All About Aldi Stores
New shoppers are finding their way to Aldi everyday. You may be among the Aldi-curious thinking, what is the deal with Aldi? What do they have? If the stuff any good? Is it really cheaper? In this Aldi store primer, our goal is to clear up any confusion and get you in the door to start saving money.
So, what does Aldi sell?
At Aldi grocery stores, you’ll find pretty much any item that can be bought at a regular supermarket. But, there won’t be 10 or 12 brands from which to choose.
There will be one brand; two, max. Aldi mostly sells its own exclusive brands. Compare to the Walmart “Equate” and Target “Archer Farms” brands.
Say, for example, you’re looking for macaroni. You know how, in a typical supermarket, you can choose from Barilla, Mueller’s or Ronzoni? At Aldi, you get Reggano. That’s it. Works just fine.
Same with cheese. They’ll have cheddar, mozzarella, Colby, pepper jack and Swiss. Even Havarti, feta and goat cheese. It just won’t be Kraft or Land of Lakes.
Hot sauce, vanilla extract, ice cream, green beans – ditto. One brand. But, really, how many choices do you actually need?
Lest you begin to think of Aldi Supermarket as just one giant depository of generic goods, it’s not. The private label goods are top quality and feature appealing packaging and attractive pricing.
For example, there’s the Fit & Active line products: yogurt, salad dressings, egg whites and more. And liveGfree, a gluten free line of cookies, bake mixes, crackers, stuffed sandwiches – and more.
What’s in the Aisles?
At Aldi, there will not be anyone manning a meat, fish, deli or bakery counter. There’s no check cashing or lottery ticket machine, no newspapers or florist. Everything they sell is packaged and ready to go.
But Aldi is not just a grocery store.
Believe it or not, at Aldi you can buy apparel, small appliances, patio furniture, or a generator (yep, a generator). Have you ever come across a generator or, for that matter, hunting gear or a chainsaw – at your local supermarket? Not me. But you’ll find this stuff at Aldi. Ain’t it great?
These are the special buys, available at certain times of the year. Labeled seasonal, specials, special buys or special offers, every week turns up at least a few surprising discoveries.
Generally, special buys follow a theme. For example, children’s toys may be available at Christmas, Halloween and Easter. Possible gift items like watches appear at Christmas time. Special foods products follow the same theme, like Easter candy or German foods during Oktoberfest. Seasonal buys – well, follow the seasons, i.e., charcoal, grills and gardening tools during spring and summer.
The thing to know about specials is that, basically, when they’re gone, they’re gone. Get it while it’s hot.
Essentially, Aldi is a different store each week. The stores are fairly small in size, and the stuff is not exactly spread out, so carefully peruse each aisle. You might find some amazing buys.
Aldi weekly circulars should come in your mail. If not, sign up at their website for email notices or pick up a circular at the store, usually one week in advance.
And each Wednesday, you can view the circular for the week – AND find out what special are available for the following week – at Aldi.com.
A Quick Aldi History
Aldi has a pretty interesting history. The name Aldi is an acronym for Albrecht Discount, Albrecht being the last name of the founding brothers.
It all began when brothers Karl and Theo Albrecht started working in their mother’s small store in Essen, Germany. They eventually came to run the shop on their own.
That store has grown to more than 9,500 stores worldwide today.
The brothers split up the stores in the 1960’s over a dispute. Karl took the northern Germany territory and most of northern Europe (Aldi Nord), while Theo wound up with southern Germany, the U.S. and most of the remaining parts of Europe (Aldi Süd).
The brothers lives were always something of a mystery. Both billionaires, among the richest men in the world, they frequently appeared on the Forbes lists.
Both essentially retired from their day-to-day duties in 1993 and gave away a substantial amount of their riches to charity.
In 1971, Theo survived a kidnapping. Read about it here.
Aldi Nord and Aldi Süd continued to operate as one company. In 1978, Theo’s company (and now his family trust) purchased Trader Joe’s. Yep, Trader Joe’s is essentially owned by Aldi.
How to Shop at Aldi Stores
Remember, Aldi food stores is a place for big discounts. No frills = maximum savings. But that doesn’t mean you’ll be shopping in some dimly lit, cramped and dirty warehouse. Aldi food stores are clean, bright and efficiently outfitted.
There’s usually a manager, one or two cashiers and maybe a security guard. That’s it. Everybody but the guard stocks the shelves and keeps the place clean. You will usually be able to find someone on the floor to assist you if necessary. Employees will usually be sporting dark blue pants and an Aldi polo shirt.
Shopping Carts – About that Quarter
For some reason, people really get up in arms about “paying” a quarter to use a shopping cart. It’s actually more like a rental deposit. But since you get the quarter back, it’s free rent.
Aldi shopping carts are housed under a shelter attached to the store. They are corralled together by the chain device in which you place your quarter. It then releases the chain so that it is no longer bound to the cart in front of it.
When you return your cart, just push the chain in the slot and the quarter is released. You always get your quarter back.
Because of this system, Aldi carts don’t mysteriously disappear. The carts are not as affected by the weather as carts that are left in parking lots, so they don’t need to be replaced as often. It’s all about keeping costs low.
If you don’t have a “case” quarter, you can usually find someone in the process of returning their cart who will take your nickels and dimes (pennies might be pushing it) in exchange.
I always keep a few “Aldi” quarters in a small compartment in my car, but when I’m just picking up a few items, I bring my reusable Aldi shopping bag or other bag, unload at the counter, then reload.
The items are shelved in their shipping boxes. I simply load my items in my Aldi Another alternative is to find a “half-box” and load that.
Employees will NOT bag your groceries. This is strictly DYI (do-it-yourself) and BYOB (bring your own bag (or box)). They sell bags at the register (6¢ for paper, 10¢ for plastic, 79¢ for insulated), or you can buy their reusable, recyclable shopping bag for $1.99.
Another alternative to bags is the “partial-boxes” or “half-boxes” you’ll see lying around. Aldi food stores places their goods on pallets with opened boxes stacked on top of each other. If you see a partial box that is almost empty, you can take those items out, place them on top of the stack and then use the partial box.
But please only do this when a box is near-empty. I usually do this if I don’t have a cart and get tempted by goodies I wasn’t planning to buy!
The lines move pretty fast, in part because they don’t have to bag items. They’ll have an empty shopping cart at the end of each register. The cashier scans your goodies and put them in the cart.
When you’re done paying, simply roll the cart to the self-service bagging area or to your car. The empty cart at the register is replaced with your original, and the process continues.
No need to freak out if you see 6 or 7 people in a line and there’s only one register open. The lines really do move quickly. As mentioned, they’re not bagging your stuff. Also, Aldi doesn’t accept checks, so there’s no holdup there. I’d always wondered how they could scan so fast and accurately. I found out that Aldi has a super speedy checkout system.
If the lines are REALLY long, the cashier will buzz for help and they will open another line. Very rarely have I seen more than two lines open at the same time. In fact, I believe most stores only have three registers total.
Ways to Pay
In March of 2016, Aldi FINALLY began accepting credit cards (Visa, MasterCard, Discover, American Express). In addition, most Aldi locations accept EBT (food stamps) cards and debit cards, Aldi gift certificates and, of course, cash. NO checks or WIC, though.
Gift certificates come in only one denomination – $25. It is a paper certificate, NOT a card. And the entire amount must be used in one visit. A gift CARD program is being piloted in California stores, so keep an eye out for a possible roll out.
With any purchase amount, pay with a debit card and get up to $200 cash back. Now you don’t have to stop at the ATM!