By Emily Harrington
I’ve always imagined Aldi as a cash-only store where dented cans with rapidly approaching expiration dates line the meager shelves.
In fact, I’ve never stepped foot inside the German-based Aldi. My interest was piqued, however, when a college friend started an Instagram account featuring meals using only Aldi products. In fact, there are dozens of sites highlighting all the deals you can find at the discount grocer. There’s a definite trend developing here, and we all know everyone is obsessed with Trader Joe’s. Aldi, being Trader Joe’s dorky (now estranged) brother, couldn’t be all that bad, right?
The final straw in the misconception-crushing visit to Aldi came when I literally had to face the developing Aldi store daily. You see, Aldi had announced it would be coming to a development near our neighborhood in Savoy. This fall they officially joined the other Aldi’s in our community—3012 E. University Ave in Urbana and 801 Interstate Dr. in Champaign. The Savoy location is off Neil Street at 605 N. Dunlap St.
It was inevitable. This grocery store was too close/too convenient for us not to visit! One wild Saturday night, we decided to visit.
First, the store is brand new, so it’s clean and orderly. There are no frills, however. There were quite a few people shopping there for a Saturday night. One of the reasons Aldi has lower prices is it employs less staff so that processes are streamline and efficient (one of their mantras). This means there aren’t employees dedicated to gathering rogue carts. You will need to rent a cart if you need one. Put a quarter in the cart corral, and you can unlock your cart. (The carts are big. They have enough butt room for two littles in the front.) Return it when you are done, and you get your quarter back! So smart. No stray carts ramming your mini-van. In the same respect, there aren’t “baggers.” You need to bring your own bags/totes, and you bag your own groceries after the cashier rings you up. You can also buy paper bags or reusable totes for 7/10 cents. They have a bagging area for you to use, so you don’t clog the cashier’s line.
They recently widened their ways to pay. They DO accept cash, debit cards, food stamps/electronic benefit transfer cards, American Express, Discover, MasterCard and Visa. They DO NOT accept checks or WIC.
You will see all the standard food categories: produce, meats, dairy, etc. The only difference is about 90 percent (according to their website) of the products are not brand names, rather Aldi-exclusive brands. Carrying mostly Aldi-exclusive brands allows them to provide the same high-quality product as other stores. You just won’t get the hidden costs associated with the marketing and advertising of brand names, according to their website. To name a few of the national brands, I did spot Tide, Diet Coke and Gatorade. They have a double guarantee on their exclusive merchandise. If you aren’t satisfied, they will replace the item and refund your money!
Full disclosure—my husband does most of the “big” grocery shopping, and I fill in the gaps throughout the week. He knows the price comparisons better than I do. With his memory and the Internet, I was able to compare some of the basic items we get weekly at our local grocer. Interestingly, both the Aldi-exclusive items and the brand name items found at Aldi were less expensive.
Tide at our local grocer—$11.99 ALDI—$9.97
Diet Coke at our local grocer—$5.19 ALDI—$4.68
Store-brand eggs at our local grocer—$1.19 ALDI—39 cents
Store-brand wheat bread at our local grocer—$1.49 ALDI—97 cents
Store-brand skim milk at our local grocer—$1.99 ALDI—88 cents
*The same sizes were used.
Aldi also prides itself on a greener approach to shopping. The smaller stores with a smaller carbon footprint mean lower electricity costs. Both the lower electricity costs and the BYOBags rule create a double win—greener and help keep overhead down. The downside is, a smaller store means a smaller selection.
There are a lot of items to choose from, but the selections are a bit tighter than the other grocery stores in our area. There aren’t a thousand cereals to choose from, for example. And you may not find a specific fruit one day. However, I did see organic and gluten-free items. They are definitely trying to fit in with what’s on trend. Just be flexible and creative with your shopping trip. Use premium-limited-time “ALDI Finds” in order to get the best deal.
Now, we love our local grocery store. Don’t get me wrong. And there are some things that are just better branded—like Q-tips. Don’t get me started on generic cotton swabs. However, there are other generic items that are just as good as the brand name. Aldi is on to something here. I would absolutely supplement our shopping list at Aldi. Especially for basic items. Even their fruits, vegetables and meat looked great. Our family shopper approved. And he takes this stuff seriously. Seriously. Like looks at the price per pound seriously.
In addition, they had seasonal merchandise (like real pumpkins), take and bake pizzas, baby items—I even saw shoes and a mattress for sale in the clearance area. Some locations, including Savoy, sell beer/wine. Good wine, from what I hear.
They also have shorter hours than most chain grocers. Again, lower utility costs and payroll costs mean they can pass the savings on to the consumer. The Savoy location is open 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.—seven days a week. THEY EVEN DELIVER! Talk about keeping up with the competition!
Check out some of their helpful resources, especially for kids, if you really want the Aldi inventory to work for you. If you can build your meals around what they have available—you can save big on your grocery bill.
Do you have shopping tips for our Champaign-Urbana-Savoy area Aldi stores? Post them in the comments below!
Emily Harrington is a Chambana townie. She left her 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. job in communications so that she could be a 24/7 mom to two busy boys. Still interested in writing, Emily uses some of naptime to practice her passion and keep her mind right. Emily is a happy wife with a happy life because she fell for a fellow townie. Emily usually finds herself engulfed in balls, blue and belly laughs.