My introduction to Aldi stores wasn’t first-hand.
In fact, I never even heard of it before.
At least not until I met Lauren Cobello (formerly Lauren Greutman).
She’s the original Queen of Aldi stores.
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 I’ve made a point to pop into Aldi stores when I can to see what’s what.
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 an “Ultimate Guide to Aldi Stores”.
This is all about getting the entire picture regarding “financial advice” and tailoring it to your individual needs.
It’s simply a list of things that draw me back and then make me rethink my choice of shopping at Aldi stores lol.
What’s Great About Aldi Stores
There are a bunch of reasons that make Aldi stores great.
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.
This really isn’t an exhaustive list of every little thing Aldi stores do well, instead of pointing out the major victories.
So let’s dive into what makes Aldi stores so good.
Prices At Aldi Stores Are Pretty Good
Who wouldn’t want to save money on grocery 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 about 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 location 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 sells 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/$4 at the cheapest I can recall.
These are just a few specific examples I can point to from my own first-hand experiences.
And it’s important to realize as well that these are just in the one specific store I shop from.
Prices at Aldi stores–as well as its competitors–may vary wildly where you are!
Aldi Stores Discount Products Nearing “Sell By Date”
Now, this surprised me since I can’t remember ever seeing it before.
I must rhetorically ask once again: who doesn’t like saving money?
I know I freakin’ love it, especially on food!
Then imagine my surprise when I walk into the nearby Aldi location and just happen to scope out the meat section just for the hell of it and find the boneless, skinless chicken breasts with little red star stickers on them.
Those red stars had “$ 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 the 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 monthly budget.
I’m Forced To Try New Brands
If you don’t already know, Aldi stores predominantly sell its own private-label brands.
That’s not to say you can’t find big brands like M&Ms and Sweet Baby Ray’s sauces 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 that 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 stores reinforce 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!
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 so overpowering I had 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 products.
There was a specific location of the 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!
What Makes Grocery Shopping At Aldi Stores A Hassle
Well, that concluded the love-fest part of my relationship with Aldi stores!
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)!
You Can’t Communicate With Aldi Stores
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”.
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.
It’s certainly going to cost more customers than it can possibly gain the company.
There are plenty of reasons to call a store before having to drive out there.
I mean, what happens when there’s a hurricane or snowstorm and you want to know about the current hours or if the store is even open?
Or if you want to know if a specific product is carried?
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…
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 opening 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!
This even happens at the most inopportune times.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, there was one register open even though you knew that the traffic would be much higher than on regular shopping days.
But that apparently didn’t matter.
I watched a line of maybe 20 people behind me at a single register to pay for their purchases.
Sure, it’s great to keep prices down, but at what cost to the customer?
Maybe it’s just me, but when I see people say that it’s “faster” to shop at Aldi I honestly have to question the people who are surveyed!
The Quality of Aldi Products Can Be 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 had to pay $1.29 for each 1lb clamshell.
Well, I should have at least taken her warning and tempered my enthusiasm by starting with a single package and seeing how it worked.
I wasted my time washing and then de-capping FOUR CONTAINERS worth and then 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 that 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.
Prices At Aldi Stores Vs. National Sales
This is one that all frugal shoppers will love.
When is cheaper not actually cheaper?
When the price of 1 item is more than the cost of 2 on a buy-1-get-1 free (BOGO) offer.
It’s an even better deal when you can combine that pricing with manufacturers’ and store coupon 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 upfront 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.
This is where my local Publix shines.
Not only does it consistently have BOGO deals in the weekly circular, but since it accepts manufacturer coupons the prices at Aldi seem less impressive.
On top of that, Publix also randomly issues its own coupons such as:
- $2 off of a $4 purchase of fresh groceries
- $5 off of a $30 total purchase
- $3 off of a $10 purchase of fresh meat
Those are actual discounts I’ve been sent either in the mail or via email/app.
Aldi Stores Can Have Limited Products
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 a 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.
This is where a larger, regional chain such as Publix offers more value–the opportunity to find more of what you like.
Aldi Stores Aren’t Ideal For Emergency Preparedness
Along the lines of not being able to do all of my shopping at Aldi, emergency preparedness supply purchases 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.
Although you can certainly get many of these items at a drug store, hardware store, or major supermarket, it’s just easier if you could get everything you wanted in a single trip.
Again, it’s not me being a downer looking to pick on the company, just stating a fact that happens to not be positive.
Aldi Stores Don’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 at “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.
Again, it’s one of the reasons why Publix is a better alternative for me.
Aldi Weekly Ad Is…Lacking
Most grocery store weekly circulars are packed with info.
Grocery chains like:
- Winn Dixie
- Food Lion
They have pages of sales items.
They tell you how much you save on the items.
They’re organized by category/section.
The Aldi weekly ad isn’t.
Sometimes there are only 2 pages, while for other weeks there are 5.
Often you only have a price.
Some items will actually list a savings amount.
The Aldi weekly ad really isn’t close to what the other stores provide.
Sometimes, it seems like someone just took a bunch of products and threw them together and said: “there, the
Aldi weekly ad is done…oh and in record time, too!”
It’s not always helpful.
One very good thing, however, is the ability to add items from the Aldi circular to your online shopping list.
That list is easily accessible from the Aldi mobile app on your phone so everything is there in the palm of your hand!
Aldi & Grocery Delivery Services
Personally, I’m not a fan of grocery delivery services like Instacart.
Then again, I’m self-aware enough to know that everything isn’t about me.
You may like or even need to use Instacart.
If that’s the case, you are in luck because–at least as far as my area goes–you can get Aldi grocery delivery via Instacart!
That means you get the benefits of low-cost groceries (hopefully the Instacart prices aren’t jacked up too much) with the convenience of having them delivered to your door.
This piece of information about Aldi grocery delivery was interesting:
All ALDI products that are available in-store are available on Instacart with the exception of few categories such as ALDI Finds, Alcohol and Gift Cards.Aldi Instacart FAQ page
I honestly don’t know what the definition of “few categories” is.
And, I also didn’t even know Aldi gift cards were a thing.
Obviously, there are going to be exceptions but I’d imagine this means that Aldi grocery delivery will include most items in the store!
If you don’t live in an area where there aren’t many Aldi stores, you aren’t alone.
There are many states that haven’t reached double-digits in the number of Aldi stores.
Arizona, Oregon, South Dakota, New Hampshire Louisiana, Vermont, Washington, and Washington DC all have less than 10 locations as of this writing.
Alaska, Colorado, Hawaii, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming don’t have a single Aldi store as well.
If you are wondering “where is there an Aldi near me?” there’s an easy way to find out:
Use this link for the Aldi store locator.
Overall, I think Aldi stores provide a pretty good value if you don’t care for huge selections and/or “name brands”.
It’s like any store or product/service. ..there are going to be positives and negatives.
The question is:
Will the positives outweigh the negatives for you personally to make shopping at Aldi stores worth it?
For me, sometimes I find such great deals that it absolutely makes the hassles of one register or slim pickings worth it.
Other times, I wonder why the heck I even bother.
What has your experience(s) been like doing your grocery shopping at Aldi stores? 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? Are you in a city/state without a store and waiting with bated breath to experience what the fuss is for yourself?