My latest grocery deep dive takes place at Aldi, a discount-priced chain of supermarkets found all over the country. There are actually 1,600 Aldi stores in 35 states—way more than Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s, if you can believe it. If you have an Aldi in your area but haven’t swung in, I highly recommend that you do. You may be surprised at what you find.
I hit up the Danbury store, chatted with a few of their employees to collect a few insider secrets on the things to know and what to buy, and left with a trunkful of supplies.
Here’s what I learned:
Aldi is kind of a cousin of Trader Joe’s—or some sort of half-removed relative. The backstory is complicated, but the short bits to understand are that the two chains are independently run by two brothers who had business differences a while back, yet they are connected by a tiered company ownership structure. Clear as mud? In short, one brother runs Aldi, and one runs Trader Joe’s, and if you’ve noticed some similarities between the two stores, then you’re probably right.
Aldi Finds are limited-time premium buys and on-trend seasonal items, and while, yes, many of them are food, many are not. The prices are amazingly low, either way. One employee told me that if there was something I liked in the Aldi Finds section of the store, I should buy “like, 10” of them because they go fast and aren’t stocked for long.
Recently, I bought two summer sleeping bags there for $8.99 each (which sounds absurd, I know). My kid is testing it out as we speak—fingers crossed. Foodwise, this week there was a 3-pack of multi-colored bell peppers (orange, red and yellow—no green!) for an amazing $1.49 (roasted pepper antipasti!), blackberries were $1.29 for a 6-ounce package (sparkling berry sangria, here we come), and extra-large Hass avocados were 99 cents each (guacamole festival—incoming).
To keep prices low, Aldi doesn’t offer bags at checkout, so make sure to bring your totes along. Also, to make sure their carts don’t go missing (which I guess is a problem), and to cut down on the labor needed to collect stray carts in the parking lot, you have to “rent” a cart for a quarter (like how those carts at airports work, but much cheaper!). You get that quarter back when you return the cart to the dock.
Like some other favorite stores, Aldi has house brand offerings. But while Costco, for instance, sticks to Kirkland, Aldi has loads of them. In fact, about 90 percent of what they sell are one the Aldi labels. Here are a few of their lines, and the standout products within each one:
Aldi prices on all sorts of grains were stunningly low. Simply Nature quinoa was $3.99 per pound, Specially Selected White or Brown Basmati Rice was $2.99 for 2 pounds, Earthly Grains Long White Rice was $1.99 for 3 pounds.
Aldi is so confident in the quality of their products that (with a few non-food exceptions) if you’re not satisfied with the quality of one of their items, you can have the item replaced AND get a full refund. Pretty nifty.
That’s what a number of their packages were labeled, some even preseasoned. A fresh Atlantic salmon side was $7.69 per pound, and a fine reason to make Salmon with Tarragon Vinaigrette. Fresh tilapia filets were $5.79 per pound, and you can bet I’ll be sautéing up some Tortilla-Crusted Tilapia with Sriracha Sauce shortly.
The “it” water of the past few years is sold here, and for a very good price: a variety 24-pack was $7.99 as part of their Aldi Finds program, which is about 33 cents per can, which is nuts. A 12-pack of single flavors was on sale for $3.99. And guess what? If that’s not cheap enough for you, grab a pack of their house version of La Croix, called Belle Vie, which is $2.69 for 12 cans.
Aside from a selection of produce and their wide array of branded items, you can find some intriguing products, like Red Lobster Cheddar Bay Biscuit Mix—who knew? One of the store workers immediately grabbed this when I asked him what his favorite product was. I had already been eyeing the package, as I had never seen this before, and had no idea that Red Lobster even made supermarket products. I tasted them and they were delicious (if a bit salty).
Another item I’m sorry I didn’t buy was a Funnel Cake Kit, complete with pitcher pouring spout. It was only $2.69 and I hope it’s there next time. Until then, I’ll have to live with my decision.