Tuesday, July 25, 2023

Wrangle carts, earn quarters


     Whenever I hear of "food deserts," those urban neighborhoods without access to grocery stores and fresh food, I feel a pang of guilt. Because whatever the opposite of a food desert is — a food oasis? — I live there. 
     A marvelous, if pricy, grocery, Sunset Foods, is within walking distance of my house, and another half dozen supermarkets are within a 10 minute drive: Jewel, with its bargains ($7.99 a pound for steak, I mean, c'mon!), Whole Foods, not as pretentious since Amazon bought it, plus you can bring your unwanted Amazon packages there to return. Trader Joe's, with its quirky corporate identity and ephemeral store brands, products that appear, catch your fancy, then vanish forever. Over on Milwaukee Avenue, Fresh Farms Market, with its Polish candies, fresh-baked dark Eastern European bread and juice oranges. Not to forget Costco and Target.
     You'd think that would be enough. Sunday we went shopping at Kohl's, and had to pop next door to Aldi — a chance for my wife to get her shopping done. I'd never gone before.
     Immediately we were confronted with a dilemma. The shopping carts are chained together, requiring a quarter to free one. It seemed too much trouble.
    "Let's just grab a basket," I said, already feeling my humor curdle. Paying for carts? But there were no baskets inside the store. We weren't in Sunset. My wife fished for a quarter, came up empty — who carries quarters? For what purpose would anyone do that? — and a kind woman passing by simply gave her a quarter. They're basically worthless.
     Aldi was new and kinda empty, not enough products filling the void and what they had were off-brands that I'd never heard of. Millville? I'd have left immediately, but my wife declared the prices low, and wanted to walk every aisle, exploring. 
    "Have you no pride?" I muttered, immediately realizing that I have enough for the both of us. I wondered where "Aldi" came from, and later found it to be an abbreviation of "Albrecht-Diskont," a discount grocery chain founded in Germany in 1962 by brothers Theo and Carl Albrecht. It has over 10,000 stores in 22 countries. The place didn't seem very European.
     She picked up tangerines and canned pears and tomatoes and such. While she paid, I stepped outside to take a few photos and examine the cart system. Signs that I hadn't noticed before — I should have, there were two big ones — revealed you get your quarter returned. That was the point. They weren't charging for the carts, they were extorting a quarter from their customers to corral the carts. "You better bring our cart back if you ever want to see your quarter again, buddy." Thus saving on hiring a cart wrangler, like the man Sunset has stationed full time in the parking lot. I watched a shopper return his cart, the quarter poking back out the same slot it had gone into.
     My wife came out with the cart and a small pile of the groceries. No bags. Just like Costco. The no bags situation irked me at first. It seems rude. I briefly contemplated scooping up the groceries in our arms, in order to leave the cart there. But there were a few too many. We'd parked at the far end of the parking lot, away from other cars. We rolled over. I got in and started the car, and my wife volunteered to return the cart. I hit the stopwatch on my phone.
     Two minutes and 50 seconds, to return the cart and come back as opposed to stranding it on the little raised oval of grass next to the car and letting somebody else do it. Call it three minutes. For a quarter. Or, times 20, $5 an hour to be temporarily dragooned as an Aldi cart wrangler. The psychology of the thing was interesting. It obviously worked. The parking lot, empty of carts, while at Sunset they accumulate.
     My wife came back, and told me that after returning the cart and getting her quarter, she again encountered the helpful woman who had given it to her, and returned the woman's quarter, the kind of small human encounter that embroiders life and makes it bearable.
     Still, my wife announced that Aldi would not join the rotation of grocery stores we patronize. Not because of the cart system or the weird unfamiliar brands, but because there weren't enough of them — the store didn't have a wide enough range of foodstuffs to make going there worthwhile. You save money but don't get your shopping done. 

    Editor's note: given the huge reader reaction to a post on Aldi — this was the most read thing I've written over the past 12 months — you can bet your bottom dollar that I'll be back. Until then, those who are confused over what is happening here might want to avail themselves to the concept of the Dunk Tank Clown. 




139 comments:

  1. Oh, Neil, how can you only now be discovering Aldi? Its been around forever, tho evidently not in the rarified confines of Northbrook. While not my favorite store, I know many people who swear by it. Even if it does require a quarter to use a cart. And they do have paper bags available. They also have a line of housewares ... Crofton ... that is pretty good. I shudder to think how you would react to a Food 4 Less store (along with Mariano's, a Kroger brand).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. To be clear, you get the quarter back after using the cart.

      Delete
    2. I suppose because I usually go to Sunset, because it's closest, or Jewel, for steak.

      Delete
  2. Where to start? You bring your own bags!! It's a good, responsible habit to have. Or you buy their inexpensive bags at checkout; they're really cheap. Or, you use their empty boxes --- which they have around after stocking the shelves. It saves time (and therefore money) to put the groceries still in boxes on the shelves. Their employees switch between stocking shelves to running the register all the time. Checkout is super fast. Selection is good for a lot of items, and their weekly special "Finds" are bargains.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Right, I figured the bring-your-own bags part out.

      Delete
    2. Agreed! I love Aldi!

      Delete
  3. 1. Your first time at Aldi?
    2. Obviously you went to the one on Willow in Northfield, as that store was actually cut out of a large section of the Kohl's there. Aldi rents the space from Kohl's.
    3. You're supposed to either take some of Aldi's boxes from the racks they have in the store, or an empty one from the shelf or buy a bag for a dime.
    4. I was in the first Aldi in April of 1977 just four days after it opened, on Roosevelt Rd in Wheaton, just east of President St.. It was a lot different then. There weren't any fruit or vegetables, no frozen or refrigerated foods, no Aldi branded items then, everything was a no name label, mostly the ones the private label makers used for product they had left over from their private label business, everything was just in boxes, few shelves. Some of it was really poor quality, my mom bought a cake mix & it turned out awful. In those days, you bought one of something to try it & if you liked it you bought more. Now Aldi sells some quality stuff & a lot of organic even. Dry cereal is a fraction of the price of the name brands & most is made by Ralston or Malt-O-Meal. They even have donuts made by Entenmann's. You can tell from the packaging sometimes who made it. Several decades ago, Aldi bought A&P's Jane Parker Bakery at Pulaski & Wrightwood & baked their own bread, but then they outsourced the baking, tore the bakery down & built a store there.
    Sooner or later, we will be getting another German discount import grocer called Lidl, which already has stores on the East Coast.

    ReplyDelete
  4. My college age son insists on going to Aldis , to save me money. He goes to UIC and has no car. So I often drive him to buy groceries. I have experienced all of what you describe and at first found it off putting. I'm a grocery snob buy brand names and want to get it all done at one store. But the savings are substantial and being an elite athlete this man eats an enormous amount of food . He's very concerned about quality and freshness . He feels Aldi delivers. I've overcome my prickishness and go in to shop with him. I'm grateful for the interaction with him and the life lesson . There's always change in the cup holder so the quarters no problem. There always seems to be a person hustling carts for the quarters in the parking lot and they do have bags. You just have to pay for them . Encourages people to bring their own . Cuts down on waste!

    Fuck Bezos and whole paycheck and the people who shop there.pretentious douchebags

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. While I appreciate your first paragraph, your concluding sentence isn't very friendly, Mr. Anonymouse. "Off putting," indeed to see a "grocery snob" who buys brand names call me a pretentious douchebag. I'm certainly no fan of Jeff Bezos, but, as I noted once when Neil blasted Whole Paycheck, your attitude toward the store's products and shoppers is a broad generalization. Their store brand products are competitively priced and their store brand organic fare is usually cheaper than what is found at Jewel. For example, I pointed out then that the "natural" peanut butter we buy there, with the exact same ingredient list as the Smucker's Natural, costs less than half as much as that national brand. And tastes fine.

      Delete
    2. When I worked at one of Bezos’ Silicon Valley buildings, I walked to work. There was a Whole Foods on the way, so I stopped to buy wine or snacks. I’m not pretentious, but some times I am a douchebag😜

      Delete
    3. Jakash , you may be the only person I have ever heard tout Whole Foods low prices. Whole Foods products are fine often superior to other stores. Whole Foods is a customer of mine. I'm there a lot. The people who shop there are mostly pretentious, and aren't there looking for a bargain. Bezos is a money suck I avoid dealing with his companies. Not a fan of conspicuous consumption. He closed his store down in the food desert where I live. not a good citizen.

      Delete
    4. You can find a good comparison here. Between whole foods and other grocery stores prices, they specifically bring up Aldi's https://www.investopedia.com/news/why-amazon-may-stumble-whole-foods/

      Delete
  5. Aldi’s owns Trader Joe’s.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That explains a lot

      Delete
    2. They have been using that system for decades in Europe, that way the cart is returned not stolen. I used to work at a Whole Foods in New Orleans, and we spent the last hour in the evening locking up carts and bringing them inside to protect them from damage and theft, the carts are not cheap to replace. And I won't disturb anyone with the stuff we'd find in those carts, even locked up. But y'all in your bedroom communities need to either get over the "pfand" or shop elsewhere. I still love Aldi and will continue to shop there.

      Delete
    3. Not quite right.  TJ's is owned by a family trust that also owns Aldi Nord.  Aldi USA is a division of Aldi Sud, which was owned by the other brother.

      Delete
    4. Incorrect.
      When the founder died, his two sons divided the stores between them.
      One took the stores in Northern Germany, while the other took the ones to the South.
      When they came to America, one brother kept the name, Aldi,
      while the other named his Trader Joe's.
      The two are independent but very closely related.

      Delete
    5. I didn't know that.

      Delete
    6. Trader Joe's was a Pasadena, CA based company that was independently operated. The operator SOLD the chain to one of the brothers.

      They may not have common ownership but they do share a number of the same operational philosophies.

      Delete
  6. I'll bet you a quarter that Aldi will not survive a year in your leafy suburban paradise. Wrong location, wrong demographic.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Finally...somebody else came out and said it. Aldi's has always been, at least from where I sit (Cleveland), the "poor people's grocery store." Even in a town with a lot of people who are struggling. It's one notch above Save-a-Lot, which displays items in cardboard shipping boxes.

      While Aldi's has some locations out in our leafy suburban paradise areas, most of them in this part of Northeast Ohio are in blue-collar suburbs, or what is euphemistically called "the inner city." I live in what I guess you would call "the outer city"...on the border of Cleveland and a couple of inner-ring suburbs. There's an Aldi's on a busy avenue that forms the dividing line, on the suburban side. I've been inside it a few times. Hey, we're not food snobs...we shop at a large locally-owned discount grocery chain called Marc's.

      But Aldi's seemed like a step down...there was hardly anything there! Off-brand names I had never heard of. And the people shopping there? Don't get me started. In the years since, there have been a lot of...well...incidents...and disturbances. But, hey, look on the bright side.Nobody's been shot yet.

      When the K-Mart in my neighborhood closed, the building was recycled into several smaller stores, and an Aldi's was constructed next door. My wife went to the Grand Opening last month. She was not impressed. One month...and my neighborhood Farcebook page is already full of complaints about beggars. Yes,panhandlers...at the entrances, and in the parking lot, and even following shoppers around in the aisles and bothering them. Who the hell allows that kind of crap? Apparently, this Aldi's in Cleveland does.

      Quarters are not yet worthless in Ahia, Mr. S. Maybe they are in Chicago and its suburbs, but here in Cleveland, they're still pretty useful. Five quarters will get you a rapid transit train ride, if you're a senior. Or pay for parking...we still have the kind of parking meters that most Boomers grew up with...they take coins, and don't charge minimum wage for a parking space. But, sadly,, their days are numbered. More and more of those shitty electronic meters are popping up. Soon we'll be like Pittsburgh. Or Chicago.

      People here still carry a lot of quarters, and other coins, in their cars. The lowlifes and the junkies in this town are desperate enough, and ballsy enough, to steal the change out of cars parked in their owners' driveways. Hey, it's Cleveland.

      Delete
    2. I love to shop at Marc's, too!

      Delete
    3. Its grand opening there was December 2019 so it's been around a little while.

      Delete
    4. Used to be Aldi's had little in the store. But about 5 or so years ago, I read an article that they were upgrading their stores with more everyday stuff, rather than the 3-4 "specials" they sold each week. Although the produce dept. isn't big, the quality is quite good. I don't like that you have to buy lemons or onions in a 3-lb bag, but oh well. Bread, cereal, chips, meat, the canned goods I've tried, are sometime close to half the price of the brand names. Maybe I could tell the difference in a side-by-side taste test, but everything I buy tastes fine. Fresh-frozen fruit much cheaper. Their 12-grain bread comes really close to Brownberry, tastes good and is a couple bucks cheaper. I still also shop for the few brand names I like, some meat, etc. at other stores but Aldi has come a long way. Aldi can make a difference for someone like me living on a fixed income.

      Delete
    5. I agree with you. I especially like that their non-food items are typically seasonal and the stuff is often for sale earlier than other "mainstream" stores.

      Delete
  7. Allow me to join the chorus. You never been to Aldi before? Feh! It's a fantastic store, with great prices and quality merchandise. They carry the BEST ice cream (sorry, chocolate and vanilla only), which has only 5 ingredients - milk, cream, eggs, sugar, flavor. NO lengtheners, strengtheners, or other crap. It's an anti-branders paradise; nothing recognizable, but many products reminiscent of famous brands...check out the popularly-priced beers if there's a next time, the names are a hoot. What they lack in choices they make up for in quality. And finally, the famous "center aisle" can be a treasure -hunters delight, with an ever-changing panoply of durable goods you might not be able to live without (such as the ultra cushy lap blankets we scored for the basement couch for 10 bucks a piece!) We love Aldi-just don't forget your bags, and bring a quarter.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That center aisle is the main reason I ever shop at Aldi.

      Delete
    2. It's called the Aisle of Shame. There is a great (I know, I know) Facebook group by that name.

      Delete
  8. A bit of trivia I found interesting: In Europe, where pretty much everyone knits, Aldi's sells its own brand of sock yarn in its stores.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Another piece of trivia: We pronounce it All-di while in Europe they pronounce it Al (like the name)-di. But since it’s from there, I guess they’re right. Like how the pronounce adidas: ay-de-das, accent on the ay. They would always say, it’s our brand, pronounce it correctly. I got them back when they called their shoes, Nikes (like yikes).

      Delete
    2. This depends on where you are in Europe. In Italy, Adidas is pronounced Ah-dee-dus, emphasis on the Ah (as in the sound you make at the dentist). Europe is 30+ languages that are all different.

      Delete
  9. Aldi is the only grocery in my area, unless you count liquor stores that stock some food to look legit. Store is clean, staff is friendly, and food is good. I have an Aldi quarter keeper, but most of the time another customer returning a cart will just pass it on. It has been my favorite store since it was in our market and was able to feed my family after my husband booked and even buy my three kids toys for Christmas. This type of elitism just proves how divided we are and it's ugly.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Glad to hear you're feeling better Neil! FYI: Aldis and Trader Joe's are each owned by 2 different entities of the Albrecht family dynasty. One brother's company stayed in Europe and eventually bought Trader Joe's. The other brother's company expanded to the United States with their Aldis stores.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Trader Joe's and Aldi are owned by the same German parent company. I tend to avoid products sold by German companies, albeit for the rather esoteric reason that I dont see them as good world citizens. However, with the war in Ukraine, they may be coming around.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. They are far better world citizens than Americans, not hard granted.

      Delete
  12. I disagree. I, too, live in a leafy suburban paradise. There are 3 ALDIs within 10 minutes, all busy, all the time. No matter where we live, many of us appreciate an efficient, cost-effective shopping experience. If I want an Experience (Pete’s, Mariano’s), I’ll go to a movie or concert with the money I’ve saved.
    Ps: Trader Joe’s doesn’t own Aldi. You can look it up.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Some years back, we had gone to an Aldi on Clybourn to by stuff for Janet's bridge club. It was pretty depressing. A new one opened near us and we've become regular patrons. After a few trips, you find what you like and what you don't, and the cost savings is pretty significant.

    ReplyDelete
  14. I'm a fan and have a long list of favorites from Aldi, but I long ago gave up the hope of finding one grocery store to do all my shopping. Their produce is generally fresh and well priced. They have a good offering of breads and other baked goods. Their brand of almond milk is my favorite and quite a bargain. On the other hand their canned goods disappoint. I''m guessing by now your wife has opened those canned pears and confirmed her decision never to return.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Also Aldi’s has really amazing chocolate bars from Germany.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Wrong, wrong, wrong, Neil. I greatly regret that there is no Aldis in walking distance of my Chicago home (West Town), the nearest (Wicker Park) is over a mile. I do go there, but I would go more if I could just pop in. The CHOCOLATE IS FANTASTIC AND SO CHEAP! Perhaps it's actually better I can't pop in.

      In my mother's suburb (middle class, very well-groceries) there is also a strip mall that lost their anchor small grocery store, the profit was not big enough for them. Aldis moved in and has seemingly done very well. It's always crowded when I go there. My mom goes to one of the "big" stores for her big grocery shopping, but also goes to Aldis often because she can WALK THERE, using her WALKER!!! Making Aldi's a contributor to car-free communities.

      You are wrong.

      Delete
    2. Wrong about what? I'd never been there before. Didn't notice the chocolate, but will certainly check it out. Did I saw we weren't going back? Based on the reaction here, I think we're ONLY shopping at Aldi. Who knew?

      Delete
    3. A few years ago I visited a grocery store while on a work trip to Germany, and brought back some chocolate bars. My daughter took one look and say, "Those are Aldi's house brand." Aldi is omnipresent in Germany, and I didn't get the "bargain basement" vibe there.

      Apparently, the new-ish Aldi's in western Gurnee is a lot nicer than the one they closed in Waukegan. I imagine Northbrook's is nice too.

      Delete
    4. Those Moser-Roth mint chocolates are to die for! I always stock up on them as they are the most popular ones, half the price of Lindt & often out of stock.

      Delete
    5. That Moser-Roth chocolate has chocolate liquors in it, not real chocolate. But otherwise, love Aldi and most everything there. The organic Spring Mix lettuce, the salmon and the organic strawberries are fantastic. I live in the South now, so my grocery choices are Publix, Walmart and FoodLand (like Winn Dixie)...so my days of shopping at a choice of Whole Foods, Trader Joes, Fresh Market and the above stores are gone.

      Delete
  16. "You saved money but didn't get your shopping done" is not logical, since you never shop exclusively at one grocery store anyway. The smaller grocers all seem idiosyncratic, and Aldi is in the mix. It's very efficiently run. They have fewer items (SKUs) than other food stores, with often one brand of each type of food, and usually a house brand, but those seem to be re-labeled major brands. Going through all the Aldi aisles (an established store, not a start-up) is good, since product placement on the shelves can be a bit random. To save money, I start my shopping at Aldi, get what I can (including favorites I don't want to miss out on), and occasionally go to a different store to get additional items. But if money doesn't matter, go your own way.

    ReplyDelete
  17. Please. Those are only problems the first time you go to Aldi's. If you don't think it is worth it, don't go back!

    ReplyDelete
  18. There’s an entire site called Aldi Isle of Shame or something for all the cool stuff in their weekly changing aisle on Wednesdays. No, I still have to go to Jewel to get everything I need, but Aldi is my #1!

    ReplyDelete
  19. Aldi is great for basics, and I love browsing the "seasonal" aisle. I've gotten decent leggings and sports bras there! For those of us that have to budget, it's great now that groceries have gotten so expensive.

    ReplyDelete
  20. It's true they don't carry a half-dozen nationally advertised brands for each category. Instead, they generally carry one very good item under one of their house brand labels. But now companies like Coca-Cola and Kraft, apparently not wanting to be forgotten by Aldi shoppers, seem to be offering deals good enough to get their products on the shelves as well.

    Aldi fans are so devoted that we have our own subreddit: https://www.reddit.com/r/aldi/

    ReplyDelete
  21. You don't return carts to the cart corral? Oh, one of my very biggest pet peeves. I know you said you leave it in the grassy area but I consider it the very height of laziness for an able-bodied person who is unable or unwilling to take the time to return the cart to the area where it is much less likely to get loose and do damage. Shame, Neil, shame.

    Lidl's is another German chain very similar to Aldi but I've discovered by a bit of Googling that my belief that Lidl's was started by a Aldi family member who fell out with the others, that it isn't so.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I usually do, but if there isn't a corral, or it's too far away, I sometimes don't. I consider myself justly chastised, and will strive to do better.

      Delete
  22. Looks like your readers trend towards big Aldi fans, Neil, so maybe you'll come around to join the converted. I also live in a food oasis in the City -- a 10-min walk from a Jewel and Mariano's across from each other (plus adjoining Osco and Walgreens) competing for my business. Or an 8-minute walk opposite direction to Trader Joe's. But I go to Aldi's 90% of the time even though it means I reluctantly drive. Shopping bags are always in my car, along with 2 quarters. Their prices are sooo much better on everything, especially produce, despite the somewhat limited options, and I like their bread options better than Jewel's. Plus, I've come to despise the "Must by 2, 4, 5, or 10(!!) items" in order to get the sale price that is so common now at Jewel. I view that approach as designed for suburbanites with big families with big kitchens who can stockpile food and not those who cook for 1 and carry their groceries home.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ya think? I forgot about Mariano's. I never go there because it got weird, like they're backforming into Home Depot.

      Delete
  23. Exactly the problem with Aldi's. They don't carry a lot of things but you could have bought a paper bag ghere for a dime or shopping style bag for a bit more.

    ReplyDelete
  24. Along with wonderful chocolate candy near the entrance, Aldi has a selection of European cookies, candies, etc in a special section. Especially at Christmas..

    ReplyDelete
  25. Nothing wrong with Millville. I'm as snobby as they come, but I've become convinced that Aldi does offer some excellent products at bargain prices. But go elsewhere for Havarti. BTW, did you know Aldi and Trader Joe share a parent company?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "Aldi and Trader Joe share a parent company?" They don't. They did, long ago.

      Delete
    2. False, Aldi (Aldi Süd) and Trader Joes (Aldi Nord) are two independent companies owned by the same family. They are not the same company at all.

      Delete
  26. I am in, and have been in the retail meat business, my whole life. The fresh meat available at Aldi. Come from the same suppliers as Marianos , Jewel, subset, Costco, etc….

    ReplyDelete
  27. And because no one has yet mentioned the Aisle of Shame, I will: https://www.aisleofshame.com/

    ReplyDelete
  28. There was a time years ago when I didn’t patronize Aldi, their quarter per cart and self-bagging ways intimidated me a bit. But curiosity got the better of me and I gave them a shot. Now it’s a weekly stop. Easy in, easy out, produce is good and prices are very good. One other thing, the employees there all hustle - when there’s no one at the register they’re policing and restocking the shelves. I’ve heard that Aldi pays a decent wage with real benefits and insurance and by the looks of it the employees respond. Pay a living wage with insurance and get good performance? Who knew! Btw, most of the employees at the stores in my area are women. They work hard and run a nice, clean and organized store. Good for them, good for Aldi.

    ReplyDelete
  29. Long time Aldi shopper here. NS, get yourself a reusable cloth bag to keep in your car and you’re ready to shop Aldi. I’m about your age and it’s just me and my wife, I rarely need a cart. Sometimes my bag is stuffed (and heavy!j but it works. I get in and out quickly and bypass the cart protocol.

    ReplyDelete
  30. Aldi's has its place, I've always gone on a center aisle mission for my sister so I hadn't experienced the cart program. Like Trader Joe's it doesn't offer the full shopping experience but I can appreciate the allure. I like Trader Joe's for their home brands and the ability to get refunds on the items you try and don't like. Their prices are low and the staff is first rate. Back from Florida in May, stopping at Jewel on the way home from O'Hare, a big box of Cheerios was $7. The same quantity at Joe's cost $2. Try the frozen Chocolate Croissants!

    ReplyDelete
  31. I'm not surprised you've never been to Aldi. I'm not surprised that you'll evidently not be returning to Aldi. Yet I'm also not surprised to see a number of people singing its praises here.

    We've been there a couple times, out of curiosity mainly, and did not become devotees. I assumed it was kind of a cut-rate place with inferior products. But, especially in the last few years, I've become aware of how popular it is and that folks generally don't consider it low-quality.

    I AM surprised that you would be put off by "off-brands I'd never heard of. Millville?" Most big chains have their own store brands. "Heritage House" "Avondale" "Trader Giotto" "365", to name a few from the present and past. That's par for the course, though perhaps not at an independent spot like Sunset Foods.

    There can be a difference between "thrifty" and "cheap", and many find Aldi to be a thrifty option. Obviously the whole operation is geared toward minimizing costs, and as long as they pass some of the savings on to the customer, this seems fine to me. While this doesn't apply to you or your wife, there are worse things in the world than people spending an extra 2 minutes and 50 seconds walking to return a cart in a country with a significant obesity problem.

    As for not providing free bags, that's an environmentally correct choice. Just be glad you don't live in the city, where the cheapo plastic bags incur a 7-cent-each tax and the double-bagged paper versions at Trader Joe's or Whole Foods are dinged at 14 cents!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Based on the response here, I think I'm editing the "not returning to Aldi" into "only shopping at Aldi." People seem to love the place.

      Delete
  32. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  33. yes only the Moser brand of chocolate, but not the Choceur

    ReplyDelete
  34. Guess who owns Trader Joe’s. Or vice versa.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. They are not owned by the same company. A common mistake. Brothers own either branch, but not together.

      Delete
  35. You are forgiven for not knowing this, as you have no need for an Advent Calendar. But the Aldi's Advent Calendar sales are something else! They advertise in the newspaper to announce when the sale begins, and all the calendars sell out fast! They have standard (inedible) calendars, and the 'chocolate a day' calendars, or truffles. Also wine and hard seltzer advent calendars, but my favorite is the Advent Cheese calendar. (They also have a Hanukkah Calendars). This sale is an annual highlight at Aldi's.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I also love them Advent offerings, but add to that all the traditional German Christmas offerings - gingerbread cookies, chocolates, gluwein…and everything is at least half off the prices at the Christkindlmarkt. Their table wines are also superior and very reasonable priced. Landshut for the win.

      Delete
  36. Aldi’s Mediterranean seasoned salmon and stuffed salmon are delicious and the price can’t be beat. Also their Irish butter is great and beats Costco’s Kerry gold price.

    ReplyDelete
  37. Oh my gosh, my 27 yo lawyer son sent me this article and said “So many people who are tribal like we are” are so out of touch! Said with a smile, come to Aldi in Vernon Hills. It’s the BEST. Sunset Shumset, you couldn’t pay me to shop there. What a rip off. I don’t need 2 people to unload my groceries onto the belt. That’s what you are paying for there. The brands at Aldi are great! All stores have their own brands. And the quality is top notch. Come down to earth a little bit. We added to to our list of food stores along time ago, and so happy we did! And guess what? I never get my quarter back, I give my cart to someone after I unload my cart. Hey it’s the price of a Gumball. Why not?

    ReplyDelete
  38. This didn't go as planned.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hell, no. 75 replies...about a grocery store. Gotta be a record...

      Delete
    2. There were probably another 50 I didn't post because the writer was seething with contempt that someone might consider not returning their shopping cart. Which is a very tiny high horse to climb upon.

      Delete
  39. I'm surprised many replies on here doesn't give credit that the Aldi brand items are at a better quality of both Walmart and Jewel brands (Great Value and Signature Select) for several snacks, meats, and other goods. I even buy beer and wine there and I'm very surprised on how much flavor they have. Again, it's nothing compared to large name companies, but for the price is never a bad choice.

    ReplyDelete
  40. This is just a brutally frustrating read. It’s like someone that knows me really well wrote something to make me as irritated as possible. It’s like the strawmen brought their friends just to have more strawmen.

    Aldi saves my family of five THOUSANDS of dollars a year on groceries. It’s a big reason why we are both in 0.8 jobs with summers off. The food their is just as good as the expensive stuff at the other store. If you shop elsewhere, you are just paying like $100 per hour to walk under chandeliers and have some underpaid kid return your cart (which seriously should only be taking 30 seconds). Meanwhile, the handful of Aldi employees are well paid and FANTASTIC at their jobs.

    Aldi is my happy place, and I’m always amazed when that rare person doesn’t buy in immediately. Thanks for being a goofball contrarian. I’m sure it is good for driving up the views, because you certainly got my attention. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "Brutally frustrating?" I didn't see anything I felt like buying. Thus the low prices really didn't matter. You guys have to consider you're not really very good spokesmen for Aldi. If somebody didn't like chocolate, or music, or pillows, I wouldn't fall to the ground weeping like this. It's a store. Get a grip.

      Delete
    2. I am in no means saying that you are as I am sure you are a super nice guy. But I think you are getting this reaction as your article made you come off as very arrogant and that Aldi is beneath you. Aldi is not for poor people anymore. It had that stigma when I was growing up. I am not kidding you when I tell you that everyone of my adult kids and their friends , all originally from the North Shore general area, ALL shop at Aldi and Trader Joe’s. They save soooo much money. Thousands a year. They would never walk into Sunset. Only the older generation still goes there. I mean, one can’t get a fruit tray or cater for a holiday (or shiva) at Aldi, (yet)!

      Delete
  41. But imagine moaning about the most basic courtesy - returning your own gd trolley

    ReplyDelete
  42. Wow. It's not everyday someone announces to the world that they're a total piece of entitled shit. Amazing. Asshole. (And I know you're not publishing this, which is fine. Just wanted you to know.)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. No, I'm weakening, and decided to throw a few of these up, if only as a reminder that lots of things you "know" are dead wrong. I'd think the decade of opera columns had cemented my TPES bona fides.

      Delete
  43. I hope you know this blog has been posted on Reddit. Lol everyone hates you.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I've been writing a column for 40 years. Someone showing up, reading one column, and damning me roundly for it, doesn't carry the sting you seem to imagine it does. Being hated seems to be the only success strategy in my business nowadays. I can live with it, as I always consider the source.

      Delete
  44. You seem to be lazy and entitled judging by your writing cause poor you waste 2 mins pushing back a cart and couldnt leave it there like an inconsiderate jerk. Also most of the off brands at Aldis come from the same manufacturer as the brand name.

    ReplyDelete
  45. "...a chance for my wife to get her shopping done"

    "Her" shopping? You don't eat any of the groceries she purchases? Or is grocery shopping simply a woman's job that you were unwillingly roped into, complaining the whole time?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The dangers of bringing your own fucked up baggage to the table. When she shops, it's "her" shopping. When I shop, it's "my" shopping. For instance, yesterday, I went to Fresh Farms. Bought some blueberries, peaches, grapefruit, and a cut-up chicken, which I prepared for dinner, along with a cucumber from "my" garden. It's mine because I plant it and water it and tend it, but my wife certainly eats it. Tell me that you aren't the harsh judgmental simpleton you seem to be.

      Delete
  46. Wow... just be a decent human being and put your cart in a corral? I mean? Are you okay? I mean you literally called quarter's worthless and then got mad you had to bring the cart back to get a quarter that was given to you for free. The most entitled post i have ever seen. Go check the reddit comments buddy

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Why on God's earth would I do that? If this is the most entitled post you've ever seen, you need to read more. You do know about Donald Trump, right? Because other things are going on. Don't hate me for telling you.

      Delete
    2. Why didn't you write about Donald Trump, then, instead of whining about spending a whole three minutes returning your own shopping cart?

      Delete
    3. Can't write about him EVERY day. And besides, I wasn't whining. I'd never seen the quarter system before, and found the psychology interesting. That a bunch of self-appointed avengers who aren't familiar with me or my column want to go for my throat over that is entirely meaningless. I deal with haters every day, and they're all the same. They're looking for reasons to attack somebody, for REASONS, and whether you pour poison on somebody because they're Black, or came to the country without documentation, or contemplated not returning a grocery cart, is only a matter of personal style. You're all the same. I'm not responsible for what you decide to hyperventilate over.

      Delete
    4. My guy, did you seriously just compare the blowback you're getting on this goofy blog post to the systemic oppression faced by Black people and undocumented immigrants in this country?

      Delete
    5. Must I explain everything to you? No, I was referring to the sort of person who is so broken they need to find victims to pour contempt upon. Obviously, having a bunch of people howling about returning shopping carts — the primary value in society, apparently — is not the same as being systematically oppressed for centuries. Do you really not know that?

      Delete
  47. You’re a lazy, scum bag, loser. I hope your seriously don’t get paid for this type of shit

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Actually, I don't. This is just my hobby blog I write for the pleasure of interacting with people such as yourself.

      Delete
  48. I'm 65 and I'm retiring this month. I know you're not far behind me in age, but you're well ahead of me in the stacking of cash so I know you don't need this. Just quit

    Do you really want to keep this job that you finally determined requires you to be hated in order to do it and be successful at it at your age with your fantastic reputation. Why would you put up with any of this crap?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. No, this is just a blip. Remember, they're reacting to something I wrote. I know how I present myself — sometimes I look bad. That's okay. I'm not trying to be the perfect person that this crew obviously expects others to be. That isn't reality as I understand. I have a man who writes 20, 30, 50 comments a day. A few days back he posted almost 100. All in the same wildly aggrieved tone as these people, over literally anything I write. So I'm supposed to quit at something I love because this guy doesn't like me? Or these people don't like me? It's not my problem.

      Delete
  49. Your article really makes you sound like an awful person. I got here from Reddit, and man, you did yourself 0 favors there. “Have you no pride, rude, extort” etc…. I think the most off putting thing about your trip to Aldi, is you.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Welcome to the blog. Since I've never read, used or thought about Reddit, it's late in the day for me to start now. There are 10 years worth of posts here. Why don't you read a second one before going off? Or is that too much work for you?

      Delete
    2. Wow, Mr. S. Just WOW. You have alluded many times to the shit you've put up with, here at EGD, for a decade now. At last you've revealed it to the rest of the world...and to your regulars.I'm neither shocked nor surprised at all the assoholics and assholery you have to put up with...just the quantity of it. If you get this much blowback from a tongue-in-cheek piece about a f'king FOOD STORE...I can only imagine the numbers over something that matters. Like, say, Black lives. How many snarks a day do you receive when you write about politics? You must get to bathe in an orange tidal wave, every goddamn day. To the MAGAT crowd, you're probably as welcome as a turd in a birdbath.

      You're a better man than I am, Mr. S. I would be at war with them 24.7/365, and doing almost nothing else (as I did after George Floyd's murder), engaging in a no-win pissing contest that only leaves every participant cold, wet, and smelly. How have you dealt with these glassbowls for so many years...for decades, even? I don't have the thick skin a journalist needs to survive for almost forty years. Which is why I'm where I am, and you're where are.

      Unfortunately, I've often stooped to the level of these keyboard warriors. As a result, I've been deleted, suspended, banned, threatened with mutilation and death, and even challenged to a shootout at the I-77 rest stop of my choice. Have you finally started answering these jamokes back, publicly, because you've reached the end of your tether? Every human being has his limits..Don't let the bastards grind you down, Mr. S. You are too good for the likes of them. F'k those hordes of vermin at Reddit. Maybe it's just a case of post-Plague crankiness. Hope you feel better soon.

      Delete
    3. Thanks Grizz. Kind of you. But no need to worry. This is a fluke, like the time I used the phrase "child porn" in a headline. Most of the thousands reacting hadn't even read the piece. How could I possibly put any weight at all to their taunts and suppositions? In the main, I'm here in my lonely Midwestern field, watering my potatoes. Usually I have you, and my regular readers, and everything is fine. Now and then, some quirk happens — like whatever is going on over at Reddit — and a flood of angry people unfamiliar with me, with my writing, perhaps with thought itself, flood in and go crazy. They aren't my customers. What's funny is the hypocrisy. I go to Aldi's and wonder, in a vague kind of way, about how it works. Causing them to show up at MY store, insulting and demanding, condemning and complaining, in a way, far, far, worse than anything I could conceivably be guilty of. Doing exactly what they are condemning me, wrongly, for supposedly doing. It's almost beautiful. And all part of the education, as I like to say. My takeaway is this post got 10,000 hits. I only wish I could figure out how to do it on a regular basis.

      Delete
    4. Ten thousand hits? Cheezus Chrysler. I suppose, in order to make that a regular thing, you'd have to become a total douchebag like that Ben Shapiro is, or F'ker Carlson, or even the way Lush Rinjob was before he finally met his demise. Are 10,000 hits worth selling out to douchebaggery? I say HELL, NO. And if you do, you might lose a lot of good people. Maybe even me.

      Delete
    5. No, you really should check out Reddit it's hysterical and this isn't the first time that you've been a subject of one of their. What do you call it attacks?

      Delete
    6. Pass. I bet it's funnier if it's not you. But I have a strategy called "keep the poison out" that served me well before this, is serving me well now, and will serve me well after you guys move onto your next object of attack.

      Delete
    7. The Reddit post I made about this has 305,000 views, 250+ comments, and counting. It's on the "mildlyinfuriating" subreddit, if you want.to check it out!

      Delete
    8. I don't, but thank you for the boost. You know, today's column is about the Barbie movie, and I'm sure there is some kind of misstep as behooves a 63-year-old man. Maybe you could lead the charge against that. I could use the traffic.

      Delete
  50. This just in: grown man discovers coin carts and lambastes a good system because he doesn't understand it

    ReplyDelete
  51. Unfuckingbelievable! How does a simple review of a shopping experience elicit such a response? I find it hard to take seriously any abuse from a person who signs on as Anonymous. I could nitpick about any purveyor of any merchandise, so what? Jewel too expensive, yes , but they have a reasonable house brand of my cereal. Bought bananas on monday that cost 3 times Trader Joe's and the were horrible, a problem Joe's has never caused me. Marianos has suffered from becoming Krogers, but not fatally. I mourn the loss of Happy Foods and the incredible ham salad but I feel no need to complain about it to my congressman, or columnists who should be concerned with weightier matters. Like why Hunter Biden doesn't fess up and take the heat off his father.

    ReplyDelete
  52. Instead of timing her why not just drive up to the front and pick her up. Insufferable

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I suggested that. She declined. Again, you're making assumptions based on ignorance. There's a lot of that going around.

      Delete
    2. Well, your post was an account of someone making assumptions based on ignorance. So don't be surprised if you push the button marked meatballs and that that's what you get

      Delete
    3. Who knew? Believe me, if I had any idea I'd be holding a jamboree for angry Aldi fans, I'd have picked another topic.

      Delete
  53. So what you've done here is experience a minor amount of culture shock, but expressed it as if you were the stereotypical "Ugly American" rather than seeking to experience and understand the new culture you have experienced.

    Perhaps you require a guide of some sort for your next visit. Or, perhaps, a general understanding of where you are going.

    Every since my childhood in the 70s and 80s, ALDI was known as an off-brand story where canned goods and dry goods reigned supreme. Through the miracle of private labeling, they secured savings on identical products for their customers. The Millville brand, for example, is produced by either Malt-O-Meal or General Mills, depending on the source you read (or potentially which cereal you select) but both are old and known names of the industry. Similarly, canned goods will be coming from other well-known places. And it's a hell of a lot nicer than the black & white generic ones that I saw growing up. Remember the commercials of the 80s? ALDI ... the stock-up store ... because they were known for low prices on things that did not spoil ... but they've gotten better.

    Check out the bread section; look for the chocolate brioche, which is both fresh and imported from France! And there are other imported goods as well.

    The fresh section is a rapidly improving portion of the store, with more produce overall, and more fresh meats. And I recently saw a video where someone used the codes on the dairy products packaging to track it back to a major brand, and it does bear the "real" seal.

    And LEARN HOW TO ADAPT TO CIRCUMSTANCES. Do you have any idea how many times I showed up at ALDI without a quarter and received help with that? Not only can you go to the register and ask to break a dollar, sometimes they keep extra quarters around, and sometimes random strangers will let you take their cart and not retrieve their quarter ... or even give you one to use.

    Not having a quarter is a very fixable problem at ALDI.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Which, in my piece, was fixed by the passing woman. I get that you really, really like Aldi. But I'd never gone. We'd already been to the supermarket, earlier that day. My wife wanted to go to Kohl's, and I went along to keep her company, and then she wanted to go to Aldi, and I went along, and paid attention to the place, wondering about the various elements. I can't imagine being so fragile that my mild interest in understanding what was in front of me turned into the philippic that Aldi fans feel they are reacting to.

      Delete
    2. People shop at Aldi to save money, and depending on their circumstances, it can make the difference between fresh and frozen produce or having a better grade of cheese or coffee. It was a godsend to me when I worked my way through grad school years ago, and everything you pointed out seemed weird and irksome on my first visit. Now I feel tremendous affection for its quirks and gratitude for what it provided me, although its hipster cousin TJ continues to disappoint. Your column seemed to emanate from an entitled suburban perspective even though your readers know you are more than that and have taken your share of knocks. I'm sorry for all the rude posts but Aldi inspires a fair amount of devotion for its thrift, simplicity and surprising range of imported products like affordable Irish butter. People don't see what isn't there; they're grateful it's still around and that its owners are plowing money into these stores. You tread on the toes of this subculture without realizing it. Godspeed.

      Delete
    3. Congratulations to you — this is what I consider a decent repy. I like to think I'm not "entitled" so much as "privileged." I have a great job that I love and make oodles of money doing. I live in the suburbs. I am entirely as I present myself. I get that Aldi's is a shining beacon of light to people. And I understand bargains — I drive to where the village piles its mulch and shovel it into garbage cans to take home. Because it's free mulch. Every one of my neighbors pays hundreds of dollars for mulch. I'd never DREAM of holding them in contempt for that. It's a big world. They sell rum raisin ice cream. SOMEBODY must eat it. Just not me.

      Delete
    4. Phillipic? I believe that the word you were supposed to use is screed, which is some kind of abuse heaped upon someone in writing, whereas philippic is a speech of some sort heaping abuse upon a political subject

      Delete
    5. Thanks for the editing advice. I know what it means. These are comments.

      Delete
    6. You should see if Blogger could change "anonymous" to "Joey Nichols".

      As in "What an asshole."

      Delete
  54. I first entered an Aldi with my Mom and Aunt when I was about 8 or 9 (I think it was in Markham). They had the quarter deposit cart system back then, along with the absence of music/Muzak that they still retain, and a few other cost cutting standards that they seem to have abandoned, like no power for the doors (even though they were designed as power doors so you had to push and pull hard on them). I remember being put off by some of these things since I'd already been accustomed to certain amenities at grocery stores, and since I wasn't the one spending money, what did I care how much you saved for having to endure a noticeably bleaker shopping experience that what I'd come to expect.

    Time, though, is the great equalizer, and after I grew up and the years rolled past, I came to value the savings, and other charms that Aldi had to offer. The quality and variety of the food has improved measurably through the years, and the lack of music is something that I have come to treasure, not because I object to stores using the right kind of music to set an ambient tone, but because most of them (especially Jewel-Osco) always seem to insist on blaring ghastly contemporary pop music of the sort that is so bad that it sends me running out of the store gagging. Aldi's business model not only curtails litter in it's own small way, but it suppresses noise pollution too, for which the tasteful and refined should be grateful. I know I am.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I guess I haven't noticed the music in grocery stores, perhaps working retail during the Christmas season trained me to ignore the background. Not forcing us to listen to some corporate drones' idea of tasteful music is definitely a point in favor of Aldi.

      Delete
    2. I was recently at my local Jewel's. The bro country that is often played is stomach-turning enough, but I nearly ran out of there screaming when I heard The Power of Love by Celine Dion, which may be the loudest song she's ever recorded. Maybe there was a special on aspirin on the Osco side...I needed some.

      Delete
    3. Or earplugs!

      Delete
  55. Well I don't Often have quarters in my pocket though. I do carry cash. When I go to the ATM I get ones this way every panhandler that I encounter I can give a dollar to . the Pope said that I'm supposed to and that's good enough for me.

    ReplyDelete
  56. Neil did you know that Aldi’s also owns Trader Joe’s? Also in Switzerland it is common to have to pay for your cart just as you did for your cart at Aldi’s

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think I know just about everything there is to know about Aldi at this point. Although I think they're both owned by some larger entity. The summer I lived in Switzerland, the grocery came to us — the Migros truck, which parked by our apartment, a large semi you walked through and shopped, buying what struck me — at the time — as these ridiculously tiny cartons of milk.

      Delete
    2. What you might not know, since I don’t think I saw it mentioned in any of the comments, is that Aldi carries the best peanut butter cups in the world. Once you savor them you’ll be like, “…why did I sully my tastebuds with that Reese’s stuff for all those years?”. I also highly recommend their Jaffa Cakes, which are actually cookies that consist of a small round thin sponge cake coated with either orange or strawberry flavored jam and coated with chocolate. They used to have raspberry flavor instead of strawberry, and I hope they bring it back because it was the best.

      Delete
  57. I live in the heart of the northwest side and have 2 Aldis nearby, one within walking distance with a sparse selection and one within driving/biking distance with a better selection. I go to that one. My favorite thing is when some yahoo leaves their cart in the parking lot and I return it and get a free quarter. Also, I like their Winking Owl wine, especially the pinot grigio.

    ReplyDelete
  58. The first section may clarify who owns what...for some: https://www.wikiwand.com/en/Aldi

    ReplyDelete
  59. I won't shop Aldi produce as much of it comes in single use plastic and (cue the high horse), I am as close to zero waste as I can be. And there's it helps that there's a Caputo's just up the road that sells everything sans plastic.
    But I rarely get my quarter back. I take the cart back to the corral and push it in close but leave it unlocked. It is a small kindness and I love watching the joy that a quarter buys! If the cart price is too steep, don't shop Aldi's in Europe. Cart requires a £1 coin ($1.28) in England and €1 coin ($1.10) in Germany.

    ReplyDelete
  60. LOL on this one Neil. I too think I know everything about Aldi's! And I think I learned and unlearned a lot scanning these many comments too! What a response. I live in Central Illinois (sometimes referred to as "Forgottonia") where we have several nice groceries in town in addition to Walmart-where I've never gone as I don't want to lose any more groceries including a very nice small family owned one here. I used to go to our "go to" grocery HyVee first but after a nice renovation, stop by Aldi's on my way to HyVee-a store that employs many people in our small town and don't want to lose it either. In past years there I heard that employees were not paid or given many benefits. If that was so, I don't think it continues to be so as I just looked on a few sites and found that they get good pay and good benefits too! I think that's an important part of the decision making process when choosing what to buy and where to buy it as well. Thx for this fun romp today

    ReplyDelete
  61. My Reddit post about you hit one million views when all was said and done. Thanks for quoting me in the Chicago Sun-Times!

    ReplyDelete

This blog posts comments at the discretion of the proprietor.