Aldi interior
Credit: Photo by ologsinquito

What's So Special About Aldi?

It's a quirky little grocery store that doesn't take credit cards, doesn't bag your food and doesn't let you use a shopping cart unless you pay a quarter.

You slide your quarter in a plastic box to release a cart. Your quarter pops out of the box when the cart is returned.

Shopping at Aldi foods is a unique experience.

The inside of the store is unremarkable. It has a warehouse feel, with much of the food stacked in plastic crates and cardboard boxes. It contains fewer products than what you'd expect to find inside a grocery store. Carrying only one or two brands per item is just one of the stringent cost-cutting measures Aldi employs.

Aldi was founded in Germany, where it's been a sensation. The chain is so popular in Europe that it has its own fan club and recipe book of dishes made solely from Aldi products.

Now, Aldi has expanded into the United States, where it's slowly gaining ground, although you won't find one in every community. At least not yet. The chain is rapidly expanding in various parts of the country, including Texas, California and Florida.

Organic Food for Those on a Budget

The Aldi in my area recently started selling organic food at discounted prices. So it's well worth a visit if for those of us who like to buy organic food, but still like to have enough money left over to pay other bills. This is a fairly new store, so it never seems very busy. I'm confident, though, that once word gets out about its organic offerings business will increase.

My first trip to Aldi left me underwhelmed, though. Perhaps I was expecting it to be more like Trader Joes, since they're both owned by the same company. But they're really only similar in size and in the relatively limited selections. Both are much smaller than the average grocery store. And both chains, at least going by the stores I've visited, offer a narrow selection of fresh meat.

Items come with a double price back guarantee
Credit: Photo by ologsinquito

Buying Food Warily

When I returned to Aldi for more dog food, a district manager happened to be in the store. I asked him about organic food, and he said plans were already laid to do so. He said the chain would soon be testing a limited offering of organic produce.

The dog food ran out, once again, so I trekked to Aldi. This time,the little produce section in back of the store had some organic selections. Little containers of organic cherry tomatoes, which sell for $2.99 at the supermarket, were only $2.49. A three-pound bag of organic apples was only $3.69, priced just a little higher than conventionally grown apples elsewhere. (A week later, though, this same apples were $3.99, but still a good deal.)

A bag of three organic Romaine hearts was only $2.49 and this was a steal. I usually spend $3.99 for the same amount of lettuce. (Unfortunately, though, the chain no longer stocks this item.) The price of organic bananas was similar to what you'd pay at the supermarket.

I felt like I had hit the jackpot when I spotted a section of "special purchase" items. Bottles of organic apple juice were only $2.49, instead of $2.99 at a high-end grocery store in the same community. Another "special purchase" was28-ounce cans of organic diced tomatoes for $1.49. I also found organic cereal for $1.99 a box.

My family likes convenience food, such as cereal and snack items. I try very hard to make sure these items do not contain genetically modified ingredients, now linked to serious health problems.

I'm Now a Regular Aldi Shopper

Even at Aldi, though, you have to watch the prices. I thought I got a good deal on a bag of organic potatoes for just $3.29, until I got them home and realized it was only a three-pound bag.

Now I can honestly say I like Aldi and I plan to shop there regularly. There is very good food to be found there, despite the predominance of processed snacks and chemically rich ready-mix type meals. Even for people who aren't buying organic food, the Aldi brand snack foods seem a bit healthier than grocery store counterparts. For instance, the Clancy's potato chips sold by Aldi contain sea salt instead of table salt. Sea salt is also found in Aldi's Fit & Active line, although this line is not organic or even all-natural, nor does it claim to be.

The weekly Aldi flyer
Credit: Photo by ologsinquito

North Americans Discovering Aldi

Although, unlike Western Europe, where Aldi is a household name, many people in the United States still haven't heard of Aldi and have never shopped there. This is starting to change though. While no formal fan club seems to be operating in North America, the chain has gained quite a following among money-saving mom bloggers, who recommend it to their readers.

Because Aldi now has enough organic food to make shopping there worthwhile, I now visit about once a week. If they had more items, I'd do most of my shopping there. Now, it's easy to understand why this chain has such a big following in Europe.