Your neighborhood could soon have its own Aldi — but shopping at the popular discount grocery store doesn’t make sense for everyone.
The German grocery chain, known for its rock bottom prices, will open roughly 900 new stores in the U.S. by the end of 2022 as part of a $3.4 billion investment, the company announced Monday.
Aldi provides what can be a somewhat unusual shopping experience for U.S. consumers. The stripped down chain has a spartan interior and doesn’t try to soothe shoppers with frills such as soft lighting and mood music. The choice to forego various non-essential grocery store services “translates into big savings for our shoppers,” Scott Patton, vice president of corporate buying for Aldi U.S., said in an email.
Shoppers should be aware of a few ground rules: Customers need to bring a quarter if they want to use a shopping cart: They deposit the coin and get it back when they return their cart. Customers bag their own groceries: Bags are available for purchase at checkout or shoppers can use old boxes for free). The store was once cash-only but now accepts most credit cards and EBT cards (food stamps), but it doesn’t participate in the WIC (Women Infants Children) program for low-income moms.
“I would recommend being flexible if you’re new to Aldi,” said Amy Sheppard, a U.K. mom who is such a fan of the chain that she wrote and self-published an entire cookbook of recipes made solely with Aldi products. “It’s a new way to shop and you will need a bit of time to get used to the new products, ingredients and prices. You may have to change some of your recipes, but the savings and quality of food they offer make it well worth the effort.”
While Aldi counts many adoring fans, it’s not necessarily a slam-dunk for every consumer’s needs. MarketWatch hashed out why consumers should (and shouldn’t) head to Aldi:
When it comes to food, it’s hard to beat Aldi prices
Many products that might be a guilty pleasure if purchased at another store won’t cost consumers a bundle at Aldi. “I can get an avocado for 25 cents or 50 cents, while it’s $1.50 at my grocery store,” said Tracie Fobes, founder of the lifestyle blog Penny Pinchin’ Mom. Avocado prices have been on the rise recently, so aficionados may appreciate such a bargain.
Fobes also recommends getting canned goods, cheese and bread. “Their bread is really good,” Fobes told MarketWatch. “You can pick up bread there for a dollar a loaf. Their English muffins are my husband’s favorite.”
Cherie Lowe, who writes The Queen of Free, a blog about savings and debt, says she zeroes in on fresh meat, produce and a few select pantry staples including canned beans, oatmeal and coffee. The blog Living Well Spending Less says specialty chocolate, organic products and yogurt are among the best Aldi deals.
Sheppard also noted that the store is a good option for pantry staples like pasta and rice, as well as fresh meat (especially beef) and cheese. She’s also a fan of Aldi’s organic, gluten-free and vegan items, which have “up until now been financially inaccessible to most families,” she noted.
But deals are spottier for non-food items
For household needs such as paper towels or diapers, consumers may be better off shopping elsewhere. “While Aldi offers impressively low prices on groceries and packaged foods, their non-food items are not always priced as competitively,” said Jon Lal, chief executive and founder of savings website BeFrugal. “Bulk paper towels, cleaning supplies and other home goods are likely to be a much better deal at a warehouse club like Costco
or through Amazon Prime Pantry
Shoppers should pay particular attention to the prices per unit when comparing Aldi with warehouse clubs like Sam’s Club or Costco. For instance, store-brand plastic wrap costs 0.4 cents at Costco, versus 0.7 cents per square foot at Aldi, according to recent data collected by savings blog Passionate Penny Pincher. Warehouse clubs also beat Aldi’s pricing on items such as laundry detergent (11 cents per ounce at Sam’s Club and Costco versus 13 cents per ounce at Aldi) and toilet paper (0.1 cents per sheet at Sam’s Club and Costco versus 0.2 cents per sheet at Aldi.)
Warehouse clubs are also competitive with Aldi when it comes to the prices of other goods, from organic kale to salted butter, thanks to buying in bulk, according to personal finance website Clark.com.
Aldi doesn’t do manufacturer’s coupons
The supermarket chain eschews coupons much like it does plastic bags — as part of its effort to keep prices down. “Our simple approach to grocery shopping means customers can leave their club cards and coupons at home,” Patton said.
Savvy bargain-hunters will be able to find better deals at larger grocery stores like Kroger or big-box stores like Walmart
, in large part because Aldi doesn’t accept manufacturer’s coupons. For items like cereal, Fobes said the sales price at another store may not beat Aldi — but adding extra savings in the form of a coupon can change the game. “You really need to know current store prices and watch them,” Fobes said.
Stores like Publix in many cases will run special deals during the holiday season on pantry staples such as spices and flour that beat Aldi’s prices, Fobes added. In these cases, consumers may benefit from stocking up on these essential, shelf-stable items.
On the upside, you can use the store’s circulars to plan ahead (and save money). A mobile app lets shoppers browse deals and Aldi devotees recommend checking out the store circulars, which appear online two weeks ahead of time, to plan meals. The most recent version includes a 16-ounce jar of crunchy peanut butter for $1.99.
You may not find your favorite brand names
More than 90% of the products sold in Aldi are store-brands, according to Patton. And even when brand names are available, Aldi’s prices aren’t always the cheapest, as personal finance expert Lauren Greutman found with Crest toothpaste.
As a result the selection at Aldi may not please everyone — particularly consumers who prefer specific brands because of their taste or quality. Fobes said she buys plastic sandwich bags in bulk from warehouse stores, largely because she can collect the box tops to earn money for her children’s school through the Box Tops for Education program.
But for consumers who prefer certain brands over others out of sheer preference, Aldi’s selection may not necessarily disappoint. Many of the store-brand items sold at Aldi are supplied by the same companies that produce national brands, Patton said.
The selection of specialty and frozen food items may be better elsewhere
While Aldi’s prices and selection are extremely competitive, in some areas it is beat out by its sibling chain, Trader Joe’s. For instance, a MarketWatch analysis found in 2015 Trader Joe’s has a wider (and in some cases, cheaper) array of fresh produce and frozen food options.
But Aldi has been growing its range of gluten-free and organic offerings, Patton said. Fresh produce is the company’s fastest-growing product category, but Aldi has also been expanding its line-up of gluten-free and organic items. Since Aldi launched its SimplyNature line of organic or non-genetically modified products in 2013, the offerings have expanded from 30 to 200 products.
Aldi isn’t made for one-stop shopping
In short, shopping at Aldi is more about savings than convenience. While the lack of selection can help consumers avoid overspending on unnecessary items, it also means that devotees of certain products will have no choice but to shop elsewhere for them. “When I go to Aldi, I always have to supplemental shop at my grocery store,” Fobes said.
Besides eating up time, shopping additional stores to get whatever Aldi doesn’t carry can also cost more in fuel, reducing the potential savings generated. “Some people spend so much time and fuel to chase those savings, that they are losing their savings,” Fobes added. “If I changed the way I cooked and said I’m going to make this work, I could get everything I needed at Aldi if I wanted to.”
Sheppard, the U.K. mom who wrote “The Aldi Lover’s Guide to Cooking,” said Aldi’s relatively limited product selection is liberating for shoppers. “It is hard at first, but after a short while you realize that the big stores with large product ranges and complex offers is exhausting,” she said. “Aldi keeps it simple. You can shop quicker and smarter, without the need of a calculator.”
(Sheppard’s Aldi-inspired cookbook — which wasn’t commissioned by the store or associated with it in any way, she said — has been retitled, “The Savvy Shopper’s Cookbook.” It’s currently available only in Europe, but will hit bookstores in the U.S. in September, she said.)