ALDI Is Trader Joe’s Without the Charm

Published Thursday, October 29th, 2015
ALDI Is Trader Joe's Without the Charm
(Image source: Coca Cola, vintage ad)

Last week, being mid-October, we took the kids to a local church pumpkin patch (read: parking lot) to pick out their Halloween carvers.  A medium/large kid pumpkin was $30.  So after taking obligatory pictures of them trouncing around the patch, we headed off the Walmart grocery store, where their giant cardboard box at the front door indicated the price: $5.99.  But horrors, it was empty, sold out.  That’s when a nice older lady mentioned that Aldi may still have some pumpkins.  Aldi?

I first heard about Aldi a few years ago, but I thought it was a “scratch-and-dent” place with cheap prices because all the food was expired so they pawn it off on poor suckers who don’t care what they eat because they’re starving.  Like those Hostess Bakery Outlets that sell moldy Twinkies.  (I bought a box of Twinkies there once and they were all moldy, which disproves the myth that they will survive a nuclear winter.)

In case you’re like me and didn’t know what Aldi was about, Aldi (or ALDI) is a global supermarket chain founded in 1946 in Germany by brothers Karl and Theo Albrecht.  The name “Aldi” is an abbreviation of Albrecht Discount; pronounced “Al-dee” (not a great name).  They own and operate another discount grocery store in North America which you may have heard of: Trader Joe’s.  I had no idea.  Just like Trader Joe’s, Aldi sells mostly their own brands which allows them to have extremely low prices, and as with Trader Joe’s their brands are premium quality.

Their primary focus is discount prices so everything is geared towards reducing costs:

  • They don’t advertise.  Advertising is a big cost for supermarkets.
  • They have very few staff, so don’t expect a lot of personalized service.  They have cashiers, but not much more.  They are known to pay their staff a wage significantly above minimum wage though; because each store has such few staff they are able to pay employees above average.
  • The building is plain, the walls are plain, there’s no frills.  Decorations add cost.
  • They won’t bag your groceries for you.  They don’t even provide bags.  You bring your own and you bag it yourself.  (They do sell bags if you need extra.)
  • In the USA they don’t accept credit cards, only cash, bank debit cards, and food stamp cards (EBT).  Credit cards charge retailers a fee, so they don’t take them.
  • You pay a quarter to get a shopping cart, but you have to take the cart back up to the door to get your quarter back.  This eliminates the need for an employee to gather the carts.
  • Almost everything they sell is their own brand.  There are a few named brands, like Coke, but not much.

It’s not entirely packaged processed foods either, they have fresh produce and healthy options like lean meats and egg whites.  I put together a list of 11 common items, then compared Aldi’s prices to Walmart Neighborhood Market (their supermarket-only stores) and then to a major regional supermarket for the same 11 items.  In each case I selected the least expensive available option of the comparable item, including the generic brands.  Cheapest price is in BOLD.

Food Item Walmart Regional Supermarket Aldi
gallon milk, whole $3.72 $3.55 $3.39
dozen eggs $3.74 $3.09 $2.29
Greek yogurt $3.98 $4.99 $3.69
bread, loaf $1.00 $2.09 $.50
1 lb ground beef $4.97 $6.10 $4.99
1 lb chicken breast $1.99 $4.29 $2.79
instant rice $1.78 $2.29 $1.75
pasta noodles $2.00 $3.00 $1.45
mini wheat cereal $2.98 $2.25 $1.99
1 qt half-and-half $2.98 $2.29 $1.89
8 oz deli turkey $3.98 $5.99 $2.49
TOTAL $32.85 $39.93 $27.22

Although their products are “generic”, having tested several standard food items of theirs, I couldn’t tell the difference and neither could my kids.  I’ll give you an example: my son likes Cheez-Its crackers in his school lunch.  I’ve tried generic brands before but he somehow tastes the difference and won’t eat them.  I tested Aldi’s “Cheeze-Its” knock-off brand and my son didn’t know.  They are not inferior in any detectable way.  In fact Aldi is so confident in their quality that they provide a “Double Guarantee” on their products: if you aren’t satisfied they will refund your money AND replace the item.  The prices are cheap, but their quality is not.

If you need your supermarket to be highly decorated like an amusement park, or you want to buy premium brands (read: over-priced) then Aldi isn’t for you.  However, if you’re like the 98% of us who budgets their income but still demands quality and healthy food for you and your family, Aldi does have a lot to offer.

We ended up getting the kids’ Halloween pumpkins from Aldi for $4 each, the same medium/large sized ones selling at Walmart for $6 and at the church for $30.  Who knew Aldi is Trader Joe’s without the charm?

(I am not paid by Aldi or anybody else for this article — remember, they don’t advertise.  I have no vested interest in any supermarkets.  This is an entirely impartial review.)

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