For the past couple of years we have been doing the bulk of our grocery shopping at Kroger. Kroger is one of the largest chains in the US, has decent prices, a modest selection, fuel center discount, and most importantly, three locations in town with one within walking distance. We didn’t always shop at Kroger though. Back when we were living frugally by necessity we did the majority of our grocery shopping at a different supermarket.
I wanted to do a post about that supermarket and coincidentally, I needed to get some shopping done. So what is the name of this mystery store? Before I tell you, let’s have a pop quiz. Look at the picture below, and pick out the more expensive bottle of garlic powder.
Have your answer?
If you said the one on the left cost more, you’re wrong.
If you said the one on the right cost more, you’re wrong.
If you said, “I know you Andrew and this is a trick question. They cost the same.” Then BINGO you are the winner. Yep, these two containers of garlic powder both cost $1.00. The one on the left is 5.5 oz and the one on the right is less than half of that at 2.0 oz. The smaller one came from Kroger’s value brand (aka the cheap generic store brand), the bigger one came from Aldi.
You may be asking yourself, what is Aldi? Don’t only poor people shop there? What’s the deal with the shopping carts? Let me put all of your questions to rest.
Aldi is a German supermarket chain that is found world wide. Like most things German, there is a high emphasis on efficiency. You’ll see that before you even enter the store because you will need to cross barrier #1.
#1 The Shopping Carts
The first step to making a more efficient supermarket is to cut jobs. What jobs can be cut with a little ingenuity and customer training/education? The cart boys & girls. As you step out of your car, one of the first things that you will notice is that ALL of the other shoppers are thoughtfully returning their carts to the singular cart coral on the side of the building.
Wow! What thoughtful and kind people. Haa, they just want their quarter back. You may have noticed the red chains on the cart handles. Those are a part of the cart return system. In order to get a cart, you have to deposit a quarter into the cart. It then unhooks from the other carts and you can go about your shopping. When you’re all done, you return the cart to the coral and hook it back up. You get your quarter back and go on your merry way.
#2 The Store Interior
Probably the first item to catch your attention is that there are no shelves per se. Instead most of the merchandise is in boxes and those boxes are on palettes. By eliminating the extra work needed to stock shelves in the traditional manner, Aldi is able to cut down on employee hours and that, like the cart situation, saves you money. The second item that you will likely notice is that there is typically just the generic brand of each product. I don’t know how many hours of my life I have spent standing in an aisle trying to figure out the best bang for my buck among 10 different brands each with 3 different sizes. With Aldi, you generally get 1 brand and 1 size of each item. Grab it and move on, no dilly daddling here. That brings me to the 3rd point about the store interior. It discourages back tracking. If you forgot something at the start of the store, have fun fighting against the stream of budget conscious shoppers in the one way flow. The stores are designed fit all of the merchandise in the smallest footprint possible. A smaller store saves money in construction costs, land acquisition, and utilities. All of those savings are passed on to you.
#3 The Checkout Process
You won’t find any self checkout lanes at an Aldi. Nor will you see any baggers. Chances are good that there will only be 1-2 lanes open, but man do those lanes fly! Each item sold at the store is riddled with barcodes. The smart folks at Aldi decided that having a barcode on each side of a product (6 for boxes) means that the cashier doesn’t have to try and find it. They simply slide everything through the scanner and place it in an empty cart. Bagging is something that you are going to have to do yourself, but not at the checkout lane because that would slow down the process for the next person in line. Instead there is a large counter where you can bag up your groceries. Don’t forget to bring your own bags, Aldi doesn’t have plastic bags and charges money for their canvas totes. One last important note about the checkout process. Bring your debit card or a wad of cash. Aldi doesn’t accept personal checks (do people still use those at stores?) or credit cards. Credit cards cost merchants a % of the transaction (usually 1-5%), so by saying no to credit cards, Aldi can pass that saving on to you.
There you have it. Aldi is a great discount supermarket that saves you money by eliminating cart boys, baggers, stockers, cashiers, large store footprints, loyalty programs (yes those cost you money) and credit card fees. Do poor people shop there? Yes. Do rich people shop there? Yes. At the end of the day, it largely comes down to convenience. Is there a store close to you? Do you mind making a second stop at another store to pick up anything that isn’t carried at Aldi? Can you remember to leave a quarter in your car and some bags?
I still have memories of my childhood where my Mom would stock up at Aldi once a month to feed 4 very hungry boys. I am sure that the money saved by doing so contributed to vacation funds that let us see the world. Thanks Mom!