An ode to Aldi

Aldi exterior.jpg

Think of it as your ghetto Trader Joe's.

By Albany Jane

It's Supermarket Week on AOA -- a whole week of posts about shopping for food. Because we all have to eat.

Oh Aldi, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways...

Aldi is one of the Capitol Region's discount grocery chains. The store has locations throughout the globe, and has owners in common with Trader Joe's. There are some similarities between the two.

Think of Aldi as your ghetto Trader Joe's.

Aldi carries a fairly wide array of items, but like Trader Joe's, I wouldn't call it a place to stock up on essentials. More like a store to stock up on pantry extras and supplements.

I love it because there are some serious bargains to be had. Sure, some of their items are crap, but that's pretty much every store. And like Trader Joe's, sometimes they just stop carrying a certain kind of product.

To keep costs low, the store doesn't accept checks or credit cards, but does accept debit cards, EBT cards and, of course, cash. They also sell bags, so bring your own (or fork over $0.05 per bag). Also, if you want a cart, you'll have to deposit a quarter to free it from the chain of other carts. Don't worry -- you get it back when you return the cart. It might seem like a minor hassle, but I've also never had a problem with runaway carts in the parking lot at Aldi.

Aldi Cart.jpg

The store is set up a bit like a maze -- the entrance opens to an aisle that runs completely to the end of the store, making you pass some of the higher mark-up items and junk food, slowly turning into baking goods, condiments, and cereal. The rice cracker snacks are pretty solid.

Aldi long aisle

Aldi sells a lot of shelf-stable items like snack foods, baking goods, soda, juice, and canned items. You'd think that in a bargain shopping environment you'd run into items with a lot of preservatives and a long list of ingredients you can't pronounce. But I'm always pleasantly surprised to see that many of their juices are free of high fructose corn syrup, as are many of their snacks.

They also sell refrigerated dairy, meat, and a very limited fresh food section that has a few commonly purchased fruits and vegetables for our area (tomatoes, a few fruits, lettuce, potatoes). I'm pretty partial to their cheeses -- the sliced deli cheeses are solid for sandwich making, as are their solid bricks of cheese (which range from munster to havarti, pepper jack to cheddar). Their cottage cheese and ricotta are also mainstays in my fridge -- they aren't gummy or watery, and are comparable to brand name items in supermarkets, but cheaper.

Aldi Bacon.jpg

Aldi Meats.jpg

Aldi shelf 1.jpg

The freezer section sells some frozen beef and chicken, a few vegetables, a lot of instant meals and snacks, and desserts. I consider these items to be more like you'd find at Trader Joe's -- a few one-off snacks here or there to try on a whim that won't break your budget.

Aldi Freezer.jpg

Aldi has a few different private lines within their store. The "Fit & Active" line is used on low-fat and health food items (they've got 100-calorie-or-less snack packs for under $2). Grandessa is a line of Aldi's more upscale items, like marinated artichoke hearts, olive oils, and desserts. I've known folks who have brought over some Grandessa cream puffs to parties and have knocked the socks off of their hosts. Not too shabby for $4.99. Their thick cut bacon is also freaking awesome.

Here's what a recent shopping trip nabbed me for just over $20 (picture). Cheeses, juices, some canned goods, a few indulgences, and a pound of walnuts.

Aldi groceries 2.jpg

Overall, you're not going to be able to stock your pantry in one stop at Aldi, but you can help stretch your budget without sacrificing quality.

Aldi has four locations in the immediate Capital Region: Rensselaer, Schenectady, Clifton Park, and Ballston Spa.

Albany Jane writes about her food adventures at Albany Eats.

Earlier on AOA: In 2008, we ran a price comparison of discount items at Walmart, Price Chopper, Hannaford, and Aldi -- Aldi came out on top.

Supermarket Week:
+ Supermarket Showdown IV
+ Greulich's Market
+ Six things to check out at the Asian Supermarket
+ Shopping Target's new fresh-food offerings
+ On being an opportunistic shopper


Another great thing about Aldi is that they have a double guarantee. If you are not satisfied with a product, they will replace the product and give you your money. I haven't needed to do it yet (and don't anticipate that I will ever need to) but it gives that little bit of extra confidence to try some of the new things that normally I would pass by.

They can have some impressive bargains -- last year they were selling fresh apple cider for $2 a gallon less than any grocery store. But they can also be maddeningly inconsistent -- that great surprise you found last time isn't there at any price the next time.

For years, my inlaws in the finger lakes would rave about aldi and I just ignored them, probably because of my jealousy that they already had Wegmans -- "why would they ever shop somewhere else?!" But after a year or so of shopping at the Rensselaer Aldi, I have been pleasantly surprised with their food and very happy with their prices. The Multi-grain tortilla chips are a staple in our house, as is the hummus, cheerios, frozen pierogies and other frozen foods. I also bought the cream puffs for a NYE party this year and they were a big hit. I even found a great hanging fern for just $5 a few weeks ago and regret not buying more. You never know what you'll find, but odds are, you will be pleased.

I just took a trip there last night (Inspired by grocery week, a friend's recent visit, and others talking about it) recently). I generally go once or twice a year, mainly because I'm never too close to one. I need to make it a point to stop by more often.

It's definitely hit or miss and I'm nervous to try certain products (I'm sure they're fine and I need to get over it). I haven't sampled anything I got last night yet, but on previous trips I've loved their hummus and frozen pineapple!

Aldi's has been a monthly stop for us. The quality is just fine, and the prices are so low we walk out thinking we got away with something. And the best thing is you never feel like you're underdressed. Aldi's is truley the 'come as you are' grocery store.

I actually think that 95+% of all items sold at Aldi are private label products made solely for them, FWIW

"Think of Aldi as your ghetto Trader Joe's."

What a snotty statement.

I just wish their food was healthier. My grandmother is on a sodium restricted diet and we attempted to shop there very unsuccesfully. It's a shame that with all the farm land around us, we have become so used to processed foods that are such a health risk. The healthy, fresh food costs so much money, but we would be better off eating well because it prevents illness, complications, and health problems.
We would be better off holding out for Trader Joes, they have lots of fresh and dried food, and use minimal chemicals in their processing, while still keeping prices reasonable.

Love Aldi. I shop there on a weekly basis and have never been disappointed by the quality. They recently had bronze dye pasta for a song! They have great prices on their frozen bonless, skinless chicken thighs and breasts. Also a big fan of their sliced and block cheese. Their chipotle hummus is killer and I swear tastes excactly like Trader Joe's. This past Christmas, they even had dark chocolate dipped peppermint "oreo-type" cookies which were exactly like Trader Joe's dipped minto JoJos.

hey im an extreme couponer and i can tell you from my personald expexperience the discounted price i pay at places like price chopper and tops is much lower than aldi stores. if you dont like to look for coupons though aldi is probably your best bet. the double gaurentee is great though i will admit that.

You will not love Aldi the first time you visit. It's a different shopping experience and contains way too many items you won't be familiar with and brands you don't trust yet.

However, once you start going and getting more familiar with the selection, the quality, and experimenting with different items, you will LOVE it. The prices cannot be beat and the quality of *most* items are comparable if not better than national brands. Their cheese are fantastic, produce selection is good (although nothing organic), their chocolate is excellent, desserts, pastas, beans, hummus, all really good and high quality. I'm an Aldi believer!

I love Aldi's. I've been shopping there weekly for about 3 years now. I have a family of 5 and I save hundreds of dollars per month, thousands per year, by shopping there. (No I am not a couponer - I know I could save more by using coupons at other stores but I don't have the time for that).
I slowly started trying new products and while I have found items that I don't like, in general we are happy with the products. Items that are not favorites include the hot sauce, cream of wheat, hard taco shells, and goldfish crackers. I regularly buy their dairy (milk, half-n-half, orange juice, yogurt, sour cream, cream cheese, butter, shredded mozzarella and taco cheeses, block cheddar and other cheeses), produce (apples, bananas, carrots, bell peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes, potatoes, onions, garlic, avocados, salad mix, and more), snack foods (granola bars, breakfast bars, cookies, chips, applesauce), grains (cereal, pasta - elbow, penne, thin spaghetti), paper/plastic products (paper towels, tissues, napkins, toilet paper, paper plates, kitchen garbage bags, aluminum foil, plastic "zip lock" bags, plastic cutlery), bread (sliced bread, rolls), fresh meat (ground beef, chicken breasts, stew meat) and frozen foods (waffles, veggies, ice pops).
I get really annoyed when other people turn their noses up at Aldi's. I think it's the whole shopping experience - it feels "discount" and people aren't used to it - but their reaction is mostly a knee-jerk snobby reaction, and not based on real experience. Also, every store has its issues with occasional poor quality. Depending on timing, you may hit Aldi's when most of the produce is on its way out and there's not much there, but that has happened to me at other stores too.
Anyway, you can save a bundle of money if you're willing to give Aldi's a try. I feel good knowing that I regularly save money by going there, although I generally miss the sales at other stores because I don't shop there often enough to know about them.

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