Sunday, December 28, 2008

Now That's ALDI Smart!

At first glance, Aldi customers are a strange and varied bunch. They bring their own bags, wagons, or suitcases into the store, they unload crates of food then stock the shelves and reuse the boxes, they bag their own groceries, and they never leave their carts in the middle of the parking lot. While the extra effort on the customer's part is largely to avoid paying five- to ten-cents per bag and to retrieve the 25-cent deposit required to use a cart, and the minimal services on the store's part save money, space, and labor, this economic business endeavor has become-- albeit inadvertently-- an environmental one as well.

Aldi is short for Albrecht Discount, named after owners and brothers Karl and Theo Albrecht. Based in Germany, Aldi is one of the largest grocers in the world. This discount chain now ranks among the top twenty five groceries in the United States, with Chicago being its largest American market. Aldi does not accept checks or credit cards, only cash, debit, or food stamps, as the former payment methods cost too much to process. Because the shopping experience is such a do-it-yourself endeavor, Aldi saves a great deal on labor and passes these savings on to the customers. Other, larger grocers employ baggers, stockers, and cart corralers, and conversely pass these added expense on to their customers.

With an inexpensive, yet varied (and tasty!) store brand, Aldi rarely stocks name brands or products other than their own. That said, they do sometimes carry brand-name products on special, such as Goose Island root beer or Ritz crackers. Finding such gems at exceptionally low prices is always a treat! While the Jewels and the Dominicks carry 35 times as many products, most of these are different brands of identical products, and this requires nearly four times the square footage and shelf space as the typical Aldi store.

Most of the stores I've been into are clean and unpretentious. This no-frills operation was years ahead of its time in the practice of charging for bags. It doesn't waste money on fancy displays, and rarely stocks more than it can sell, which significantly cuts down on the amount of food it throws away. I particularly like that these stores carry 90% of the products consumers buy most. The produce section is usually a pleasant surprise, and the meat department has improved greatly in recent years.

There are 157 Aldi stores in the Chicagoland area, and 31 of these are in the city itself. When I shop there, I rarely spend more than $25 on a week's worth of groceries. So if you haven't been into an Aldi before, grab a bag (and a quarter for the cart) and see for yourself what great deals await you. I would recommend staying away at the beginning of the month, though-- that's when the LINK/WIC people get their monthly government handouts-- the place is a madhouse. But do try and support this economically and environmentally efficient business model during the remaining three weeks of the month, and save up to 40% on your groceries. Now THAT'S Aldi smart!

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