Is ALDI a great place to save grocery $’s or do you get what you pay for?

A friend of mine challenged herself to see how much she could buy with $100 at Aldi, a Germany-based grocery chain that has opened stores locally here in NoVA. They’re known for being bare-bones, no frills, yet lately have gotten a lot of press for adding a wide variety of Organic items to their shelves. You know that caught my attention.

My first exposure to Aldi was in when visiting family in Western PA. I needed to grab a few ingredients for a dish I was making and it was the closest store. A few things about Aldi that would have been helpful to know – a shopping cart requires a 25 cent refundable deposit.  Nope, didn’t have a quarter.  Guess I’m only buying what I can carry.  You have to bring your own bags – nope didn’t do that either so I had to carry out what I’d bought.  But I did find most of what I needed and thankfully it wasn’t more than I could carry.

Aldi’s been in NoVA for over a year and I have yet to step foot through the sliding doors.  My in laws and friends shop there regularly and have found that even the Aldi store brands of certain items are comparable to their favorite national brands.

Here’s my take:

Appearance: Clean, well lit and VERY simple, utilitarian lay out. If you’re used to the HUGE grocery mecca’s we have here in NoVA (Wegmans, Whole Foods) this is a very different experience.

Variety/Selection: They did have a decent variety of standard produce staples. For organics they had about 10 different fruits and vegetables to choose from and the quality was good. Strange – no lemons or limes? In the refrigerated meat section they had fresh organic chicken and beef. The freezer section is rather large with a wide variety of frozen seafood and a HUGE variety of frozen meals and snack items. Packaged foods like snack foods, cereals, canned foods and soups had store and a few national brands, store brand organics too! I was impressed with their selection of trail, nut and dried fruit mixes. Not organic, but most were void of my “absolutely not” ingredients like high fructose corn syrup, all forms of MSG and partially hydrogenated oils. In the dairy section they had a handful of varieties of yogurt, which, if you remember, was customary 10 years ago.  These days grocery stores have 1 or even 2 yogurt sections. They also carried varieties of organic milk, organic soy milk and non-organic almond milk. They had a bunch of shredded cheese pouches…but most said “cheese product”….umm, what is that?

Aldi also carries an assortment of household items, office and organizational supplies and clothing, as well as some authentic German packaged foods.

Price: LOW.  Very low.  Lower than other chains sale prices for most items. But…here’s the $1,000,000 question…is it a steal of a deal, or do you get what you pay for?

In the spirit of sharing information, here is my receipt:

2017-03-31 10.53.35

You can see the prices, but what about the quality?

The GOOD:  Organic pears, Organic Chicken Noodle Soup, Organic Granola Bars, Organic “Whole Bird” chicken, Bananas-duh, Sweet Potato Chips, Popcorn, Grape tomatoes, Organic mini peppers, Cashews and almonds.

The OK: Almond Milk too sweet, Organic Fruit Granola (cereal) – maybe 5 raisins in the whole box, Hummus flavor was a little off , Trail mix was mostly dried fruit and few nuts.

The BAD – and I mean awful!: Salmon was labeled as wild pacific and the filets were individually frozen, which is how we usually buy it. But these filets were sort of tan in color, not barely pink and mushy. Flavor was really mild, no taste. The asparagus I bought because the spears were super thin, which usually means very tender – but they were more like twigs – awful and woody even after trimming and roasting.

The verdict? Meh. I’ll go in for certain things if I’m in a hurry and it’s on the way.  I won’t make a special trip. The “BAD” above really burned me. I buy mostly fresh foods and fewer packaged or frozen items. The packaged items seem to be the real $$ saving items at Aldi. I’ll stick to my reliable stores and sale shopping rotation to get the best food for my family at the best prices. I am a bit of a foodie…and a penny pincher – so I have developed a shopping routine that works, and Aldi won’t be a regular stop.

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