I have been to Aldi exactly twice in my life. Both times I walked away perplexed and utterly distressed.
The first time, I was in college and trying to save a few bucks off my grocery bill. That was six years ago, and—full disclosure—I don’t really remember what happened, but it made me anxious enough that, until recently, I hadn’t been back.
But a couple weeks ago I decided to give it another try. My coworkers are always raving about Aldi’s healthy options and low prices. I thought "well, maybe the place has changed." So towing my fiance, Nick, along for emotional support, I went to see what the fuss was about.
We walked up to the store and I immediately saw how unprepared we were for the experience: We didn’t have any quarters to feed into the shopping cart carousel. We ended up waiting outside like vultures for another shopper to pity us and give us their cart. Thankfully, one woman obliged—but we could both sense the secret judgement in her eyes.
Entering the store, I realized my second mistake: We went on a Sunday at 4pm, one of the busiest times. If you’ve ever been inside an Aldi, you know that it’s not the most organized place. True, people don’t go for perfectly kempt aisles—they go for the cheap prices and to discover what crazy private label products are on offer. But neither of us were prepared for the level of chaos we encountered.
It wasn’t really the mess that bothered me (like I said, it was the busiest time for a grocery store #nojudgement). But I continually got the feeling that everyone belonged to a secret Aldi society with rules and signs I couldn't understand.
Every shopper in the store seemed to inherently know how to navigate the system—they were able to find and pick out exactly what they needed from the shelves without missing a beat.
People at Aldi mean business. They’re not there to peruse the aisles and casually read nutrition labels. They are there to single-mindedly get their food, even if it means speed racing their cart down the aisle, hitting you in the back of the ankle until you move, and then stealing the last package of zoodles you were eyeing. (This actually happened.)
Heading to the checkout with the few things I was able to actually get, I discovered my third major mistake—one that filled me with shame and self-consciousness: We didn’t bring reusable grocery bags.
The cashier just looked at me with unwavering expression and said, “Oh.” That’s when Nick ran out to the car, grabbed an old crate, and started filling it with our non-bagged groceries, avoiding all eye contact.
Okay, so after all that, our bill was like $55, which is so much lower than our normal grocery bill it's insane. But we were so frazzled that I looked down after we lugged our crate out to the car and realized I had bought a bunch of random things I don’t really even like that much. Why did I get salami slices and hot dogs? I rarely eat processed meat! And I bought enough salmon to feed us for a week. Was I in a trance the entire time I was shopping?!
Despite the unpleasant experience, and my general Aldi anxiety, I don't want to give up yet. Next time, I'm going armed with a quarter, an armful of reusable grocery bags, and a detailed grocery list.
And I won’t go on a Sunday afternoon when everyone and their mother is out. Hopefully the preparation will help me to be a little more assertive—Aldi shoppers can smell weakness, and they will steal your zoodles if you’re not watching. Wish me luck.