For those who have never been to Aldi before, it can seem a little strange, and the first trip can be a bit disorienting. I know.
I remember the first time I went to Aldi. My regional grocery store chains were engaged in a bitter labor dispute with the local worker’s union, with workers picketing outside the stores. I decided to avoid that messy situation by going outside my normal shopping locations.
Setting foot inside Aldi was like visiting another country. People were trading quarters, picking up brands I’d never heard of, putting things in cardboard boxes, and paying with large amounts of cash. I stumbled through the store, somehow found my way through the checkout, and went home.
I never went back … that is, until, a few years later, after I married someone more familiar with Aldi.
The good news is that, with a little bit of information, your first time at Aldi can feel less like another world and more like just a slightly different shopping experience. So here, then, is a quick guide on the Aldi experience for newbies.
What you need before you go:
A quarter. Aldi keeps costs low by having customers return carts. The way they do that is by having customers pop a quarter in the cart when they go to get it. When you return the cart, that quarter pops back out and you get it back. Occasionally someone will walk up and offer you a quarter, which is their way of taking the cart off your hands and using it themselves.
Grocery bags. Aldi does not give you bags, which is another way they keep costs low. You can bring bags of your own. You can also purchase some at the checkout line; they have paper bags for a small cost, more durable plastic for a little more, and they sometimes also sell heavier-duty reusable bags. In addition, it’s also okay to forage in the store for cardboard carriers and boxes that products come in, but depending on the time of day there may not be many available. If you shop at Aldi long-term, we recommend reusable bags.
Payment. Good news here: before 2016, Aldi only accepted cash, debit, or EBT. Now the store also accepts credit cards, Apple Pay, and Google Pay.
What is different from other stores:
Regular Buys and Aldi Finds. All grocery stores have at least some rotating inventory, but the idea is a little bit larger in Aldi culture. Most of Aldi consists of what we call Regular Buys — store products that are always there, like bread, milk, eggs, produce, toiletries, pizzas, meats, cheeses, canned goods, and so on. A portion of Aldi, meanwhile, is made up of what are called Aldi Finds — things that rotate in and out. Aldi Finds can be food items like a special kind of pizza or a unique take on fried chicken, or non-food items like garden tools in the spring or holiday toys in the winter. (There is also a third category, Seasonal Items, which are food items stocked for weeks or months at a time.)
Relatively few brand names. If you’re used to General Mills, Wonder Bread, and Frito-Lay, get ready for Millville, L’Oven Fresh, and Clancy’s. Aldi does sometimes feature brand name products, but they are usually Aldi Finds, and they aren’t much of a discount over other stores, if at all. On the upside, Aldi brands have improved considerably over the years. Not only are most Aldi brands superior to generic grocery store brands, but many of them are as good or close to as good as brand names. And they are definitely cheaper.
You bag your own groceries. Not only do you get to bring or buy your own bags, but you get to pack them. This — once again — is how Aldi keeps prices low. It also helps move lines along, since register workers don’t have to stop to bag everything. The workers will check out your food, place it in a cart, and then you take the cart over to a large shelf where you can bag and organize things however you need to before leaving. It takes a little bit of practice to get everything right, but once you get used to it, it’s no big deal.
One last thing:
Don’t be afraid to ask a question if you need to. Other shoppers are usually helpful. Aldi workers, who are paid well compared to others in the industry, tend to do their jobs well and they will answer your questions if you have them.
Have any questions? Want to leave your own words of wisdom? Put them in the comments!