The other day, I went into a local Aldi with my daughter. We had a few minutes to spare between errands, and I wanted to check out what was up, specifically in the center aisle. In recent weeks, I’ve noticed a downturn in the size of the Aldi weekly ad, with only two pages rather than the usual four. This mirrored what happened in early 2020, when Aldi shrank its Aldi Finds selections in response to the then-emerging pandemic.
Aldi has a reason for everything it does, and I wondered: why cut down on things now, in 2021? Does it have something to do with the aftereffects of last spring, where perhaps Aldi hadn’t contracted as many vendors for this same time in 2021? Or is it about a more deliberate reconfiguring of the aisle as part of something more strategic?
Aldi is famously secretive about its internal process, so there’s no way to know. I did, however, get a potential hint when I walked into the middle aisle.
It was full.
Not full of Aldi Finds. Quite the opposite. Along a front and back center aisle, only maybe 30% of the space devoted to Aldi Finds. The remaining 70% was not. What’s more, almost all of that remaining 70% were pandemic-related products: paper towels, toilet paper, face masks (both reusable and disposable), and literally dozens of bottles of Daily Care Antibacterial Hand Sanitizer.
Nothing looked picked over, either. The store was fully stocked, both with Aldi Finds and the pandemic-specific stuff. It was a long way from the days of April 2020, when both were increasingly hard to find and store aisles seemed to empty out quickly due to high demand.
At the time I write this, the United States is inching closer to the end of the pandemic. Between rising vaccinations and dropping case rates in most places, a return to normal seems close. That has caused me to wonder: what will Aldi Finds look like after the pandemic? Will it look like a pre-pandemic ad, or will we see permanent changes?
Here are a few guesses.
1. Don’t Expect Aldi to Be Ahead of the Curve
I don’t intend this as an insult. Aldi is a disciplined company that rarely trips over its own feet. Aldi would rather continue what it’s doing on its shelves and maybe be a little late to the party than try to jump out in front before the demand is fully there. If nothing else, the company doesn’t want a repeat of last year’s shortages, not after everything it did to catch back up. No one does.
That means that the configuration I saw in stores — with a large pandemic focus — is going to probably continue until the store is pretty positive pandemic demand is over. That might mean masks linger on shelves even when people are starting to get away from masks, and sanitizer might still hang around even when sanitizer demand starts to wane.
This could play in the company’s favor, especially if we see an uptick in COVID cases (or the return of a big flu season) in the coming fall and winter months. But even if it doesn’t, most of those things, outside of masks, are staples that are bound to get bought up in time, especially during cold and flu season. Most of them will keep for a while, and customers will have some assurance that those products will be around if they’re needed.
2. Some Things Will Come Back … Eventually
One casualty of the last year is a decline in items we associate with social gatherings, like school supplies and parties for the Big Game. I also personally missed seeing the large cache of camping equipment we’ve seen in past years, a section that was seemingly pared down as a result of widespread campground closures in the spring of 2020.
I think those product lines will all eventually make a return. I say eventually, because Aldi is — as I said earlier — very deliberate about their movement and may also be constrained by contractual and even supply issues. Still, I think it’s going to happen.
Some of it may even happen sooner rather than later. I’m pretty confident, for example, that the Aldi back-to-school lineup in the fall is going to look a lot more like 2019 than 2020, especially with a growing number of schools looking to open full-time in the fall and a growing number of students likely to be going back to them.
3. Aldi Will Keep Leaning In To New Aldi Find Faves
At the time of this post, Aldi is about to return to a four-page ad, and front and center is gardening and outdoor decor. Tons of it, much under a new brand name, Belavi. Gardening was a big hit in 2020 among people stuck at home, and Aldi seems to believe that it’s a hobby people are going to be sticking to. What we’re seeing here at Aldi Reviewer points in the same direction: people are definitely interested in Aldi garden fare.
We may not be done yet. Aldi went big on summer home water fun in 2020, and they may go back to that this year, too. The grocer has also been a big seller of home office accessories, and since a growing number of companies are looking to make their remote arrangements more permanent, I think that you’ll continue to see home desks and other home office stuff in the Aisle of Shame.
The post-pandemic period could be an exciting time for Aldi Finds. But it’s also going to be an uncertain time. Aldi may still be trying to get a handle on what customers will want, especially those who are having to readjust to being out in the world after a year of isolation. That may lead to some initial caution. Eventually, though, I think you’ll see Aldi Finds start to ramp up in ways that line up with where customers are going. Like many people who follow Aldi, I can’t wait to see what the grocer comes up with.