My second stop on the discount grocery store tour was Aldi. Owned by a German family company, Albrecht Discounts, Aldi is one of the no-frills discount grocers who eschews fancy displays and wide product selection for low prices. Perhaps most interestingly, Aldi is owned by the same company as Trader Joe’s, its higher-end counterpart. While Trader Joe’s carries more organic selections and higher quality meats, when it comes down to the come down, they have similar products on the shelf. It’s heavy on the private label items, which means that the organic honey at Aldi might be the exact same thing as the organic honey at Trader Joes, only with less markup (because the cashiers at Aldi don’t ring bells or wear Hawaiian shirts?). I have issues with Trader Joes for other reasons, but if you’re going to buy private label stuff there, you’re going to pay extra for the fun stores and fancy graphic design.
But on to the bargains. I was really happy to see that Aldi had a significantly higher percentage of organic products than Bottom Dollar (more than milk!). The first one I happened across was honey, at $3.19. It was also sourced from U.S. producers, which is good. Definitely cheaper than I’ve seen it elsewhere.
I also saw a few items like organic salad dressings, but they are still processed foods and wouldn’t be the greatest choice. Stick to salad dressings that have to be refrigerated, since they are usually made with real ingredients, or go with lemon juice or olive oil/vinegar. Remember that just because something says organic doesn’t mean it’s a whole food or healthy.
Just inside the door were bags of nuts at really reasonable prices. While they were all conventionally produced, nuts are among the products that are more protected from pesticides because of their shells. Organic nuts are another hard to find product, so these are a great alternative. And if you can bother to chop your own walnuts, you can really save on the price per pound by getting the bigger bag.
Many stores carry generic K-cup single serve coffee pods now. While I think it’s better from a waste perspective (and a quality coffee perspective) to use a refillable cup, these K-cups were relatively cheap, but still fair trade. Wouldn’t be a bad thing to have on hand for guests, etc.
The produce section left a lot to be desired, since most of it was thrown all over the place. That could have been a product of the fact that we were there toward the end of a major shopping day and it might have been picked over by ravenous shoppers. It was mostly conventional, but the prices weren’t nearly as good as Bottom Dollar for the same items.
I did find organic salad greens in the refrigerator case, but they were small containers and for $2.49, not any better than the prices at Whole Foods!
There were two decent options for milk, including Organic Valley 2%, which is a great buy at $3.48 for a half gallon. Organic Valley sources all of its milk from family farmers, and at Aldi it was a great choice. If that’s still too expensive, they also had an off-brand gallon of milk for $3.77 that at least was from cows that were not given rBGH, even if their diet wasn’t organic.
Aldi had good prices on staples, just like Bottom Dollar. Rice and oats were the primary ones I found, but Aldi has a more limited selection than Bottom Dollar in general.
The non-milk dairy and meat were not any different from Bottom Dollar and there wasn’t anything to recommend there. But Aldi had two options for sandwich bread – both 12 grain and whole wheat – that didn’t have high fructose corn syrup and were minimally processed.
Probably the best buy I found at Aldi was the organic canned tomatoes. A 28 ounce can of diced tomatoes was only $1.49, which is a terrific price. They also had organic marinara sauce for $1.99. I like to make my own sauces from regular tomatoes, but in a pinch, this would be a good, affordable choice.
It’s also important to choose organic tomatoes, not just because of the lack of pesticides, but because most organic tomatoes are grown in California, which is better than Florida, where the humid climate and poor, sandy soil make for poor growing conditions, which lead to the use of more chemicals. (If you want to know more about this, Barry Estabrook’s Tomatoland is a great read.)
At the end of the store, Aldi also had a good selection of frozen fruit and vegetables at decent prices. It would be worth doing a real cost comparison on the frozen fruits and veggies at different stores to see where the best deals are, since they are essentially the same thing.
It’s also worth noting that Aldi starts their workers at well above minimum wage. We saw a sign for $11.75/hour starting out. I like to support stores that don’t hoard profits while condemning their workers to never make ends meet.
I’ll definitely be checking out Aldi for particular items on my grocery list. Plus, the more shoppers purchase their organic products, the more likely they are to start to carry more and expand their selection. It’s worth a trip!