Yesterday I told you how I got to visit the Aldi Test Kitchen in Batavia, and how impressed I was with the quality of the food I tasted there.
So of course I next needed to shop at an actual Aldi, something I’ve never done before.
I gotta admit: I was a bit nervous. I knew I would have to bag my own groceries, and pay a nominal fee for bags if I didn’t bring enough of my own. I knew Aldi doesn't accept credit cards, so I brought my debit card. I knew that the food wasn’t arranged on shelves like I’m used to, and that much of it would be coming from the packaging boxes. And I just knew I’d mess up the grocery cart situation somehow.
OK. Those “fears” all seem really silly when I type them out.
So on a Tuesday night, I headed to the Aldi on State Street on the east side of Geneva. I got there shortly after 7 p.m. and grabbed a few quarters from my car.
But when I tried to put the quarter in the box to retrieve a grocery cart, it wouldn’t fit. I tried several times. What on earth was I doing wrong?
I had heard at the Test Kitchen event how veteran Aldi shoppers liked to help out newbies with me on the unique aspects of the store. So I asked a man coming out of the store for help with the cart. He wasn’t unfriendly, but I can’t say he was jumping for joy, either – especially once he pointed out that I was trying to cram a Susan B. Anthony dollar in the cart box. Ha! That’s funny, right? He didn’t seem to think so.
So I used one of the “other” quarters I’d brought from my car and headed inside. I was a bit discombobulated initially; I’m used to tackling the produce section first, but at Aldi I landed in a long aisle full of crackers, cookies, potato chips and specialty products from Germany. (Aldi’s origins are in Germany.)
But I quickly got my bearings and was definitely wowed by the low prices. I found myself putting multiple boxes of snack crackers in my cart – they were so cheap! And with a preschooler, we eat a lot of cheddar crackers, triscuits, etc.
I didn’t have a grocery list. Since this was my first trip, it was more of a reconnaissance missions. But I did want to pick up items for at least several dinners.
I bought a few of the items I’d like so much at the Test Kitchen event, such as the pita chips and the hummus. I was a sucker for the products from Germany, just because I love buying items that are unique from my normal humdrum grocery purchases. And because everything else seemed like such a good deal, I splurged on a $4.99 “haunted house” brownie kit that came with all sorts of decorations.
I was pleased to see the milk was not only inexpensive but free of bovine growth hormone (rBGH), which we try to avoid as much as we can. It did not look like the other dairy products made the same claim, however.
I am a very sloooooow grocery shopper, agonizing over brand choices and sizes and vareities. So I liked how the limited selection and the store's smaller size made me zip along quite quickly. The aisles were nice and wide and the store bright and well maintained.
But about halfway through the store, I seriously thought I had somehow stumbled upon an Aldi with no produce section. Of course I just had not spotted it yet. When I did come across it, I was disappointed in the fruit and vegetable selection. There just wasn’t much of it, although everything that was there looked fine. And I picked up a bag of darling mini cucumbers – I’d never seen those before! I also picked up a couple bagged salads, one of them being the “spring mix” that had impressed me in the test kitchen, and a bag of clementines.
When I made it to the checkout counter, I was the 2nd to last person left in the store, which closed at 8 p.m. (I told you I’m a slow grocery shopper!) I thought I’d have a bit of a wait, but before I could really even full form that thought, it was my turn! The checkout staff is super fast, partly because Aldi puts UPC barcodes for scanning all over the packages, not just in one spot. Aldi doesn't offer coupons and you bag your own groceries at a counter at the front of the store, two other aspects that move things along quickly in the checkout line.
The woman working the checkout was so friendly, and she was very happy to hear it was my first time in Aldi and that I’d had a good experience.
My bill came to $93.30. Here’s what I bought:
- Haunted House Brownie Kit: $4.99
- Imported Zucchini Strudel: $4.99
- 3 Small Bags of Peanuts : 39 cents each
- Muesli Cereal: $2.89
- Stuffed Tortelli: $1.99
- Honey Nut Oats: $1.59
- Tortilla Chips: $2.39
- Clementines: $3.29
- Papa’s Italian Beef: $4.49
- Pretzel Dough: $2.19
- Benita Frozen Fruit Bars: $2.89
- Havarti Cheese: $2.99
- Premium Salsa: $1.99
- Cheese Wedges: 75 cents
- Pork Boneless Chops: $5.04
- Ridged Potato Chips: $1.29
- Vegetable Chips: $1.69
- Bananas: $1.15
- Sour Cream: $1.29
- Whip Cream Cheese: $1.59
- Cheese Sharks: $1.49
- Center Cut Bacon: $3.49
- Priano Rissoto: $1.79 (2)
- Whole Kernel Corn: 59 cents
- Cream Corn: 59 cents
- Hummus: $1.69
- Woven Wheats: $1.29
- Pita Bite Crackers: !.99
- Saltines: 89 cents
- Guacamole: $2.99
- Corn Tortillas: 35 cents
- Mini Cucumbers: $1.99
- Lite String Spiral Chees: $3.29
- Fresh Mozzarella: $1.99
- Spring/Butter Salad Mix: $1.99
- Italian/Caesar Salad Kit: $1.99
- Large Eggs: $1.49
- Bread Loaf: 89 cents
Looking at my receipt again for this story reminded me of my initial impression as I walked out of Aldi – that I had bought a lot of fun snack foods or foods for special treats, such as the Havarti cheese for myself. But I didn’t buy a lot for meals.
We really enjoyed the pork chops and ate the Italian beef for a quick dinner one night. The bacon was tasty and great with breakfast, and we’ll likely eat the pork schnitzel and zucchini strudel (which were frozen) soon for dinner and lunch, respectively.
But I usually buy high-quality cuts of meat and – when they are available and somewhat affordable – as much organic fruits and vegetables as possible. Those are two places where I didn’t feel Aldi met my needs.
However, I write that with one huge caveat that is personal to my experience: Here in my household, we still eat out (or get takeout) too often, a bad habit we are always striving to fix. So anytime I go to the grocery store and actually meal plan, I am saving us money. I’m telling you, I could probably do all my grocery shopping at Whole Foods (aka “Whole Paycheck,” as one of my friends aptly calls it) and still save us money on our food bills, compared to when we eat out or order in.
So for me, I can definitely see putting Aldi in the mix of grocery stores I visit, a list that currently also includes Meijer, Blue Goose, Jewel and Trader Joe’s. And it would be a place I would seek out when hosting a party or when were running low on those fun, healthy-ish snacks that you need around the house with a preschooler.
I’m certainly glad I visited both the Aldi Test Kitchen and an Aldi store – and next time, I will make sure to bring an actual quarter for the carts!
Disclosure: I was invited with journalists and bloggers to attend the Aldi “Switch & Save” Test Kitchen event. I received an Aldi reusable bag with about a dozen food items, including two bottles of wine, boxes of crackers, chocolates, cookies, olive oil, minced garlic, coffee and some baking supplies.