Like a lot of Americans, I don’t live near a Trader Joe’s. The closest is over two hours away. And while my love of TJ’s has not diminished, I don’t feel a hole in my life, because I have ALDI. I’ve learned to shop there to its fullest advantages.
A decade ago, when we moved to the small Ohio town where I grew up, I knew my shopping habits would change out of necessity. Having spent years living in various metropolitan areas with Trader Joe’s locations in arm’s reach, I was resigned to my grocery runs in particular becoming dismal. Thankfully, they’re not. They’re just different. I gave up Trader Joe’s inspired seasoning blends and gained a host of new ALDI-specific go-tos.
6 Reasons Why ALDI Is Awesome
An ALDI newbie who's a TJ's loyalist will be delighted by ALDI's abundance of affordable house brands, rotating slate of seasoning products (sadly you can't get my favorite dense European pumpernickel bread 12 months of the year), amazing cheese department, and friendly staff. All the time you hear people describe ALDI in terms of its similarities to Trader Joe’s. While useful, it can also be misleading, because ALDI is not simply a bare-bones Trader Joe’s. Here's where the glory of ALDI emerges:
1. ALDI does not bag your groceries, and it passes the savings on to you.
The people ringing you up at the checkout drop your items right into an empty cart, which I actually love, because I can sort everything out just the way I like. Regular ALDI shoppers know you have to pay a minimal upcharge for bags at ALDI.
Grab the empty cardboard cases often provided and load your goods into those once you get to your car.
2. While ALDI isn’t no-frills, it’s not frilly.
You won’t enjoy free samples or stickers for your kids at ALDI. The cheerful small-scale zaniness that Trader Joe’s has so skillfully scaled up (specials on chalkboards, goofy product names, Victorian clip art) is not to be found at ALDI. However, ALDI is clean, brightly yet not harshly lit, and easy to navigate. It has enough atmosphere that it’s not generic, but not so much personality that you feel like you’re paying for it.
3. ALDI has a big selection of cleaning products and disposable food storage.
The toilet paper, paper towels, zip-top bags, and dishwashing liquid at ALDI are the best prices I can find anywhere, and my wallet is happy.
4. ALDI has weekly ALDI Finds.
Limited special deals are advertised in their weekly circular as ALDI Finds, like surprisingly good olive oil or the Vanilla Honey Nut Cheerios my daughter begs for. Sometimes these are loss leaders (retail jargon for items a store loses money on in order to draw you in and get you spending), but if you resolve to stay calm and not get carried away, you’re the one who makes out. My newly retired father, who never cared one whit about frugal food shopping, has taken to scouring the weekly flyer for ALDI finds and sneaking off to stock up on jars of specialty mustard to go with his braunschweiger (ALDI braunschweiger is the best).
5. ALDI sells household goods.
ALDI boasts a few aisles of ever-changing offerings of home decor, apparel, cookware and dishware, and toys. These are a big draw for curious customers, and scanning them for random delights is a shopping highlight. Past finds I’ve scored: a surprisingly dependable $40 high-speed blender, a queen memory foam mattress, and most recently a Calico Critters Christmas playset. Every winter I’ve picked up Valentine’s Day cards for my daughter’s school party and every summer I get potted hydrangeas to plant in the yard.
6. Parking lots at ALDI are low stress.
ALDI stores are often strategically located in slightly out-of-the-way shopping plazas; they know the savings will draw customers wherever they are. Thus, the parking lots are not the cramped every-car-for-itself nightmare.
How Are ALDI and Trader Joe’s Alike?
Both can offer significant savings, particularly on house brand packaged snacks, dairy, frozen foods, and canned goods. (ALDI does sometimes carry national brands, but not on the regular. Probably ninety percent of their offerings are house brands.) Both carry plenty of affordable, slightly-above-average specialty cheeses. Both often have friendly staff. I like nice people. Everyone at Trader Joe’s is always so nice! But the constant flow of customers and staff turnover means I didn’t recognize them, and they didn’t recognize me. The clerks and manager at my ALDI all say it’s good to see me again when I come in. It brightens my day.
And, alas, in my opinion both have terrible beer.
What Keeps Me Coming Back to ALDI
When I shopped at Trader Joe’s, I largely saw mirrors of myself: upper middle-class shoppers with eclectic tastes. It’s my comfort zone, and there’s something to be said for that.
At my local ALDI, I see all types of people, which I appreciate. You could say this illustrates the growing urban/rural divide we all hear so much about these days (the population where I live hovers above 10,000), but I like to think it’s proof that we’re all just humans with the same needs. Though the hauls in our carts might not look the same, the people in the checkout line with me at ALDI are there because we know we can count on the store filling our pantries without blowing our budgets. All while furnishing the occasional unexpected frivolous items that fill the hankering for a tiny splurge.
Trader Joe’s will always hold a special place in my heart (Pound Plus chocolate, I miss you). But even if we did have one near, I don’t imagine myself dropping by. I’m an ALDI girl now.