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:
1. Long-Lost Relations?
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.
2. Pay Attention to the Deals
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).
3. Bring Bags and a Quarter with You
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.
4. Their House Brands Rock. Here’s a primer.
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:
- L’Oven Fresh is but one of their bakery lines, and the English muffins were $.99 for 6, which is crazy cheap. If you have teenagers in your house, then you can make a load of English muffin pizzas and feed the masses cheaply.
- Pueblo Lindo, along with Casa Mamita, is one of their Hispanic food lines. One employee singled out the mango nectar as a favorite buy. Casa Mamita taco shells were 89 cents for a package of 12, and since my kids’ favorite thing in the world is taco night, I stocked up.
- Clancy’s is an Aldi snack line, and one employee told me her family thought their original potato chips were better than name-brand. $1.79 for a big family-size bag. I’ll be pairing these up this summer with my slow-cooker pimiento cheese dip.
- Another employee (I spoke to a lot of folks) said that Aldi Mama Cozzi’s refrigerated pizzas were her very favorite, and she brought one home every week. These are a fan-favorite for sure, and I could not believe the prices: A 16-inch five-cheese pizza (mozzarella, provolone, Monterey Jack, Parmesan, and Romano) was $4.99, and the supreme (with pepperoni, sausage, peppers, black olives, onions, and thee cheeses) was $5.99! Also, in the same line you can find a biscuit-crust sausage and cheese breakfast pizza.
- LiveGFree. From croutons to brown rice pasta and baking mixes to chicken nuggets, Aldi offers their own line of well-priced gluten-free items. This is a house brand that seems to be growing rapidly to meet market demand.
- Never Any! is their house chicken and pork line, made from animals raised with no antibiotics and no hormones, fed a vegetarian diet. I saw a spatchcocked peri peri seasoned whole chicken, which is a pretty cool little marinated item to make into an easy dinner. Other items were deli meats and a wide range of chicken sausages with flavors like Cranberry, Italian Spinach Feta Chicken Sausage, and Tomato Basil. An easy way to keep shaking up a pot of Leek, Chicken Sausage, and Split Pea Soup or a Chicken Sausage and Sautéed Greens Sub.
- Deutsche Kuche is their German line of products, which are all actually made in Germany—and which were singled out by an Aldi employee as one of the hidden gems of the store. She pointed out the Uncured Bavarian Bratwurst for $3.99. I am heading back for the Bavarian Soft Pretzel Sticks which were on sale for $3.49 for a six-pack. Paired with Hot Cheese Beer Dip and one of Aldi’s many imported beers, I can’t think of a better game-day snack.
5. Load up on grains
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.
6. A Twice as Nice Guarantee for skeptics
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.
7. The Fish Is Fresh, Never Frozen
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.
8. La Croix Fans Rejoice!
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.
9. Fun, Surprising Miscellaneous Items
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.