Cool Store: ALDI

As many of you know, I've been on a quest this summer to find cheaper groceries since finding cheap gas seems like a losing battle. I think I found the answer.

A reader posted a comment recently about ALDI, a German grocery store that has a few stores in the Washington area. I went to the Alexandria store this week, bought a few groceries, and determined that I cut $40 off my regular shopping trip. Here's what else I learned:

If you're someone who finds the shopping experience as important as the food selection and deals, then ALDI is not your place to shop. The store is simple. Food is neatly presented in its own large cardboard box so you're not browsing shelves of food. You have to pay a quarter to use a grocery cart but you get the quarter back when you're done shopping. The carts are nice and big though. The company says they do this so they don't have to hire people to keep track of carts that get left in the parking lot. They encourage you to bring your own bags or you can buy their 5-cent paper bags and 10-cent plastic bags. And be prepared to bag your own groceries. The brands are different, so if you're loyal to certain mainstream food manufacturers, you probably won't find them at ALDI. Their selection is lacking low-fat, low-calorie and organic foods. I couldn't find lactose-free milk, but they did have soy milk. And they don't accept credit cards.

OK, now that I have all the negatives out of the way, here's why I liked the store. The food is cheaper. Plain and simple. After my visit to ALDI, I headed to Giant, which I deemed the cheapest grocery store in the region in a recent post. Since ALDI has different brands, I compared ALDI's prices with Giant's prices on generic food. In a comparison of about 16 items at each store, Giant was $10 more expensive.

A pound of cherries at ALDI was $3.49, while a pound of cherries at Giant was $5.99. And they, along with the rest of the produce, were in great condition. My 4-year-old has practically eaten the whole pound already. Cucumbers were 59 cents at ALDI and 75 cents at Giant. The most expensive gallon of milk at ALDI was $3.49, while it was $3.99 at Giant. A half-gallon of orange juice at ALDI was $1.79, while the generic orange juice in the same size at Giant was $2.69. Giant's sale price on sandwich bread couldn't even compete at $1.79 versus ALDI's at $1.19. But one of the best deals I got was a bottle of Winking Owl shiraz for $2.99. I haven't tried it yet and it's possible the owl on the bottle is winking because you'll get the worst hangover of your life. But for $3, I thought it was worth a try. I'll let you know how it goes.

Now I couldn't get everything I wanted at ALDI. The store is relatively small, slightly bigger than a Trader Joe's, so the selection is limited. (Ironically Trader Joe's is owned by a family trust that was set up by one of the German businessmen who owns ALDI.) But after getting the rest of my groceries at Giant, I ended up spending $132 for a week's worth of food for my family. I usually spend about $175. Is $43 worth the inconvenience of having to go to two stores and dealing with the oddities at ALDI? Yes, because $43 every week is $172 a month or more than $2,000 a year.

So now I'm curious... have you ever shopped at ALDI? What are the best things to get there? And how much weight does a grocery store's atmosphere have in your fondness of the store? Would you rather pay higher prices for a nicer shopping experience or are lower prices the most important thing for you even if it means bagging your own groceries? Please post a comment below.

Another great way to save on groceries is to use coupons, which I never do but I'd like to start. I'm working on a post for next week on how to use these little pieces of paper. Do you have any good strategies for using coupons? Please send me an e-mail at shoptoit@washingtonpost.com if you do.

By Tania Anderson |  July 24, 2008; 9:14 AM ET Cool Store Alerts , Grocery Deals
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Comments

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We shopped at ALDI during grad school when we were dirt poor. My memory is of the food being low end generic - canned vegetables and the like were very cheap. It was fine, but I've moved on from canned vegetables as a diet staple. I am lucky to be able to say that.

Posted by: B-dogg | July 24, 2008 10:34 AM

I will occasionally shop at ALDI's for certain "staples." I can definitely recommend their line of salsas as well as their cheese. As you referenced in the article, you won't find all your grocery needs at ALDI. This is because they only stock the most frequently purchased items (i.e. you'll find olive oil, but you probably won't find a marinade). This limited inventory is great for them in regards to cost-containment, but not quite as great for consumers.

Posted by: Stephen | July 24, 2008 11:14 AM

Just wanted to let you all know that I tried a glass of the $2.99 bottle of Winking Owl wine I bought at Aldi. It wasn't bad. I've had better but I've also had worse. You can't beat the price!

Posted by: Tania Anderson | July 24, 2008 11:33 AM

I shop at Aldi's every couple of weeks now, after a friend introduced me to their store brand chocolate bars - it's Austrian milk chocolate,very rich and creamy. The price is less than $2 for a 12 oz. bar.

Posted by: UpstateNY | July 24, 2008 11:58 AM

I've shopped at ALDI twice to buy a quick beverage and snacks for my then pre-schooler. I was underwhelmed by the selection and depressed by the decor. It felt like a large convenience store. The closest store is 25 minutes away so I shop at my local Giant.

Tania, I'm new to your blog but am really enjoying it.

Posted by: Annapolis | July 24, 2008 12:39 PM

I tried to send you an e-mail about coupons, but the message bounced telling me that the address is invalid.

Posted by: SapphicHokieMom | July 24, 2008 2:10 PM

I seriously doubt they will be come to the Tysons Corner area so I will likely never know. But between Giant, Trader Joe's, Harris Teeter, and farmers' markets, all of my food needs are being met.

Posted by: Little Red | July 24, 2008 2:34 PM

I'm sorry about the e-mail troubles. Please try again when you get a chance. The address is shoptoit@washingtonpost.com. Thanks!

Posted by: Tania Anderson | July 24, 2008 8:48 PM

I went to the Aldi in Alexandria this week and had a very different impression of the store. First, there was so much loittering outside of the store that I thought I was driving up to a day laborers center. Second, I found the store dirty and disorganized. Third, where is this food coming from? I've never heard of a single one of the food labels. Fourth, I bought a few things, including a container of grapes. Half of them were rotten and had to be thrown away. I bought a bottle of wine that was awful. The only thing I do agree with you on is the price. You save money but I don't think it's worth it. I rather pay more for a nicer shopping trip. Thanks for the suggestion but it's a no-go for me.

Posted by: Shopping Snob | July 25, 2008 8:48 PM

I live in the greater Milwaukee, WI. area. My choice is always ALDI'S. My wife takes care of the meat purchases, and I take care of fruit and vegetables. I eat a lot of fruit. When I compare price, ALDI'S is at least a 35% savings. It isn't just the price. The hired help is outstanding. They are "workers". It's really a pleasure to shop at ALDI'S. Even the customer's seem pleasant. Most of my shopping is at their "Greenfield" store on Hy. 100 and Coldspring Rd.

Posted by: George | July 26, 2008 3:50 PM

Greetings from Chicago, where I shop at a nearby Aldi regularly because theirs is a different concept from major grocery chains and I find shopping at Aldi FUN. You insert a quarter into the cart on your way into the store and get it back when you leave. And, sure, you bag your own groceries there but that, too, is part of the Aldi 'experience'. Next to me at the bagging counter parents enlist the help of their kids and turn grocery shopping into a project in which the whole family can participate.

My favourites include: Their microwave popcorn, yogurt (including the light mousse - style yogurt), frozen fried chicken, shrimp stir fry kit (also in the freezer section), frozen asparagus, and their small (cute!) glazed donuts that you heat in the microwave. The main reason I shop at Aldi is that I can walk out of that store with four large bags of groceries, for UNDER $40! At the major grocery chains, it would cost me over $100.

For Aldi wins, hands down!

Jackie
Chicago, IL


Posted by: Jackie | July 29, 2008 11:39 AM

"Shopped" at Aldi once - in Greenwood, SC.
Best things to get - I don't remember.

I'd much rather shop in a store with a "nicer shopping experience" than succumb to service / quality that sucks because prices are low.

Aldi's business model is good - the execution is bad. ALL grocery / retail stores should implement the quarter per cart, charge for bags, and require you to bag your own groceries.

Not sure how the connection between TJs and Aldi is ironic...it seems the family has come up with a fairly successful business model.

Much like the ethnic supermarkets in the DC region, I question how stores like Aldi get the cheapest produce....is it because they don't care about the farming methods? or pesticide use?
I'd much rather get these products from a store I trust or can at least verify the source.

Posted by: Robert | July 29, 2008 2:25 PM

I do agree on the appearance of the Alexandria's Aldi's. Unattractive, and yes, too much loitering.
However, I usually shop at aldi's when I go up to cleveland to visit the parents. Much bigger and cleaner one than here.

Posted by: springfield shopper | July 29, 2008 4:52 PM

Not really close enough to make the trip worth it to find out what they have, but what is a "German grocery store"?

That, to me, sounds like a store that sells German foodstuffs, when in reality it seems to sell everything from food stuffs (unsure if they're German in origin or taste) to computers to wheelchairs.

Seems like I'll stay with some of the Asian grocery stores, such as Lotte, which sells Asian products, along with non-Asian products.

Posted by: Dungarees | July 29, 2008 5:54 PM

I shop at the Aldi's in Langley Park and its much cheaper than giant/shoppers and for a lot of products even cheaper Costco. I have an excel spreadsheet with all the prices at aldi's compared to giant/costco/shoppers and aldi's is hands down the cheapest. Regarding Milk, on Saturday I went to Giant and got milk for $3.99 because the kids needed something right away and we live next door. The next day when I went to Aldi's the milk was $3.15. Not even close.

In the past, for a family of four we've used to pay about $500-$600 a month. One recent month, we went on a complete Aldi's diet and spent $265. The recipes and shopping guide is below (prices have gone up a bit since the article was published)
http://www.momadvice.com/food/aldi_meal_plan.aspx
http://www.momadvice.com/food/aldi_meal_plan_fall.aspx

The recipes above are a little bit on the fattening side, so recently we've done our own thing and spend about $300 a month.

Negatives are the produce is limited, so I have to go to Shoppers/Giant to fill our needs. Also, I tried their diapers and they leaked a lot. They do have the Active Fit brand, but as a poster above said sometimes it hard to find a low-fat alternative.

Some other comments, its faster to check out as the food items have multiple scans so the cashiers go through them a lot faster. yeah lines are longer, but they go through fast.

Love the chicken pot pie (my son always asks for it), love the yogurt, the animal crackers, pretty much everything.

Sometimes they have bread for 10 cents a loaf.

Shopping there is also a lot faster as the store is smaller and you can get in and out in 30 minutes.

Lastly, the Aldi's and Traders Joe relationship is that the are owned by two brothers, though they are completely different companies.

Posted by: ted | July 29, 2008 9:12 PM

Yes, you can't beat Aldi's for value. My Mom loves to shop Aldi locations near her home in the Pittsburgh suburbs. I take her and we use our Elizabeth Haub Foundation reusable shopping bags to haul away the savings.

Soon, another German off price limited selection grocery will be invading our shores, Lidl. From what I read, they are fantastic as well.

Years ago, A&P opened several dozen PLUS stores in our area. They too were fantastic stores offering great savings in a no-frills atmosphere. These stores live on, in Germany and Eastern Europe.

Posted by: weo | July 30, 2008 8:23 AM

Sorry Wegman's is significantly cheaper than Giant by a wide margin on your staples etc and even on meat, poultry etc.

Super Target or A Super Wal Mart would ahve been a better comparision but the Fiarfax County Board of Union Supporters will not allow Super Targets in Fairfax Cty because of the contributions from Unions. Not sure how many union employees who work at grocery stores live in Fairfax but I willing to bet its less than 5000 potential voters. Great way to run a county pandering to unions whose members dont live in Fairfax. But then they ahve always pandered to NEA and VEA!

Posted by: Anonymous | July 30, 2008 8:24 AM

I've never shopped in a supermarket where I didn't have to bag my own goods - the differences between the US and the UK I guess.

We have Aldi here too. We don't have paper bags, but they do charge 10 cents for a (good quality) plastic carrier bag. And ours don't take credit cards although they do now take debit cards. Our prices are steeper than those you cite but that's due the differences in cost of living. You don't have to put up with $10 a gallon to fill your car (or truck) up!

However, in comparison to our major supermarket chains which is a seven way split between the high end marketed Marks And Spencer, the middle class marketed Tesco, Sainsbury, Morrisons and Walmart (branded as ASDA) and Aldi and Lidl at the bottom, Aldi and Lidl are steadily taking market share from everybody.

A friend of mine has calculated that Aldi is 20% cheaper than Tesco (which is the market leader over here).

Posted by: Alex (UK) | July 30, 2008 10:54 AM

ALDI and its competitor Lidl have both been active in the UK and Ireland for several years now, and more and more people are shopping there. I shop at Lidl and there is nothing wrong with the goods - quality is generally as good as Tesco (the market leader) and it's a lot cheaper. Some people turn their noses up at ALDI and Lidl, but really they're no different to how supermarkets in the UK were 20 years ago. And if I can save £100 ($200) in a month's groceries, all the better.

Posted by: Darren (UK) | July 30, 2008 1:46 PM

My friend had long been telling me about Aldi's and i was bit of a snob about it, but boy once i checked it out i was hooked. I live in close proximity to two Aldi stores in a Cleveland suburb both or which are very clean! Prices and quality are great. My husband was very picky about certain brands but that has all changed. We love the powdered ice tea, produce is great and seems to last longer than Giant Eagle. Milk and eggs are almost a dollar cheaper, the string cheese, choc. chip cookies, the granola cereal, the list goes on. I also noticed they sell alot of Kirwood brand wich is also sold at Costco. You can't beat it for shopping for a big family!

Posted by: aldi lover | July 30, 2008 1:48 PM

I was also a bit of a snob when it came to Aldi, but you can't beat it for produce.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 30, 2008 5:10 PM

To the poster who asked about where they get their brands from - the answer is Aldi!

They carefully research the existing products in in other stores and come up with a new name/image/logo that fits the product and use that product line for all related goods. 95% of the products that they sell could just be branded 'Aldi' but they've taken a different approach.

Aldi do occassionally get job-lots of brand name stuff which is then sold on special, but the regular stuff is all own-brand.

I am writing from Australia and lived in the UK too. If ALDI works the same in the US as in UK, Germany & Australia, then i'm surprised that no-one has mentioned the best thing about Aldi apart from the price.

They do weekly specials, which come out once a week and can include anything from baby clothes to portable generators to PCs, laptops and LCD TVs. Most electrical items are one of Aldi's own brands or a brand like Medion, which is German-owned and also available online and in Toys R Us for example.

Anyway, the specials are designed to be so well-priced that they should sell out of their limited stock within the week. It becomes a bit of a game to deduce whether the item you like from the upcoming catalogue is going to be a big-enough draw that you have to queue up for store opening to get one of the 20 laptops (for example) that they have for sale that week!

Posted by: SteveM, Sydney, Australia | July 31, 2008 2:43 AM

This is my first time reading your blog. I enjoyed reading all the comments about a place that I also shop.
I have been shopping at Aldi's for a couple of years. I use the Concord,NC store and it has always been neat and clean. Staff always courteous. Yes, there have been times when you have to be sure the produce is crisp and fresh- especilly Saturday evening when it has been picked over. If it isn't up to my standards, then I just don't buy that item that day. I do that at any store I shop in.
Since you basicly know the prices at Aldi, I check the weekly specials at the main stream food stores and shop where I feel I will get the best prices. Milk, eggs and cheese are always cheaper at Aldi. Our Aldi recently added fresh meats, I was skeptical at first so it took me awhile to try them. I was impressed! The steaks and ground sirloin were very good. Most of there produce are local, regional or from the USA- that is importnt to me. On the whole, I am very pleased with shopping at Aldi. I think it is great that you need to provide your own bags (if you don't buy there's), I feel like I am doing a little part in helping the enviorment. Because of that concept, I bring my own bags to main stream food stores too.

Posted by: ann | August 6, 2008 11:58 PM

I lived in Belgium for 7 years and got to know Aldi there, since food was my biggest expense and Aldi was the only way to cut it down. Now I've been back in the US for 3 years and my trips to Aldi have been sporadic, but lately less so. I have always gotten good quality there and anyone who thinks they're going to get better quality because they pay more better check today's headlines about Whole Foods. I recommend Aldi; you can't always find everything you need but you are guaranteed to cut something like 30-40% off your weekly grocery bills. Plus I've always had a positive experience with the staff there, while at Walmart and Kroger I can't say the same.

Posted by: Amy | August 12, 2008 8:11 AM

bag washed spinach
sm. box mushrooms
head cabbage
sm. box blueberries
2 lge. cans frozen lemonade
2 toothbrushes
frozen wild salmon (4 fillets)
sm box grape tomatoes
cantaloupe
2 lemons
3 nectarines
total with tax (toothbrushes in MN) $18.34

I'm not a real packaged food fan so I can't really comment on these products at Aldi but they do carry basic supplies- flour, sugar, eggs etc. very reasonably. I hear their chocolate is excellent.
Very clean stores, atmosphere neutral. Use cash and bring bags. If you don't care about name brands and are not tied to a set menu, Aldi is a great option. Combine with an occasional trip to the farmers market, TJ's Costco and the backyard you can eat very, very well on tight budget.

Posted by: lolly | August 15, 2008 5:00 PM

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