I pulled into my local Aldi store’s parking lot at 9 a.m. on the dot. It was Wednesday, November 6, 2019, and the wine, beer, and cheese Advent calendars that Aldi fans had been raving about for weeks were hitting store shelves that day, along with an array of chocolate, toy, and dog treat calendars.
This is the second year Aldi has sold the wine and cheese Advent calendars, and last year the wine calendars disappeared within five minutes of my local store opening, while the cheese calendars were sold out by the day’s end. To say these items are popular is an understatement.
So this year, after getting my kids off to school, I arrived at the store right at opening time to do my weekly shopping and to see how things would go down.
The Ticket System
At 9 a.m., a line of about 30 people stretched from the door down the sidewalk of the strip mall where the store is located. Some people had carts with them. Everyone — or at least the people who wanted the wine calendars — held small tickets. An Aldi employee worked near the end of the line, distributing tickets to newcomers. Aldi didn’t appear to have tickets for the beer calendars, but maybe they did and I just didn’t see them, and tickets were not necessary for the cheese calendars.
Tickets are commonly used at other retailers, especially for popular items during Black Friday sales. This year was the first time Aldi used them, and they seemed to work well in my store, with each customer who wanted a wine calendar getting one ticket to be used to purchase one wine calendar.
When the store doors opened, everyone calmly filed inside and headed toward the freezer area, where the wine calendars were stacked on pallets in the middle of the aisle. Another Aldi employee was there supervising their distribution, and it all happened in an orderly manner. The store was crowded, but it was calm and relatively quiet. People walked, and they were generally polite, offering “excuse mes” and “thank yous” as we all navigated the aisles.
The Festive Collection Wine Advent calendars, which cost $69.99, had not yet been removed from their individual protective brown shipping cartons. The cartons stated: “Shipping unit. Remove this box before placing on shelf.” I doubt customers cared, though, as long as they got their wine calendars. I assumed the beer calendars, which were $49.99, were in this same location as well, but by the time I got a closer look at that area, there was no trace of the beer calendars, not even an empty pallet or a price sign.
No one in my family is very fond of alcohol, so after observing the spectacle, I steered my cart toward the refrigerator section and picked up one of Aldi’s Emporium Selection Advent Cheese Calendars for $14.99, with a limit of two per customer. I knew the cheese calendars would likely be gone by the evening, if not before, as a steady stream of shoppers came through and put the blue boxes in their carts. Last year, while the wine calendars were gone in a matter of minutes, the cheese calendars seemed to last for the better part of the day before running out.
I also passed the end cap near the ALDI Find (Special Buy) section where the rest of the Advent calendars containing toys, children’s books, chocolates, and dog treats were stocked. Even that section of the store was busy, with a large group of shoppers grabbing calendars off the shelves. I got one of the cheaper chocolate Advent calendars for $1.39, always a favorite with my kids, although I remember when Aldi used to sell them for just 99 cents. In my years shopping at Aldi, the chocolate calendars don’t tend to sell out quickly.
My husband, by the way, visited Aldi the evening before the wine, beer, and cheese calendars hit shelves, and he reported the toy, chocolate, and dog treat calendars were already out and there seemed to be plenty of them to go around.
After the Initial Rush
Around 9:12 a.m., still only minutes after the store opened, I circled back around to the area with the wine calendars. The crowd had dissipated, with the last of the early wine calendar customers now standing in the checkout line. There were still more than a dozen wine calendars stacked in the aisle, available to anyone who wanted to buy one. I pondered whether to purchase one, and someone even handed me a ticket they didn’t intend to use.
Ultimately, because we’re just not big wine people, I put the wine calendar back on the pallet and passed the ticket along to someone else. The wine calendar boxes are heavy, by the way, and it felt cool to be able to hold one in my hands and get a good look at it, especially after last year when I mostly saw the back sides of people hauling them to their cars after they sold out within minutes.
After that, I went around the store and did my regular weekly shopping, and I noticed that by 9:30 a.m. the wine calendars were gone from the aisle. But then I watched a manager bring a wine calendar out from the stock room door near the wine calendar spot and place it in a woman’s cart. When I chatted with a manager, he said he had a few calendars left in the stock room, but he was saving them for anyone else who might still have a ticket. He said his store got about 75 wine calendars this year compared to only about 21 in 2018.
I also chatted with the cashier when I checked out, and although she didn’t offer numbers, she said they got quite a few more wine calendars than beer calendars. She told me if I wanted a wine calendar, she might be able to have the manager get one from the back.
“No thanks,” I said. “I’ve got my cheese calendar, so I’m happy.”
Overall, this year’s rollout of the wine Advent calendars seemed to be smoother than last year. At my store, the ticket system appeared to work well and sales seemed orderly. Everyone who showed up at opening time or within the first 20 minutes or so who wanted a wine calendar was able to get one, which is a big improvement over last year when they sold out in five minutes or less.
It seems the producer of the wine Advent calendars was able to scale up production this year to better meet demand, which appears to be a challenge when Aldi sells certain popular items. There will still be disappointed customers who couldn’t make it to stores first thing in the morning to purchase wine calendars — because of work or other scheduling issues — but the situation was improved this year.
As it was last year, the cheese Advent calendar was the most easily obtainable of the top three highly promoted Advent calendars this year. The fact that Aldi has sold so many novelty cheese varieties in the last year — ranging from Halloween-themed cheese to Valentine’s Day cheese — may factor into the cheese calendar’s easy availability.
The most elusive product was the beer Advent calendar, which was new to Aldi this year. When the store first opened for the day, I saw a few customers toting large white boxes that looked like they contained the beer calendar, but after a few minutes I didn’t see any more of those boxes. They cleared out that quickly.
I’ll be curious to see if Aldi scales up its Advent calendar game even more next year. In the meantime, some customers will be enjoying a boozy, cheesy, chocolaty Advent season this year.