It’s not rocket science. It’s just ALDI

Someday I’m going to shop at ALDI, I’d tell myself while driving past the store, pondering all its mysteries and wondering what ALDI shoppers knew that I didn’t. Was there a secret handshake? A code word to enter? Is it really cheaper in there? And what the heck is up with the cart/quarter thing? 

I’m not a risk taker by nature so I remained in my Target’s Market Pantry, plastic bag, Circle offer comfort zone hoping one day I could muster the courage to venture beyond the red to the blue and orange.  And then, one day, I decided to go for it. Armed with a quarter and fearless frugality I charged up to an ALDI and conquered those carts! Victory seized from the jaws of defeat! Well, I saw some people do it before me so I just did what they did. It’s not that hard. 

Now, after several months of shopping at ALDI, I am prepared to impart what I’ve learned to those hesitant about diving in to this strange world of discount grocery shopping. It should be noted, ALDI is on track to be third only to Wal-Mart and Kroger in locations by 2022 so they must be doing something right. 

Here’s what you need to know:

1.   Bring a quarter for a cart. The carts are chained together by a lock system. Insert your coin into the slot and the chain will pop out. When you’re finished with the cart, return it to the same area, insert the chain, remove the quarter. Not complicated. IMPORTANT: If you circumvent the lock system by asking someone for their cart as they are returning it, you better have a quarter at the ready for the trade. Don’t mess with ALDI shoppers and their quarters. 

2. Bring your own bags. If you forget, you’ll have to swipe boxes out of the stocker’s carts (allowed but boxes consume valuable cart space.) There is a bagging counter by the cash registers. DO NOT ALLOW YOUR KIDS TO SIT ON THE COUNTER! Or a checker will scream at you. Make the job fun by challenging your family to a bagging efficiency contest. Think Tetris meets Tater Tots. 

3. The checkers are all about moving you the heck out of their lane as quickly as possible. This is why many products have extra-long bar codes printed on the packaging. They’re so the clerks can scan your items faster than the speed of light and fling them into the cart while sitting in office chairs. Not to worry, your delicate eggs and bread will be carefully placed in the child seat area. IMPORTANT: Have your original empty cart parked next to the cart the checker is filling. Once you’ve completed your purchase, move your filled cart to the bagging area. The checker will drag your original empty cart over for the next customer. Get how it works? Don’t get chatty with the checker. They won’t ask if you found everything all right. They don’t care, it’s too late, and there’s no time for that. Paying by card? Insert it as soon as possible. It saves precious seconds for the checker and they might reward you with eye contact.

4.   ALDI predominately sells its own brands, ones you’ve never heard of before. This is part of how it keeps prices low. So if branching out beyond the likes of Kraft, Del Monte and Kellogg’s frightens you, turn around now and head back to your regular store. It’s true, my family was initially skeptical of the big switch and they’re used to store brands. The running joke was, we weren’t eating Hot Pockets but Pot Hockets, cortilla thips or tround gurkey. Close to the real thing but qot nuite. However, after a while, we discovered most ALDI brands are pretty darn good with a few exceptions. So, for your shopping convenience, I’ve compiled a list of my personal favorite ALDI brand hits and misses.

Baker’s Corner chocolate chips. HIT. The variety available – semi-sweet, dark, white, milk, Belgian – is impressive by any store standards. Someone at ALDI HQ appreciates the chocolate chip. And I appreciate that.

Savoritz Cheese Baked Crackers. MISS. ALDI’s version of Cheez-Its. I still haven’t heard the end of this from my oldest daughter, “They taste like flavorless Saltines!” Apparently I crossed the brand name line on this one. Thank goodness ALDI sells Cheez-Its so I can continually try to redeem myself! Yeah, right whatever. 

Winking Owl wine. HIT. At $2.95 a bottle (with a cork!), expectations are so low it can’t miss. With wine this cheap, I decided to branch out to varietals beyond my go-to chardonnay – a wine education on the cheap, if you will. I’m so totally into the moscato right now. Fruit flavor and fizz – see? I already sound like a sommelier. Looking forward to pairing Winking Owl’s pinot noir with a box of Cheez-Its.

Little Salad Bar Layered Dip. HIT. Guacamole, salsa, cheese, and refried beans. Any questions? Yeah, can I have a spoon?

Clancy’s restaurant style tortilla chips and wavy potato chips. HIT. Salty, crunchy and .95 cents for the family size bag. Get the bean dip, STAT!

Clancy’s Microwave Popcorn. MISS. No, no, no, no, no! Since the most sublime microwave popcorn ever created, Smart Balance Movie Style, is no longer produced, I gave this a shot. Two words: packing material. Did I mention my strongly worded emails to Smart Balance remain unanswered? Eating this popcorn makes me want to send more. Stick to chips, Clancy’s.

Stonemill spices. HIT. A two-ounce container of cumin, onion powder, or oregano for .95 cents? It feels like I’m looting.

Millville Frosted Shredded Bite Size Wheat. HIT. All the flavor and fiber of Kellogg’s Frosted Mini Wheats for so much less. Everyone in the family loves it, including the dog. We’re not fancy cereal eaters, we’re all just really regular folks.

Mama Cozzi’s frozen/take & bake pizzas. Mostly HIT. Cheeseburger, supreme, four cheese, bravo ALDI! However, I’m calling you out on the Cuban Brand Pizza. The picture looked scrumptious, piled high with banana peppers, bacon and cheese. I couldn’t wait to try it despite “MADE IN GERMANY” written on the box. Was it a warning? Yes. Who makes Cuban pizza in Germany? Now calling it puban cizza and never buying it again.

Fresh Atlantic salmon. HIT. Huge fillet for $18. Create fine dining magic from your broiler and maybe you could beat Bobby Flay.

Bake House Creations Cinnamon Rolls. HIT. I enjoy these sweet gooey rolls of bliss on the regular. Pillsbury Dough Boy who?

Fit&Active sugar free drink mix peach tea and fruit punch flavors. HIT. The peach tea has everyone at my house speaking like southern belles. I prefer the fruit punch. Tastes just like good ‘ol Kool-Aid. Oh yeah!

Fit&Active sugar free drink mix lemon tea flavor. MISS. There’s a reason so many remain on the store shelf. What the heck ALDI – no grape flavor? Don’t make me go to Hy-Vee! 

Bremer Hot Stuffed Sandwiches. MISS. My youngest considers herself a connoisseur of the Hot Pocket and she gave these a decisive thumbs down. However, my husband tried one and believes the insides rival the real thing, but the crust is lacking. The debate continues if she microwaved them incorrectly. Unwilling to give them another chance, I’ve decided my daughter watches too much Food Network. No one her age should be familiar with the terms, crème fraiche and gastrique. 

Barissimo Iced Coffee. HIT. My Starbucks adoring 19-year-old and total coffee snob loves these. Can they call it “iced” when it has no ice in it? “Ice-able” feels more accurate. Either way, whichever kid comes to ALDI with me gets one as a special treat. $1.19 = cheap child labor. 

The “ALDI Finds” aisle. WEIRD. An aisle dedicated to random products that seem out of place at a grocery store. Let’s see, I need milk, eggs, a two pack of ShamWows, men’s orthotic sneakers, and “Pain Cakes – the cold pack that sticks!” Here’s hoping the $14.99 Intex Explorer 200 inflatable boat with oars comes back. Regret not buying that one. 

So there you have it. You are now armed with all the information you need to give ALDI a try. Good luck, don’t be afraid and don’t forget your quarter! 

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