The cheapest grocery store in our shopping cart comparison, Aldi has adopted a low-price strategy that includes bagging groceries with your own bags, limited selection, and limited store hours. While complaints surface about in-house brand quality, a trade publication named Aldi Retailer of the Year for 2014. We found the store well-organized and less intimidating than big-box stores.
For consumers who care most about saving a buck or two and less about brand names, our review determined that Aldi is the place to shop. This discount grocery chain is the cheapest -- by more than $10, with a final bill of $72.30 for 37 common items -- when stacked against Walmart and Kroger. The drawback to shopping at Aldi is limited variety -- often one brand and one size for each product. This is no-frills shopping at its finest.
Aldi implements many cost-saving strategies in order to offer consumers the lowest prices possible. The business model calls for a refundable 25-cent deposit for a shopping cart, which reduces the cost of paying employees to retrieve them from the parking lot or the aisles. Customers must pay with cash or debit or EBT cards, which minimizes the grocer's processing fees. Groceries must be self-bagged with -- you guessed it -- bags brought from home; Aldi sells reusable bags at the register. Aldi store hours are limited compared with traditional grocery chains, but locations are open during prime shopping hours, all of which saves on labor costs. Each location stocks only about 1,400 of the fastest-moving grocery items as opposed to the nearly 30,000 items lining the shelves of a full-service market like Kroger or Walmart. This cost-reduction tactic allows Aldi to operate smaller stores and pay less in rent and utilities.
For all that, Aldi is well-regarded by experts and consumers. A review by experts at Private Label Store Brands magazine earned Aldi the 2014 Retailer of the Year award. The discount grocery chain was cited for its commitment to providing high-value, high-quality products. Indeed, marketing materials for the chain boast that its private label brands are made of the same, if not better, ingredients than those found in comparable national brands. One loyal Aldi shopper we interviewed raves about the store's in-house labels and says his family can't tell the difference between these and name-brand products.
Other consumers, however, find fault with the stores and product quality. Aldi reviews posted at Pissed Consumer run the gamut, with some complaining that specific products taste terrible and others noting that prices are certainly cheap but that customer service is even cheaper. Still others say the quality of the in-house brands has deteriorated. News reports from more than a year ago detailed the discovery of horse meat in Aldi's beef products sold in Europe. (The problem has since been corrected.)
Aldi works hard to keep customers happy. The Double Guarantee program offers a full refund and a replacement item if consumers are not satisfied with a product. It runs weekly "special buys" that offer some products at discounted prices, but it does not accept manufacturers' coupons. Aldi has a free mobile app for iPhone and Android users that shows weekly sales and new low prices as they change; it also lets users create shopping lists and find a nearby Aldi store. On the weekday we shopped, in the very late afternoon, the checkout line moved quickly although only two registers were open. The store was clean and free of clutter, the aisles were wide, and overall the facility was easy to navigate.
Aldi has cornered its niche market. The low-pricing policy seems to be working, and consumers keep coming back for more. Also in its favor, the chain has caught the attention of experts and drawn praise for its efforts despite the lack of product variety and one-stop shopping convenience.