No Frills just the Basics

There are a plethora of grocery chains in our world, each offering something slightly unique to their customers. One of these chains, ALDI, offers a whole different shopping approach, with the ultimate goal of providing truly the lowest prices.

ALDI started out in 1976, with one lonely store, but today, has over 1,000 stores in the United States alone. Over a dozen other countries share the ALDI experience now as well. But what makes this grocery store chain stand out over the rest? Prices.

When you first walk up to an ALDI store, you’ll notice it probably looks different than the rest of the grocery stores around. Most stores have a plain facade, a big orange and blue ALDI sign, and several rows of carts all chained together ouside the doors. There are no cart return corrals in the parking lot, and you won’t see store employees helping patrons carry their groceries to their cars and load them.

If you’d like a cart, you need a quarter. The carts are all chained together with a mechanism attached to the push handle of each cart. Insert a quarter and it releases the chain holding it to the next cart. When you’re done shopping, you then return the cart to the front of the store, push it into the next cart in the line, insert the chain, and out pops your quarter. This method eliminates the need to pay an employee to gather carts from the parking lots, which those savings are factored into the prices of ALDI’s goods.

ALDI stores aren’t very large in most cases. They provide a decent selection, but no vast. Probably the biggest difference between ALDI selections and other grocery store selections is brand. ALDI carries it’s own brand for roughly 80% of its goods. Nationally recognized brands like Kraft, Post, Dannon, and Campbell’s are rarely found in ALDI stores. The ALDI line of goods provides comparable quality products to those national brands, at a much lower cost to consumers.

ALDI stores are likely laid out differently from location to location, as is normal with any retail establishment. However, what is generally quite similar is the way items are found. While the store does have shelves for items, they’re not neatly lined up like in most other traditional grocery stores. Items are mostly left in their boxes (boxes are opened and any plastic is removed). Some instances you may find it necessary to dig through the boxes or even find a new box in the back in order to find a certain variety or flavor of an item.

Customers are able to purchase a supply of goods at ALDI stores to sufficiently fill their kitchens and pantrys. They sell numerous shelf-stable goods such as pasta, canned vegetables and fruits, baking supplies, breakfast goods, and condiments. They also sell perishable items such as dairy, fresh produce, breads, juices, and even fresh meat. Their frozen section contains the most common frozen foods such as seafood, single-serve dinners, meats, potatoes, vegetables, fruits, and desserts.

If you’re looking for a specialty item, you’re likely not to find it at ALDI. They do carry some unique foods or ingredients from time to time, and it’s important to really look at all the items in the store to see what all they carry. Specific items do seem to change over time as well.

If you’ve chosen to purchase some fresh produce, it’s wise to thoroughly inspect the item before deciding to purchase. While most produce is fairly fresh, it’s also not usually kept in a refrigerated cooler. It would not be surprising to find wilted lettuce, wrinkled peppers or even a moldy berry. However, produce prices at ALDI appear to be substantially lower than grocery stores’ prices, making fresh produce theoretically much more affordable.

Organic produce is rarely found at ALDI stores. That’s not saying it’s never there, but that level of quality doesn’t generally coinside with the low prices offered by this chain.

Many stores began offering fresh meats in the more recent years. Prior, meat was only available in ALDI’s frozen section, but fresh beef, chicken, or pork in various cuts and varieties are no offered. As for the quality of the meats, most of it appears to be fresh, but flavor, fat content, and texture is likely to vary as much as anywhere.

ALDI offers non-food goods as well, mostly appearing as their own brand. You generally won’t be able to purchase Charmin, Bounty, or Glad products, but you can still find paper products, food storage, bath products, and personal care items. Selection of these types of items is fairly limited, and most of these goods are very basic with no frills or thrills. If you desire items designed to be more pampering, you may choose to seek elsewhere for such items.

ALDI encourages you to bring your own bags for your purchased items. They do offer bags, but you must pay additionally for them. Paper bags are offered at an average of a dime a piece, while sturdier, reusable bags are also offered. Customers may also take any empty boxes they see within the store to package their goods up after purchasing.

The check-out lane found in ALDI stores is, by some individuals’ descriptions, odd and very un-customer focused. A cashier sits at the end of the belt scanning items and dropping them into the cart. One after another, they don’t really seem to put much care into the way the items end up in the cart from the belt, so it’s recommended to do a little planning as you place items on the belt. Heavy or large items are best placed first, with delicate items and produce last, as to avoid crushing or bruising. There have been some experiences had where cashiers take some care in the way they handle your items, but as a general rule, the cheap prices you are paying keep you from having the privilege of a superior customer service experience.

Customers are likely to notice that employees are few and far between in stores.  There is usually only one check-out lane open, though sometimes a second will open up of the lines become too  long.  When not checking-out customers, the employees are moving palates around and filling the aisles with products, thus, multitasking.  Waiting for a cashier or waiting in line is not uncommon.

Paying for goods means via cash or debit card, as many stores (perhaps even all) do not yet accept credit cards. Merchants must pay a fee in order to accept credit cards, so in ALDI not accepting them, you theoretically are gaining the benefit by again, paying lower prices for goods.

Once your goods are paid for and loaded back into your cart, you find a spot on the long table at the front of the store to bag and package your goods as you choose.

ALDI stores certainly offer customers something different. All of the usual and even basic luxuries are exempt from these stores, all in an effort to provide its customers with the lowest prices on foods and other household goods. While many individuals will find the lack of personal customer service almost offending, the savings found at ALDI stores may just make up for it in the long run.

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