There are two Aldi grocery store chains, one good, one evil.
A friend of mine recently told me I should check out Aldi's, the grocery store chain, as they have good prices on food. I told him I've already been to Aldi's - the other Aldi's which is known as Trader Joe's.
Aldi's started out as a grocery store chain in Germany. The story I heard was that two brothers inherited the chain and decided to divide it into two halves, Aldi Nord and Aldi Sud, for the North and South locations of the chains in Germany. Both have since come to America, with all Aldi Nord rebranding itself as Trader Joe's and Aldi Sud calling itself simply Aldi's.
Trader Joe's is an interesting beast. In some respects it is a bargain-basement Balducci's, offering a number of gourmet items - particularly a lot of prepared foods - but at very reasonable prices, compared to the gourmet stores. This is not to say it is a place to buy everyday food items, but if you want a specialty item, it may be cheaper than the gourmet store. Others have noted that some of their items are available at other stores, and a host of Trader Joe's junkies have gone online to find out who really makes the Trader Joe's branded products. Product recalls are often the most telling.
So the olive tapenade spread you love to serve at your favorite party might be found for less at - gasp - Walmart.
They're most famous for their inexpensive wine selection, particularly the Trader Joe's house-branded Two Buck Chuck or Charles Shaw. Recently they've introduced a new line of organic Charles Shaw simply called "Shaw" for about $3.95 a bottle and it really isn't bad.
They have an amazing beer selection too, but it is kind of overpriced. In terms of food, they have a lot of prepared items including things in jars like sauces and pickles and whatnot which are often inexpensive and pretty decent. They also have an awful lot of prepared frozen foods as well. It's a fun place to go to get certain things, but not really a grocery store in it of itself. You can't buy staple items there at a reasonable price. They don't have a meat department, per se but rather packaged vac-u-packed meats at pretty expensive prices. You have to be astute shopping there, and buy only certain things.
Aldi's is a different beast. It also has a pretty small footprint store and carries a limited array of goods. What's weird about Aldi's is that they will put non-grocery items in the middle of grocery sections. So you're in the middle of the meat department and you'll see some camping gear randomly scattered around. It really makes no sense. I've been to a few of these stores, and the prices seem okay but nothing seems particularly cheap. I suppose if you're used to shopping at Safeway or Publix these prices seem like particular bargains. But if you've been shopping at Walmart, they seem kind of Meh.
But for some reason there are people who are real groupies of Aldi's. I don't understand it quite frankly. It's just a grocery store and not a particularly large one and doesn't have particularly great prices. I bought some things there, which seemed like bargains. We bought a collapsible sink to use on our camping trip out west. I think it was like $6 or so and they wanted twice as much, if not three times, at the Camping World store for the same item, although not quite as good. Why this item was in the middle of the meat department at Aldi's, I do not know.
But I think I put my finger on it right there. My friends who rant and rave about how great Aldi's is, usually shop at Publix or Safeway, or some of their chain grocery store like Winn-Dixie. They wouldn't dream of setting foot in Walmart because of their political views or because they harbor a belief that all they will find there is dented cans of expired peas and other poverty foods.
What is, of course, fascinating is that so many American grocery chains are owned by foreign companies. Aldi's and Trader Joe's are owned by the Germans, and Food Lion is owned by the French. It seems the rest of the major chains are mostly owned by private investment firms, family-owned companies, or the like. And many chains incorporate a number of different brands. Saying you prefer Safeway to Albertsons as idiotic, they're both owned by the same parent company.
But as for Aldi's, I just don't understand what the fuss is all about. There are larger stores with greater selections of goods that are not so randomly placed. There are places that have better prices as well, as well as a better selection. Aldi's isn't necessarily horrible, but I think I'd rather go to Trader Joe's first.
Trader Joe's, however, is not a place to buy staple goods, as I noted before. It is a cheap version of the gourmet store or wine shop, and if you shop astutely, you can find some bargains, and some nice things at prices far below that of Balducci's. But for everyday items? That's why God invented Walmart.
A recent clueless piece on MSN Money illustrates why most Americans don't trust the press anymore. The idiotic lady who wrote the piece complains that she went to Trader Joe's to buy "eggs, lettuce, and arugula" and was hoping to spend around $20. OK, stop right there. Eggs are a dollar-a-dozen these days, and bacon and arugula aren't that much more. Twenty bucks? That would buy a month's supply of these items at Walmart. And yes, Walmart has arugula - even organic arugula. $2.56 a box.
Instead, she foolishly loads up on sugary-sweet items (a gourmand, she is not, I suspect she likes those kicky sweet wines that girls like to drink, as well) and leaves with two shopping bags full of what is essentially candy, which costs her a whopping $150: "A quick stop to pick up eggs, bacon, and arugula instead turned into a supermarket sweep. Instead of an estimated $20 on essentials, my blitz set me back almost $150. I trudged home on my supermarket walk of shame, carrying two bags filled with things I didn’t need, but couldn’t resist: chocolate trail mix, those addictive poofy sour cream and onion cheese puffs, pink and white animal cookies, jerky, and not one but three kinds of toffee (pistachio, almond, and chocolate coated)." When I go to Trader Joe's, I spend twice that much, but usually leave with two shopping carts full - one just with wine. She is not an astute shopper. She's a fucking moron. They let people with no taste, style, or intellect write for the news these days? How is it possible to even blow twenty bucks on eggs, lettuce, and bacon? I mean, come on!
Yes, you can buy utter crap at Trader Joe's. I wrote about this before - they sell a lot of candy items to people who think they are sophisticated but have the tastes of a six-year-old's birthday party. It is like the "vegan" aisle at Wegman's - where you can buy all sorts of sugary treats and cerals, and even "Jolly Rancher" candies which are vegan (Did you know that pure sugar has no meat in it? Neither did I!) and pretend that you are eating healthy. But of course, to do this, you have to be a blithering idiot, and make the choice - to be a blithering idiot.
I guess that is what made me weep when I read this - this "lady" has all the sophistication of a six-year-old and the equivalent level of self-control. She can't help but buy things she doesn't need when she goes to Marshall's, because, you know, she's just a girl (tee-hee). I think she single-handedly set back the women's movement by 100 years. Or maybe the woman's movement never existed, in her alternative Mandela-effect universe.
Yes, you can blow a lot of money on junk you don't need, if you are are just being stupid. And yes, you can do this at Walmart, too. I went there the other day for an eye exam, but declined their generous offer to sell me a pair of glasses for $300 a pair. We are going to try an online seller this time around and I'll let you know how that works out.
But what I found fascinating about the place was how much of the stuff for sale was impulse-purchase items, and how many poor people were snapping this stuff up. I wrote before how the best Christmas decorations are in the poorest neighborhoods, and indeed, the best Halloween decorations are as well. For some reason, poor people think it is essential to not only turn their front lawn into a haunted mansion and graveyard, but to even buy Halloween-themed housewares, including tea towels, pumpkin scented candles, glassware, dishware, and a host of other things you wouldn't think of as being seasonal decorations.
For some reason, poorer people have gone over the top with holidays, lately.
But a lot of stores are like this - Bed, Bath, and Beyond sells nothing but impulse-purchase items, whose displays clog the aisles. If you want sheets, towels, or basic staples like that, you might as well shop online - you'll get a better product at a better price, and you'll have it quicker, as the brick-and-mortar stores don't keep inventories anymore.
We stopped going to Camping World this summer, after several trips looking for accessories for our new camper. The stuff they carry - like all modern "brick and mortar" was impulse-purchase junk, like a paper-plate organizer or a soap holder. The real nuts-and-bolts RV parts weren't stocked anymore, but had to be ordered online. We waited until we got home, looked online, and ordered the parts we needed, from lower-cost suppliers than Camping World.
So, in a way, I sympathize with this moronic woman who wrote this stupid piece about how she has no self-control. Every store today caters to the impulse-shopper, and you can't blame them for that - after all this results in a lot of sales and lots of profits. The idea that somehow you can shop at a different store and avoid this, however, is flawed. If she has no self-control at Trader Joe's or Marshall's, then she won't do much better at Walmart - leaving with a cart full of Halloween decorations and pumpkin-spice candles. And the same is true of Aldi's - they put camping gear in the meat department, because they hope you'll make an impulse purchase which is where their real profits are.
This is not to run-down America's grocery stores or other retail businesses. Like I said, you can't blame them for dangling out impulse-purchase items, you can only blame yourself for buying them. The American grocery-store is an amazing place - much better than the stores in Venezuela or Cuba, to be sure! We have aisle after aisle of inexpensive foods - but also bad bargains. And finding the real bargains usually isn't too hard - turn away from the garish "end cap" displays and just about anything at eye-level. Look up and look down - sometimes the best deals are harder to find. Anything convenient is usually something inconvenient to you, in the long run.
But if you leave the store with two lousy bags holding $150 of junk food, don't blame the store. You made that choice, plain and simple. And vowing to "never shop there again!" isn't the answer - you'll just buy the same crap at another store, unless you change your own habits. And one good habit to change is to stop eating like a six-year-old.