Why Doesn’t Aldi Accept WIC? We Asked an Expert.

In the early 1970s, the federal government piloted a program called Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) to assist low-income mothers and their children. By the middle of the decade, the program had expanded to most states, and shortly after that it was made a permanent program, which continues to this day. According to the most recently available data, close to 7 million people — most of them infants and children — currently receive assistance through WIC.

Put another way: according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), which oversees the program, WIC serves about half of all infants born in the United States.

What exactly does WIC do? According to the USDA, “[t]he Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) provides federal grants to states for supplemental foods, health care referrals, and nutrition education for low-income pregnant, breastfeeding, and non-breastfeeding postpartum women, and to infants and children up to age 5 who are found to be at nutritional risk.” In other words, WIC operates like Medicaid in that it hands out federal money to states, who in turn set up their own programs based on federal guidelines.

Key to the program is nutritional assistance. This includes access to healthy foods for pregnant and postpartum women, as well as formula (when needed) for infants and nutritious food for children. The government has strict rules for what is considered WIC-eligible food. There are also strict rules for retailers who want to be WIC-eligible.

What’s more, every state and eligible territory has a separate WIC retailer application process. A retailer doesn’t have to apply in every state, but if it wants to have a presence in every state it has stores in, it has to apply in each one.

It’s admittedly a lot of work.

Many big-name retailers have taken on that work. Walmart, Kroger, Target, Save-a-Lot, Hy-Vee, Wegmans, and Meijer are just some of the stores that take WIC benefits.

Not all stores do, though. Last year, for instance, I reached out directly to Dollar General on behalf of our sister site, Dollar Store Reviewer, who confirmed that DG doesn’t accept WIC.

Aldi doesn’t, either.

On its website, Aldi says: “At this time, we do not accept checks or WIC benefits. The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) federal guidelines stipulate that only name-brand formulas are included, and we only sell our exclusive premium-quality Little Journey brand, which offers the lower prices parents want.”

I contacted an academic who specializes in WIC policy to help me understand Aldi’s position. She pointed out that state WIC requirements are very detailed. For one, every state has minimum stocking requirements, where a retailer must have specific slate of products in stock in specific quantities in order to qualify, like this list in Missouri. Some of those required products, including all of the formula, are national brands. In addition, Native American reservations may also have their own requirements, which may vary from the state list. Few retailers have a presence on tribal land, but it adds to the complexity of the requirements.

Two, formula requirements are exacting. By way of example, our expert noted that, in Pennsylvania, all retailers must stock Similac Advance in both 13-ounce and 12.4-ounce cans, either in liquid concentrate or powder. Retailers also must stock Similac Soy Isomil in both the 13-ounce cans and the 12.4-ounce powder varieties. “I share the specifics,” the academic expert told us, “because indeed, it is that specific.”

What’s more, because requirements vary from state to state (and possibly even inside the state if tribal land is involved), retailers would have to tailor their distribution to each location. Big box retailers are more likely to take on that task than smaller stores.

Closing Thoughts:

WIC is a complicated program, with different requirements that vary by state. Each state under the program has specific mandates: this is especially true with baby formula, where stores usually must stock specific variations of Similac formula. Small stores like dollar stores and Aldi, with their limited inventories and large percentage of private labels, cannot easily meet those mandates, and that’s why they aren’t part of the WIC program.

That situation seems unlikely to change anytime soon.

About Joshua

Joshua is the Co-founder of Aldi Reviewer. He is also a writer and novelist. You can learn more about him at joshuaajohnston.com.

One Comment

  1. Excellent explanation to an important question. Thank you, Joshua.

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