This past weekend, we went to a Christmas tree farm out in the country to get our holiday photo taken. As we were leaving town, we drove past an Aldi grocery store. It sparked the interest of Sidney and I. We had a lively discussion about what we knew about the chain as we looked it up on Wikipedia. When we concluded with our photos, the reality set in that we still needed to do our Sunday shopping. It seemed like a good week to take a break from Walmart.
“You want to try out, Aldi?” I asked.
“Sure,” replied Sidney.
If you have never heard of it before, Aldi is a German-based supermarket chain. In recent years, hundreds of stores have popped up on American soil. Even in the United States, all Aldi locations employ a very European grocery store model. A world traveler herself, Sid knew what to expect upon going in. Myself, on the other hand, who has never ventured to a European country before, didn’t know much about what I would encounter aside from the research I did in the car.
First, let me just list the big differences that are very well-documented about Aldi (and many other European grocery stores). Yes, it is true – you put down a deposit to use a shopping cart. Upon entering the store, you slide a quarter into a cart that is “chained up” outside. Once the coin is inserted, you are able to free the cart and wheel it into the store.
It might come as a shock to some, but you pay for your own grocery bags. Upon checkout, you choose how many you want. The price, 10 cents per bag, is added to your shopping total. The bags you purchase are of a higher quality than the typical plastic sack you get for free at a normal grocery store. Wait, you think an employee will actually pack your groceries in the nice bags you just bought? Please. The cashier, who sits down at the register, is only there to ring you up. Once you have paid, you go straight ahead to an area with a long shelf to bag your own groceries. On the way out you return your car and receive your quarter back.
Alright, so now you are up to speed on entering and exiting an Aldi. Let me now tell you about what you are really interested in: the actual shopping experience.
My first thought when entering the Myrtle Beach Aldi? This place is small! It reminded me more of a large deli than a grocery store. But the store is small for a reason. Aldi locations are supplied with the company’s generic brands and typically only one premium brand. Contrast this with the overwhelming options you have for everything from hot sauce to bread to ice cream at an average U.S. supermarket and you can see how Aldi can get away with small stores.
I also noticed the basic, no frills set up of the Aldi location we visited. Forget about elaborate displays and sensory overload – at Aldi you have aisles, shelves, and product. You can forget about bakeries, specialty delis, large produce sections, or walk-in beer coolers. Think of it as distraction free shopping.
Along the same lines of the distraction free atmosphere, you won’t lose your focus people watching. When we were doing our shopping, we weren’t fighting crowds. Even with a stroller, we had no issue maneuvering through the aisles, something that caught me by surprise since it was a Sunday afternoon. But then it made sense…Aldi prides itself on efficiency. Because customers only have a couple options to choose from and because time is saved with the store’s no bagging policy, people come and go at a quick rate. Beware, customers aren’t the only individuals in short supply – if my eyes served me correctly, I only saw a single employee in the store and she was the lone cashier on duty.
The last thing I will touch on are the prices. Aldi is classified as a discount grocer and I would wholeheartedly agree. I found the Aldi generic products to be very similar to Walmart generic products. However, some of the name brand offerings seemed marked up in comparison to what you would pay elsewhere. Take soda for example. Aldi only offers Coke products to compete with its own soda. I found a 12-pack of Diet Coke to be almost $5 compared to the $2.99 price that is common at Walmart. However, despite the top dollar prices for top dollar brands, you can still save a lot of money at Aldi. Although I think Walmart is probably cheaper, the efficient shopping experience at Aldi might be worth the few extra dollars you might find yourself paying compared to the zoo you would find at Wally’s World.
Our shopping experience at Aldi was unique! It definitely is not your Albertsons, Food Lion, Kroger, or Safeway. If you want low prices and convenience with an international flavor mixed in, give Aldi a try. Don’t Blink.