It’s Aldi good

Aldi offers bargain groceries in a clean, efficient environment.
Aldi offers bargain groceries in a clean, efficient environment.

Aldi, the German-owned discount supermarket chain, began popping up around town a couple of years ago. They now have over 1,000 stores in 29 states, from Kansas to points east. It’s only during these new penny-pinching times that I’ve finally ventured inside. After all, Aldi promises shoppers will save 50-90% off regular supermarkets. I was out running errands this morning, needing a couple of items anyway, and decided to pop into a new Aldi outlet to see what it’s all about.

Since I just needed a few things, I bypassed the line of shopping carts, for which you must deposit 25 cents to use (it’s refunded at checkout).

I should have popped for the cart.

My first impression was that the store was clean, well lit, and well organized. It felt spacious without being overly large (it was about the size of a Trader Joe’s, but with a smaller selection and therefore wider aisles). It’s all about off-brand items (Aldi’s house brands, it turns out). I’d never heard of Clancy’s corn chips, but they were available in many varieties, including multigrain and organic blue corn ($1.69 per 9-ounce bag). I couldn’t pass up the Rodeo Bill Peppercorn Ranch Kettle-Style Potato Chips ($1.99 for 9 ounces)–heck, because they were called Rodeo Bill. And they’re damn tasty. I picked up a box of 50 quart-size Kwik ‘n’ Fresh zip-top bags ($1.99), and they’re a much better quality than other bargain versions I’ve found.

My haul from Aldi.

My haul from Aldi.

A few name-brand items are sprinkled about the store–there were Reese’s mini cups and M&M’s amid the candy (alongside Aldi’s Austrian-made Choceur chocolates), but for the most part you’ll find store brands, including their Fit ‘n’ Active lower-cal items and La Mas Rica Mexican staples. You can also find dairy products; eggs; fresh meat, poultry (hormone-free boneless chicken breast, anyone?), and pork; canned and frozen goods; and household items. There’s a small section of decent-looking produce, too. You won’t find exotic stuff, but the basics are there. I’ll say the lettuce was looking better than the tired, overpriced, head of Romaine I bought at a gourmet store yesterday.

There’s even a selection of wine, beer, and a few specialty drinks. If you don’t mind buying O’Donnell’s Irish Cream instead of Bailey’s or Monterrey beer instead of Corona (and I don’t), you’re in business.

In other words, you’d find pretty much everything on an average shopping list, but with a smaller, more mainstream selection. Bakers, for example, will find semisweet chocolate chips, but not dark chocolate. But that also helps Aldi keep it cheap and cheerful.

The central part of the store is taken up with oddball weekly special buys–gift sets of body butter, say, or binoculars, or electric stove heaters.

The checkout line is where they really streamline things to minimize staffing. Shoppers are welcome to bring their own bags, or you can purchase one (6 cents for paper, 10 cents for a roomy plastic bag, or $1.99 for a really sturdy fabric version). You bag your own groceries (which you can take to a roomy counter to bag them up after paying). And Aldi only accepts cash or debit cards.