When I was a broke young mom feeding my small family on a weekly grocery budget of $47.50, every penny – and I do mean every penny – counted big-time. My sister turned me on to ALDI as a great way to save money on groceries, and for a long time I shopped there out of necessity.
After several moves and a few boosts to our household’s bottom line, at some point ALDI fell off my radar. I guess I associated the store with my younger, poorer days, and now that I could afford to shop at the regular grocery, I didn’t want to go “back” to my ALDI era.
A couple of years ago, though, I decided to give ALDI another shot. And was I glad I did! I was amazed by how many great deals I was able to find, and overall what a pleasant shopping experience I had.
I have to admit, though, I was still a little flummoxed by those so-low prices. So last month, when I was invited to a blogger event at the ALDI headquarters in Illinois, I asked a lot of questions…and learned that:
Efficiency is the “secret” that keeps ALDI prices low.
I think Americans are naturally suspicious of low prices. If something is inexpensive, we figure it must be junk. But during our tour of the ALDI store in Batavia, we learned that things customers might not even notice, like having several bar codes on each item so that cashiers don’t have to do as much twisting and flipping, can make a big difference in how efficiently a store can function.
ALDI’s backbone is based on carrying a limited number of basic items that most households want, so there’s less wasted shelf space. Even their shelving is super-efficient: dry products are shelved right in their shipping cartons; milk is carted from the truck, into the store, and directly into the cooler in the same large shelving unit. ALDI won’t put out a product until they’re satisfied with its quality, and each item is backed up by a double guarantee: if you aren’t happy with your purchase, you can return it for a refund AND a replacement.
No, you won’t have endless selection at ALDI, and there is often only one type of a specific product. But that’s not always a bad thing, for those of you who, like me, occasionally get overwhelmed by the endless options at larger supermarkets.
And there is actually a very nice selection in certain areas of the store. Every week the store introduces 20-30 Special Buys, which could be anything from gourmet chocolate to cilantro and give you the opportunity to pick up a few items that you wouldn’t always find.
Other sections of the store offer options every week. During the store tour, I had to interrupt the store manager to ask a very important question: But what about bacon? And I learned that there are at least three kinds, including nitrite/nitrate-free, thick-sliced and center cut. (Whew! I take my bacon seriously.)
There is also a great selection of cheeses, including specialty cheeses like brie and gouda, and a decent wine selection.
During our tour of the headquarters, we did a blind taste testing, and while not every wine rung my bell, I can say their Tempranillo ($4.99) is a very nice everyday table wine, and that their cheeses were just as good as the national brands.
ALDI also carries hormone-free and organic milk, high-fructose corn syrup has been removed from its breads and some snacks, like granola bars, and the stores are starting to carry more organics as a response to customer preferences.
Speaking of efficiency, ALDI employees are crazy-efficient.
If you’ve ever shopped at ALDI you know that those cashiers move fast. During the store tour I learned that all employees are trained to work in all different areas of the store, which makes the work force as a group much more efficient. They also don’t have to mess with things like scales (there are none at the register!) or bagging (customers do it!).
The result is that fewer employees are needed to run a store like a well-oiled machine. At the same time, ALDI employees enjoy more-than-competitive wages (starting rates for the store we toured were over $12/hr) and benefits, even for part-time employees. ALDI really takes care of its workers, and that’s something I appreciate.
It’s worth a shot.
If you haven’t shopped at ALDI in a while, it’s worth another try – the stores have undergone many changes, including remodels and lots of new merchandise.
And if you’ve stayed away from ALDI because you don’t “have” to shop there, consider this: over the last couple of months I’ve been making a point to shop at ALDI twice a month, and the savings have been significant. So significant that it has allowed me to invest in other things that my food budget didn’t always allow for, like more organic produce and free-range eggs from the traditional grocery.
When you’re shaving $100 off your grocery bill every other time you go shopping, it frees up a lot of food budget for things you might otherwise have not had the wiggle room for, like signing up for Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA), buying half a local cow to keep in your freezer, or spending more on the brands you’re really loyal toward. Or, heck, maybe it will allow you to go out for a nice dinner a little more often.
It’s all about balance, and ALDI is a great way to keep your food budget lower so you can spend in other ways that matter to you.
So here’s my challenge to you:
- Head over to the ALDI website and make sure you have a nearby store on the store locator.
- Check out the Weekly Ad or Special Buys flyer for your local store. Does anything in the ad surprise you? Is there a product you didn’t know you could get at ALDI?
- Either by pretend “shopping” online or by making a visit to your local store, figure out how you could spend $25 at ALDI. What would you get? Compare that to your regular grocery. Is there a difference?
And here’s where it gets fun! Two of you will win a $25 ALDI gift card to carry out your own ALDI challenge!
All you have to do to enter is leave me a comment below. Did you learn anything new about ALDI in this post? Have you ever been to an ALDI store? Based on what you know now, would you be more wiling to give it a try? Do you have any favorite ALDI products? Your comment can be about anything, just make sure you leave a valid email address!
The contest will close at 9 PM EST, Sunday, December 9 and two winners will be chosen at random. I’ll announce the winners in a follow-up post next week, in which I’ll share some beginner’s tips for shopping ALDI.
In in the interest of full disclosure, I didn’t receive any compensation from ALDI for writing this post or attending their event (though I did get some great free food!) But ALDI and I have a long history, I’m excited to be reunited with the store as a once-again regular customer, and I’m turning into a bit of an evangelist. (Just ask my friends. They’re probably tired of hearing about it, though several of them have let me know they’re saving a lot of money there!)
My guess is that if you give the store a shot, you’ll turn into an evangelist, too.
Good luck in the giveaway and I can’t wait to hear what you think.