savings from your grocery budget.
3. I’m Forced To Try New Brands
If you don’t already know, Aldi predominantly sells its own private-label brands.
That’s not to say you can’t find big brands like M&Ms and Sweet baby Ray’s occasionally, but for the most part:
At ALDI, we stock many of our own exclusive brands.
Some people find that to be a bad thing; they think that just because it’s not a “major” brand it isn’t good or can’t be trusted.
Trust me, I’ve been that person before.
I never used to buy store-branded products, only national brands.
Then I realized there might not be much of a difference in many items which don’t have secret formulas (think soda).
Turns out I was right…well, other people saying that there was no difference were right 😉
Most items such as bread and seltzer and beans are indistinguishable across labels.
Sure, soda is a different case altogether but that’s because the syrup recipes are closely guarded secrets, and I find that for one reason or another store-made peanut butter is never as good as Smuckers Natural either.
Aside from a few choice items, there isn’t a difference.
And that’s what Aldi reinforces for me–the fact that I have to remember to keep my mind open to the fact that most brands are about image and not quality.
Keeping an open mind about these things lets me find great tasting options at huge discounts to what I’d normally buy in the supermarket–and many times even compared to the store’s own brands as well!
4. Aldi Stores Are Clean and Bright
I told you the last item was a personal preference lol.
I have a thing about how stores should be presented.
Once I walked into a Ross store and the smell of bleach was overpowering leading me to leave immediately.
In my mind that store was filthy or else they wouldn’t need to be using such a large amount of cleaning product.
There was a specific location of supermarket chain Winn-Dixie that I cannot shop in either.
It was dark and smelled weird…not bleachy like Ross, but there was something about it that made me feel like I needed a shower which is not a good feeling when shopping for groceries.
The Aldi location I frequent is in a shithole location but the inside is always well-lit and clean so that really helps me.
And before anyone mentions it, I’m not a germophobe or a clean freak ?
4 Reasons I HATE Aldi
Well, that concluded the love-fest part of my relationship with Aldi!
Of course, no relationship is perfect–regardless of what you see on social media or on TV–so let’s get to the nastiness!
There are some things that range from minor annoyances to outright loathsome (to me)!
1. Aldi Corporate Is Cheap As Shit
I get it, the chain can afford to keep prices low by cutting back on “unnecessary” expenses and I totally get that.
I have no problem that:
- You have to deposit a quarter to rent a shopping cart
- You have to supply your own bags or pay for them
Those policies actually make sense to me, and should to the general public.
But there is one policy that makes zero sense to me–the “streamlined staffing model”.
It’s annoying as fuck!
Here’s the entry from the website:
At ALDI, we care about passing savings on to our customers through our streamlined staffing model. To support this, we do not have staff to answer store telephones. We typically have three to five employees in a store at any given time, and their focus is on serving customers.
First off, having no way to communicate with the store from the outside is not the smartest thing in the world.
Its certainly going to cost more customers than it an possibly gain the company.
There are plenty of reasons to call a store before having to schlep out there (my NYC Jewish roots just came out there, huh?)
But that’s not the biggest issue I have with this policy.
The company’s line about “streamlined staffing” causes more problems than I find it to be worth…
2. Aldi Employees Are Mismanaged
No, I’ve never managed a retail establishment.
And no, I’ve never done any kind of research or training on the matter.
So, basically, I’m saying that I’m not an expert on employee management or human resources.
But I do know about wasting time and not being prepared.
And that is exactly how Aldi stores seem!
There’s an interesting tidbit I’ve discovered about Aldi stores:
If you don’t get there first thing upon opening, you’re going to spend forever in line. But if you go first thing in the morning nothing will be available to purchase because it’s not put out until then.
What I’m saying is that there are never enough registers opened–unless you arrive and finish shopping within 20 minutes of the store opening (and that’s only because the other people haven’t finished yet since there are always lines of folks just waiting).
On the other hand, from all that I’ve personally experienced and been told by other shoppers, the stores don’t employ any kind of “ready” shift that gets the meats and produce out prior to opening.
Again, at least not from what I see because every time I go to the store at 9:00 am (its open time) there is one person at a register and 2-3 people dragging out pallets of food to be put out.
I literally see the employees putting out the items as people are actively shopping…and not putting out delivery items, mind you, but literally filling bare shelves.
So, all of this, in my mind means two things:
- Employees are mismanaged, and
- The commitment to cutting costs via a “streamlined staff” actually hurts the customer experience
To me, this seems like a very poor way to save people money since their time is now being wasted, and at least in my personal belief time is worth more than money–a hell of a lot more!
3. The Quality of Aldi Products Is Sometimes Lacking
Another item that probably isn’t limited to my own personal tastes is the quality of the items sold.
Look, I’m certainly not saying that I expect to receive Grade-A Prime meats at bargain prices, far from it.
I do expect, however, to have some level of standards.
For instance, wherever the strawberries come from, they seem to be tasteless.
My mother was the first to tell me about it, but I just assumed it was her taste buds ?
Boy was I wrong!
I jumped at the chance to stock up my freezer with strawberries for everything from smoothies to parfaits to sauces and only having to pay $1.29 for each 1lb clamshell.
Well, I should have at least taken her warning and tempered my enthusiasm buy starting with a single package and seeing how it worked.
I wasted my time washing and then de-capping FOUR CONTAINERS worth and them freezing them only to discover that upon thawing they tasted like nothing.
Just for testing purposes, later on, I tried them pre-freezing as well and it had no effect…plus I’ve done this with berries purchased at other stores and they maintained a nice flavor post-thawing.
It wasn’t just the strawberries either as other types of fruits just didn’t taste as good as those bought in other places.
And remember those chicken breasts I gushed over earlier?
Well, it’s always hit-or-miss on those too–they happen to sell Kirkland, which is Costco’s private label.
Too often I go in and browse the offerings and the chicken breasts are pale and have white stripes running through them.
Anyone who pays attention to food news knows that this white striping of chicken breasts is a sign of a muscular disorder which is caused by the manner in which the chickens are raised.
It’s not going to kill anyone but it is described as being a meat quality issue and increases the fat content while reducing the protein as well as making the meat tough.
So even though it’s not a health risk the second part is my concern: a meat quality issue.
Although I do like saving money, I don’t like to have a loss of quality in exchange, especially when it comes to something that’s going into my body.
3. It’s Still Often Cheaper To Buy National Brands
This is one that all of the frugal shoppers will love.
When is cheaper not actually cheaper?
When you have a buy-1-get-1 free (BOGO) offer.
It’s an even better deal when you can combine that pricing with manufacturer and store coupons savings.
This is a similar reason why grocery stores are still better than buying food items at some warehouse clubs: you get great savings without having to buy such huge quantities and risk spoilage.
So, even though Aldi may be able to sell some common food items at cheaper prices than your regional supermarket chain, you may indeed get more savings up front with this type of deal.
Then, if you figure in the cost of gas and time to venture out and back in the case of people who don’t have an Aldi location nearby, the savings look even better.
4. I Can’t Do All Of My Shopping At Aldi
While it’s great for what I can buy there, the lack of options leads to the necessity of going to other stores to finish my shopping at times.
For one, there isn’t a bakery in the store I go to–or in any store remotely close to me.
Even though a lot of items can come at big savings, when it comes to beef (aside from the “coming due” discount) and fish, I can get better pricing and higher quality at my Italian Market (Aldi actually markets 73/27 as “lean ground beef” in its ads which I find disturbing).
Also, there aren’t the variety of choices within a product category which–to me–is pretty important.
For instance, I like bacon other than the regular thin-sliced “standard” option or with cheese where I like special blends such as “4 State Cheddar” or “4 Cheese Mexican” that I can get from a national brand that blends similar types into a single package.
There are a bunch of other things that I’ve heard about being necessary to purchase at other stores, but I think you get the picture that for some people, this will just be a part of their shopping routine and not a one-stop-shop.
4.1 Hurricane Preparedness
Along the lines of not being able to do all of my shopping at Aldi, hurricane preparations are also difficult there.
Not because I don’t trust the quality of the products, although I kinda don’t, but mainly because of the limits on what each store stocks.
Because some of the stores are really tiny, you might not be able to find enough of a certain item to meet your needs.
Or, because of the size constraints, the closest store may not carry the non-food items such as flashlights, batteries, candles, etc. which are needed during a power outage.
Again, it’s not me being a downer looking to pick on the company, just stating a fact that happens to not be positive.
5. Aldi Doesn’t Issue Rain Checks
Ah yes, the solution to the question:
What happens if a store runs out of an item that is on sale?
Well in practically every store I’ve heard of, you get a little thing called a rain check.
It’s basically an IOU for getting the sale price at a later date when the item is back in stock.
Hell, even CVS issues rain checks!
Not Aldi, though.
There isn’t even a customer service desk to go to in order to get one.
All sarcasm aside, it is a big deal.
If a store is going to advertise certain items a “sale” prices it is the responsible thing to make sure that there is enough quantity in stock.
If it sells out, however, the store really should do the right thing and issue rain checks to people who weren’t able to get those items.
This is a particularly big deal considering there isn’t an Aldi store on every other corner.
Driving out to one only to discover the item(s) you wanted is out of stock and being told that you have to come all the way back and try again at a later time sucks.
And then what if you try again on the last day of the weekly ad–you’re doubly shit out of luck.
Aldi & Credit Cards
One of my biggest pet peeves–as both a consumer and a business consultant–is when a business doesn’t accept credit cards.
I believe very seriously that all businesses need to accept credit cards.
I feel that a business needs to make it impossible for customers not to be able to pay for goods/services; If you want to read about that, you can click the link two lines up.
For the sake of this discussion, I’ll say that Aldi started out not accepting credit cards, which would have kept me out for sure!
But since March 2, 2016, that changed and all of the stores started taking credit cards that day.
Some people still think it’s a cash-only operation with an image of being for lower-income shoppers.
I can tell you that it isn’t, and if that’s what is holding you back, then let go of that notion and try it out for yourself!
I really do both hate and love Aldi all at the same time.
But why is it “crazy”?
For as much as I can’t stand the negatives, I always go back for the positives.
And when I go in for the positives, the negatives always have me cursing my decision one I get in there!
It’s just one vicious circle of savings and frustration for me 😂
If you already use and love Aldi, try coupling it with 14 days of Instacart Express for free using this link and get those savings without leaving the house!
And if you’ve already tried and don’t care for Aldi, why not try a free trial of AmazonFresh and see if that suits your needs any better. Or you can also try out Thrive Market with a 25% discount on your first order for your grocery delivery needs.
You may even prefer to try a meal delivery service such if you’re short on time and just want the portioned ingredients delivered to you. You can get 3 free meals from Home Chef using code 3platesoff. There’s a special discount waiting for you at HelloFresh right now if you want to try that service too!
What’s your experience with Aldi? Are you in the camp that thinks it’s the best thing to ever happen to grocery shopping? Are you in the group that thinks it’s just another store to use for your shopping needs? Hell, are you in a city/state without a store and waiting with bated breath to experience what the fuss is for yourself?