I Shopped at Aldi for the First Time and Here's What I Learned

Corner Front Exterior of an Aldi Grocery Store in Pearland, Texas, Carts on the Left and Front Doors on the Right with Lots of Sidewalk Around the Building


Cheapism is editorially independent. We may earn a commission if you buy through links on our site.
Corner Front Exterior of an Aldi Grocery Store in Pearland, Texas, Carts on the Left and Front Doors on the Right with Lots of Sidewalk Around the Building

Aldi 101

German grocer Aldi has earned more and more U.S. devotees, but I'll admit I'd been late to the party. After all, I already shopped for food at a lot of places — Kroger, Costco, Trader Joe's, and Target — and the thought of adding one more store to my list seemed silly. But the store's cheap prices on everything from mac and cheese to hummus had me intrigued, so I decided to try Aldi on my next small grocery trip. Here's what I discovered.

Prices and availability are subject to change. 

Produce Area at an Aldi Store, Very Clean and Organized, 'Fresh Deals' Section on the Far Right

It's Way More Than Canned Goods

I vaguely remembered exploring an Aldi maybe 15 or 20 years ago, and it seemed like a lot of cheap canned goods, pantry basics, and not much else. Aldi has definitely evolved: My local store was packed with produce, frozen foods, snack foods, bakery items, and more to round out those inexpensive kitchen staples.

Frozen Section of an Aldi Store, Wall of Frozen Goods with Freezer in Middle of a Large Aisle

There's Nothing 'Off' About the Food ...

The first thing my husband asked when I told him I was heading to Aldi: "Isn't that for scratch-and-dent-type food?" It's a common misconception, but my trip confirmed that nothing Aldi sells is scratched, dented, dangerously close to expiration, or otherwise "off" in any way (unless you consider suspiciously low prices "off"). 

Closeup of Organic Produce Area of an Aldi Store, Several Organic Fruits and Vegetables on Display of 2 Rows

... And Some Is Surprisingly Highbrow

Organic produce? Aldi had a small but mighty selection. Gluten-free? Yep — there was actually a whole line of products called liveGfree. There's antibiotic- and hormone-free meat, cage-free eggs, and a gourmet label called Specially Selected. I even saw hibiscus-berry craft soda, plenty of fancy cheese, and an admirable selection of imported chocolate (some of which may have ended up in my cart). 

For more great shopping guides and grocery tips, please sign up for our free newsletters.

Closeup of a 'Store Hours' Sticker on Window of an Aldi Store, With Store Hours for 'Mon-Fri', 'Saturday', and 'Sunday'

The Hours Are More Limited Than Your Typical Supermarket

Sometimes I like to hit Kroger at 10 or 11 p.m., when the kids are in bed and I can cruise the aisles by myself. That's never been an option at my local Aldi, and nor has early morning shopping, and not because coronavirus forced some changes in store hours. It opens at 9 a.m. and closes promptly at 8 p.m., which is all about efficiency: Keeping the store open extended hours would mean higher labor costs, the store says. However, some locations remain open until 9 p.m. 

2 Rows of Several Canned Foods at an Aldi Store in a Side of an Aisle, Clean and Organized

The Selection Is More Limited, Too

I figured a small store such as Aldi wouldn't have a huge selection, and I was right — there's only so much it can pack into its compact footprint. Instead of carrying dozens of brands and flavors of potato chips or yogurt, for instance, the store carried just a few. That isn't necessarily a turn-off for me — Costco, after all, also strategically limits its inventory — but it could be for a shopper who needs a very specific item, or simply isn't sure what they want and feels like browsing.

Related: 20 Things You Probably Didn't Know About Costco

Closeup of Quarter Deposit on an Aldi Cart Outside an Aldi Store, 'Deposit 25¢'

Want a Cart? You'll Need a Quarter

Paying for a cart seems a little mind-boggling at first, but as with everything else Aldi does, it's all about keeping costs down, since corralling carts sucks up time that its workers could better use doing other things. After popping my shiny quarter into a little red lock attached to the cart handle, I could liberate my cart. Happily, as soon as I returned and relocked the cart, I got my quarter back. (At the height of coronavirus, staffers were taking carts from customers to sanitize them before someone else grabbed them.)

Closeup of 2 Rows of Cubby Holes with Shopping Bags to Purchase in an Aldi Store, Prices in Yellow with Descriptions at the Top

Bring Some Bags — or Snag a Box

If you've got reusable grocery bags, bring 'em. Otherwise, you'll be stuck paying a few cents for each paper or plastic bag, when it's time to check out. I confess that I forgot bags, but I discovered an easy (and free) Aldi hack: I just used empty cardboard boxes — the same ones the food is shipped in — that I found around the store. (And yes, Aldi is totally cool with this.)

Several Groceries on the Checkout Conveyor Belt in an Aldi Store, An Array of Different Kinds Including Potato Chips, a Loaf of Bread, and Bananas

I Was My Own Bagger

Cost-cutting Aldi strikes again: There are no baggers. But what better way to make sure the milk doesn't smash the bread than by bagging everything yourself? There's even a bagging area at the front of the store where you can arrange everything just so, without worrying about holding up the checkout lines.

Related: How Does This Under-the-Radar Grocery Store Stack Up to Aldi?

'Aldi Finds' Aisle in an Aldi Store, Three Rows of Random Yet Interesting Items at Bargain Prices

The Displays Aren't Pretty

My local Aldi was bright and clean — frankly, it was more attractive than I thought it would be, in a pleasingly minimalist way — but products were left to sell themselves. In most cases, items were simply stacked on the shelves without being removed from the boxes they were shipped in. Costco and Sam's Club shoppers won't bat an eye, but if you're used to enticing displays, you won't find them here.

Closeup of a Poop Emoji Float and a Pepperoni Pizza Lounge Float at an Aldi Store with Price Sticker Underneath of '$3.99' with Description

There Are Some Truly Bizarre Items

Here are some things I never thought I'd find at Aldi: A vintage-inspired turntable. A set of luggage. A portable hammock. A pool float shaped like a poop emoji. (Yes, really.) Labeled "Aldi Finds," these kinds of non-food items are limited-time buys that are often seasonal. They're certainly worth a browse, even if only for the entertainment value. 

Closeup of 4 Rows Many Different Kinds of Packaged Vegetables in a Refrigerated Section of an Aldi Store, Salads on the Top Row, Spinach, Green Beans, and More

I've Never Heard of Most of the Brands ...

If you must have your Ben & Jerry's ice cream, Tropicana orange juice, or Heinz ketchup, Aldi is not your store, as it carries about 90% store brands. Its website lists nearly two dozen exclusive labels, including Clancy's snack foods, L'Oven Fresh bread, Little Journey baby products, and much more. I spotted a few familiar brand names including Coke, Tyson, Gatorade, Crest, and Tide, but they were the exception, not the rule.

Closeup of 2 12-Packs of Summit Cola in an Aldi Store

... But the Labels Are Eerily Familiar

Aldi is king of copycat packaging. If I hadn't been paying attention while browsing, I might have actually thought I was staring at Velveeta instead of Clancy's CheeseMelt, Mountain Dew instead of Summit Mountain Frost, or Lucky Charms instead of Millville Marshmallows & Stars. Some of the product names were also pretty cheeky. For instance, you won't find Ritz crackers, but you will find Savoritz crackers — packaged in bright red, of course.

Related: Aldi Products That Taste Like Name Brands — and Some That Definitely Don't

One Side of an Aisle 4 Rows of Wine and Champagnes in an Aldi Store, Organized with Descriptions and Prices Underneath

There's Definitely Booze

If you want to get your drink on, Aldi has you covered (though local laws may affect availability in some locations). At my store, there was a ton of cheap wine, from $4 to about $15 a bottle, as well as champagne, sangria, and ready-made mimosas and bellinis (brunch, anyone?) The beer selection was curated to echo mass-market favorites, such as Holland Lager (think Heineken), Cerveza Monterrey (think Corona), and Wicked Grove (think Angry Orchard hard cider). 

Closeup of 3 Rows of Toiletries in an Aldi Store, Hair Care Products, Bath Soaps, Toothpastes, and More

The Toiletries and Household Goods Failed to Impress

There's no question that food is the star of the show at Aldi. Sure, you can get things such as shampoo and paper towels there, but the selection seemed particularly thin. The prices weren't a slam dunk, either — for instance, a liter-size bottle of Aldi's Dentiguard mouthwash was 10 cents more than Target's store brand, Up & Up. Throw in Target's better selection, frequent sales, and REDcard discounts, and it makes more sense for me to keep stocking up on these things there. 

2 Checkout Aisles with '3' Aisle with a Cashier and a Line of Customers Checking Out in an Aldi Store, the Other '2' Is Closed, Several Candies and Gums on Display to Purchase

The Cashiers Are Ruthlessly Efficient

I had to watch the Aldi cashiers in awe for a moment, because I'd never seen grocery-store checkouts move this fast. One of the reasons for the speed? More barcodes on each product mean the clerk doesn't have to keep turning over a product to find one to scan. In fact, on a 12-pack of Aldi's Summit Cola, I found a whopping seven barcodes. Also speeding things up: No one is fumbling with coupons or checks, because neither is accepted.

Closeup of 'Double Guarantee' Sign in an Aldi Store

There's a 'Double Guarantee' — and It's No Joke

Aldi clearly wants to reach its skeptics, and one of the ways it's trying to do that is with its unique "double guarantee." If you don't like something you buy, Aldi will refund your money as well as offer a replacement. According to the clerk who checked me out, the store makes a point of not hassling folks who take advantage, as this is a way to lure and keep customers.

Wire Basket Holding Copies of the AldiFinds Deals Flyer at an an Aldi Store with Sign

You Can Totally Plan Ahead

Aldi actually publishes a couple weeks of circulars at a time, so you can preview next week's specials before coming back in. Wednesday seems to be the day big meat specials begin (promotions I saw included rack of lamb for $10 a pound, and ground beef for $1.79 a pound). You can also preview select non-food "Aldi Finds."

Closeup of 2 Boxes with Several Groceries Piled in Them on a Table in an Aldi Store

I Was Amazed at How Far $40 Went

Low prices are the draw here, and Aldi didn't disappoint. I ended up with two full crates of groceries for just over $40 — not bad at all. Some of the highlights: a full-size bag of tortilla chips for 89 cents, a dozen eggs for 49 cents, a pound of strawberries for 99 cents, and 6-ounce cups of yogurt for 35 cents.  

Closeup of Animal Crackers on a Wooden Table

Everything Tastes Pretty Good

The million-dollar question: Does Aldi's food actually taste good? I can't vouch for everything, but I've been pleased with my items so far — especially some to-die-for chocolate-coated butter cookies that I picked up on a whim. And my picky kids gave their all-important approval to staples such as fruit snacks, animal crackers, and mini muffins.

Closeup of Aldi Truth #12 Sign at an Aldi Store, Avocado Green

I Think I'll Be Back

If I had to sum up Aldi, I'd say it feels like Trader Joe's and Costco had a baby. Like Trader Joe's, it's stuffed with store brands and has a small, unintimidating footprint. Like Costco, it has a no-frills, value-first feel but still packs in enough surprises to keep shoppers on their toes. I'm not sure I can completely ditch Kroger — there are some products there we're just too attached to — but for quick grocery trips when I don't need anything too exotic, Aldi seems like a no-brainer.

Related: The 29 Best Things to Buy at Trader Joe's

Closeup of an Aldi Süd Store Sign in Obernburg, Germany, Slightly Looking Up to It


Who owns Aldi?
Two brothers, Karl and Theo Albrecht, started Aldi in Germany shortly after World War II, though they split the company into Aldi Süd and Nord in 1966. While there are thousands of Aldi stores across the globe — from the U.S. to Slovenia — the American chain belongs to Aldi Süd. That said, Aldi Nord owns another popular grocery chain in the U.S.: Trader Joe’s.

Where can I find Aldi?
Aldi has stores all over the world, with most of its businesses located in Germany and other parts of Europe. According to the data company ScrapeHero, Aldi currently operates 2,299 stores in the U.S., many of which are located in Illinois and other midwestern states.

When does Aldi open and close?
Aldi’s hours vary by location. Most are open seven days a week, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Does Aldi take EBT?
All Aldi locations accept SNAP and EBT, according to the grocery chain’s website.

Related: How to Save Big at the Grocery Store