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All Contents © 2019The Kiplinger Washington Editors
By Bob Niedt, Online Editor
| May 18, 2018
Aldi is rapidly expanding in the U.S. Already, the no-frills German supermarket chain has nearly 1,800 stores in 35 states offering super-low prices on brand-name knockoffs. Indeed, 90% of Aldi's products are exclusive store brands, and many mimic the packaging and taste of national brands. We found several great items at Aldi that deserve a spot on your grocery list based on quality or value -- or both.
But after checking in with shopping experts, as well doing comparison-shopping (and taste-testing) on our own at stores in Northern Virginia, we found that some deals at Aldi aren't worth it. First, brand-name knockoffs don't always taste as good as the real deal. Second, Aldi doesn't accept manufacturers' coupons or offer a loyalty program. That means you can find certain brand-name products at other retailers at comparable prices to Aldi's knockoffs once you factor in sales, coupons and loyalty perks. Take a look at what to buy -- and what to avoid -- at Aldi.
Under the Baker's Corner store brand, Aldi was selling a 32.8-ounce bag of brown sugar for $1.29; a four-pound bag of pure cane sugar for $1.69; and a five-pound bag of all-purpose flour for $1.19. By comparison, Giant charged double the price (or more) for comparable brand-name baking products: $2.69 for a 32-ounce bag of Domino light brown sugar; $4.49 for a four-pound bag of Domino pure cane sugar; and $3.19 for a five-pound bag of Pillsbury Best all-purpose flour. Aldi's 16.9-ounce Carlini extra-virgin olive oil was selling for $3.49 versus $8.99 for the same size bottle of Bertolli EVOO at Giant.
"Flour, sugar, oils are all great quality and priced very well," says Tracie Fobes, a money-saving expert at PennyPinchinMom.com. "The only time when the regular store may be a better deal [than Aldi] is around holidays when they often have rock-bottom prices on baking products."
You can snag a 20-ounce loaf of Aldi's L'oven Fresh white bread for just 85 cents. That same size loaf of bread at Walmart sells for $1.28, under the Great Value store brand.
Wondering about national bread brands (which, by the way, are often baked at the same commercial bakeries that cook up store brands)? A 20-ounce loaf of Wonder Classic White bread was selling for $2.49 at Giant, while a 22-ounce loaf of Sunbeam sandwich bread was priced at $3.29.
You'll find national brands of cheese at Aldi alongside store-brand cheeses. A 16-slice, 12-ounce package of Kraft American white cheese was selling at Aldi for $2.68. Giant stocks the same Kraft cheese but charges $4.99.
"Aldi offers a wide variety of quality cheese products and prices that can blow away your local grocery store," says Fobes. "In one example, we found Baby Bel cheese for $3 at Aldi, and it was more than $7 at our local grocery store for the exact same product."
In addition, Cindy Livesey, founder of the bargain-hunting website LivingRichWithCoupons.com, recommends Aldi's cream cheeses and shredded cheeses.
Aldi wears its German roots proudly. Look no further than the strudel in the freezer case for proof. You'll find German and other European chocolates on store shelves, too. According to Fobes, specialty chocolates, in general, are among the best things to buy at Aldi because they are "smooth and creamy at a much lower cost than most other stores."
Sweet treats come and go. Over the holidays we found German specialties including Winternacht solid and hollow chocolates, chocolate Santa figurines, Merci European chocolate, Witor's pralines, Choceur chocolate coins, Ferrero Rocher chocolates, Rolo candies, Winternacht marzipan logs and Duca Reserva panettone.
Yep, ketchup. Aldi's signature Burman's tomato ketchup was selling for $1.49 for a 38-ounce bottle. Walmart was selling a 38-ounce bottle of Heinz ketchup for $2.98; at Giant, the same size bottle of Heinz was priced at $3.49.
And not only is Aldi's store-brand ketchup significantly cheaper than national brands, it "tastes as good as, if not better than, the big-name bottles," says Fobes.
Aldi was selling a gallon of its Friendly Farms brand whole milk for $1.49. That price was well under the $2.30 that Walmart was charging for a gallon of its Great Value brand whole milk. At Giant, a comparable gallon of whole milk went for $2.79.
Note that these prices are for conventional milk. Organic milk costs more. As for taste? We couldn't detect any difference between the milk brands.
Aldi was selling a 12.5-ounce jar of 100% pure maple syrup for $6.69 under its Specially Selected store brand. That's not cheap. You can buy a bottle of Aunt Jemima syrup for a fraction of that price.
So why did Aldi's syrup make our list? Quality. The lone ingredient listed for Specially Selected 100% Pure Maple Syrup: pure maple syrup. There's no added sugar or color. By contrast, the main ingredients for Aunt Jemima are corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, water, cellulose gum and caramel color. Livesey, of LivingRichWithCoupons.com, is a fan of Aldi syrup, not only for the taste but also for the smaller bottle size. Unless you're Buddy the Elf, you probably don't consume a lot.
Aldi's line of Stonemill spices can sell for 99 cents per container, including a 2.7-ounce container of garlic powder and a 2.12-ounce container of paprika. That's a significant savings over national brands. A 3.4-ounce container of McCormick garlic power, for example, was selling for $3.44 at Walmart; at Giant, the same McCormick garlic powder was priced at $4.19.
One caveat when it comes to Aldi spices: "Great prices but limited assortment," says Livesey.
"They have an amazing assortment of wines that taste absolutely wonderful -- and you'll love the prices," Fobes says of Aldi. "I am a big fan of the Winking Owl moscato -- one of my favorites."
Winking Owl is Aldi's answer to the "Two Buck Chuck" wines produced by Charles Shaw that originally sold at Trader Joe's for just $2 a bottle. Today, Aldi's store-brand Winking Owl varieties, including chardonnay, pinot grigio, shiraz, zinfandel, merlot and cabernet sauvignon, sell for $2.89. And they're not bad. You can watch one of the many reviews of Winking Owl wines on YouTube if you don't believe us.
When we roamed the wine shelves at Walmart, the cheapest bottle we found was a Rex Goliath pinot grigio going for $5.47. Giant sold the same pinot grigio for $8.99.
If you're looking at straight-up everyday prices on cereal, Aldi's private-label Millville cereal is hard to beat. Millville's Fruit Rounds, a knockoff of Kellogg's Fruit Loops, sell for $1.29 for a 12.2-ounce box. Walmart sells a comparable box of real Fruit Loops for $2.58. But $2.58 is the everyday price. Most grocers run frequent sales on cereal. Plus, cereal manufacturers are generous with their percent-off and dollar-amount-off coupons. Check coupon websites or sign up with manufacturers on social media.
"You can often find better deals on name-brand cereals at your local store when combining coupons and sales," says Fobes.
Buying deodorant at Aldi didn't pass our sniff test. Selection was thin, and, going against the grain of the Aldi model, there were only national brands available. And you can often score a better price on those national brands at a drugstore by combining manufacturers' coupons with loyalty deals (think: CVS's ExtraCare program or Walgreens' Balance Rewards program, both free to join).
"You can do much better at your local drugstores with a promotion and coupon than buying [deodorant] at Aldi," says Livesey.
Say no to store-brand napkins and paper towels from Aldi, says Livesey. Paper products from Aldi's Boulder line can feel flimsier than national brands, and sales and coupons can make national brands including Bounty competitive in price. Even without a sale, we found comparable rolls of paper towels selling for the same price at Target and Aldi.
"Paper products are not always less expensive [at Aldi]," agrees Fobes. "You may find a better deal and quality at the big-box stores."
Don't get yourself in a lather over buying shampoo at Aldi. Like deodorant, selection is limited to a few national brands. You could do better with sales and coupons at your local drugstore.
Alternatively, pick up shampoo in bulk for less at big-box retailers including Target and Walmart, or at a warehouse club such as Costco or BJ's. Big bottles of name brands including Pantene or Head & Shoulders can be found for $10 or less.
Our savings experts are on the fence about buying meats at Aldi. "When they have a meat on a promotion it's a good price, but their overall prices on meat are higher [than some competitors]," says Livesey. Unlike Trader Joe's, which never puts items on sale, Aldi does offer weekly specials on select products.
Fobes agrees: "Aldi is great when you need chicken and it is not on sale at your local store," she says. "However, time it properly and you will find better deals at your grocery store."
When it comes to produce, we'll admit that Aldi has made progress. Not long ago, fruits and vegetables were sold unrefrigerated straight from the boxes they were shipped in. That's still true in some older stores, but in new and newly remodeled stores produce that benefits from cool storage, including leafy greens, is now sold from refrigerated cases.
However, some Aldi shoppers still avoid buying produce. Our recent experiences support their reluctance. On one visit to Aldi we saw damaged loose apples and packages of organic tomatoes that were already soft. Seemingly good lemons we purchased turned brown after a day.
"While [produce] is priced lower than regular stores, sometimes it is already ripe or going past ripe at the time of purchase," says Fobes. "Carefully look over each produce item before you buy, and then consume it soon so it does not go bad."
Some Aldi cheerleaders really dig the salty snacks sold under Aldi's various store brands, with packaging that is stunningly similar to those of national brands, right down to color schemes and typefaces. Chips fans hail the Clancy's kettle chips, dead ringers for the Cape Cod potato chips stocked in supermarkets. The price is right, too. An 8.5-ounce bag of Clancy's chips sells for $1.39, versus $2.88 for a slightly smaller bag of Cape Cod chips at Walmart (and $3.79 at Giant).
Intrigued, we took the bait and picked up a bag of Aldi's Savoritz baked cheddar cheese flavored crackers that was displayed alongside Pepperidge Farms Goldfish. Both bags were 6.6 ounces, with Savoritz selling for $1.49 and real Goldfish selling for $1.78. The verdict in our personal taste test: Aldi mimicked the packaging, but not the product. The bland penguin-shaped Savoritz crackers weren't worth the 29-cent savings to us.
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