Grocery stores are a way of life for me. I like visiting unknown chains when I’m in a new city to see what’s cool and interesting. Since the closing of Fresh & Easy and many area Albertsons, I’ve been looking forward to new grocery stores to replace the empty space. News of one of them caught my attention: Aldi.
If you haven’t heard, Aldi is a sibling store to Trader Joe’s and I mean literal sibling. As the story goes, brothers Karl and Theo Albrech both founded Aldi in 1946, a supermarket chain based out of Germany. The siblings had a disagreement in the early 1960s and split the company in two: Aldi Sud and Aldi Nord. The latter eventually became the Trader Joe’s we know today selling private brand goods.
That bit of info piqued my interest. How cool that sibling grocery store is opening up their first shop in San Diego? Of course, I had to check it out. So with some free time to kill one weekday afternoon, I did the long drive to Vista.
Aldi is found right off State Route 78 in what appears to be a new shopping center. I guess I must have missed reports because there are absolutely no shopping baskets available at the store. Instead, there’s a lineup of carts outside locked together. To retrieve one for shopping costs a quarter. Don’t even attempt to use two dimes and a nickel or whatever you change you have, you must have a quarter. I must have made an audible fuss over it because the one of the employees gave me a quarter.
The first thing inside is the selection of cookies and candies — all right-priced at less than $2 but with brands I’ve never seen or even heard of. Brenton’s Cookies? Candy from Choceur? Since I’m a look-first type of shopper, I passed on these until I could get a ground plan for my purchases.
The off brand trend continues throughout the store to include luncheon meat, hummus, frozen foods, etc. It was especially jarring to see Red Bull and Coke alongside off brands, toilet paper and other non-grocery items like lawn chairs and outdoor umbrellas.
Aside from the off brands, the most glaring difference between Aldi and Trader Joe’s is the availability of fresh produce and ready-to-eat meals. If Trader Joe’s devotes a quarter of the space to produce like green beans, broccoli, peas, etc. then Aldi only devotes an eighth or less, only sticking to shelf-stable items like tomatoes, onions, garlic and avocados. And if you go in hungry, you won’t find prepacked sandwiches or ready-to-heat chicken tikka masala. And here’s another thing to point out: while Trader Joe’s carries interesting products from around the world, Aldi seems firmly rooted in typical Americana cuisine.
At first pass, my cart was still empty. Between the 45-minute drive home and a quarter for the cart, I didn’t want to leave empty handed. I should also note that my objective was to leave Vista by 3:30 PM at the very latest to avoid the dreaded after-work traffic. I quickly picked up things I had my eye on earlier: a bar of chocolate found at the entrance, sardines, cherry lime soda, vanilla cookies and chips. With the exception of the pimento cheese and salami, nothing else was perishable.
Checking out was an entirely memorable experience. I loaded up my meager groceries on the conveyor belt and was told to park my cart right by the cashier trapping her in. Reason was so she could immediately ring up the groceries and put them back in the cart. Bagging all my items happened outside where I transferred all the stuff from the cart into my reusable bag into my car.
Aldi plans to open more stores in San Diego County (I counted about eight in Los Angeles) but I’m sticking with my local Trader Joe’s for the long run.
1750 University Dr.
Vista, CA 92083
Oh my! I think i’ll be passing! Sounds like one of those Grocery Outlets/99cent stores with those off-brands but without the price benefits of those cheaper stores. Of course, I’m a Trader Joe’s addict. 🙂
I remember way back in the day when stores did the 25 cents cart thing. I remember kids would hang out in the parking lot and ask to return your grocery cart for you to get the 25 cents from it. My parents always refused, haha. So weird to see it back in play here.
I don’t really like the look of how they have things placed on the shelves. It doesn’t seem as nice looking when things are still in cardboard boxes. It kind of makes me think of the Grocery Outlet stores, actually!
Think you have missed the mark on this one! There is no comparison of Aldi vs. Trader Joes. They have NO business ties what so ever. Its all about the way they conduct their business not on less product. If you don’t change your mind you will be missing out!
Thanks for reviewing this store for the rest of us! I was excited to try it out, but I think I will pass. Trader Joes seems like a much better option. 🙂
We shop both Aldi and TJ. I have to say we LOVE Aldi! With 2 17 year old boys in the house feeding them is expensive and feeding them healthy foods is EXTREMELY expensive. The produce section at Aldi has a decent selection (although not as extensive as TJ) that allows us to get fresh, in season produce. We do love TJ, but shopping Aldi has cut our grocery bill by 75% while also letting us eat healthy organic food as well a food free of high fructose, red dye, etc. I give it a strong thumbs up and I am actually heading to Aldi for our weekly shopping list! (and maybe TJ)
I could see how certain people used to a certain high level of service, price and atmosphere wouldn’t like Aldi; however I’ve been a shopper there for 12 years now and love it, but I am a person who likes the practicalities of life such as spending less at the store and keeping my driving time to the store as low as possible. The brands at Aldi are not ‘off brand’: they are simply Aldi’s proprietary brands. Aldi contracts out to name brand companies to manufacture their foods and print their own label onto the food item. The food tastes fine. It’s fresh. It is not expired or unwanted. The layout of the store is fine with me. What do I care if candy bars or ketchup bottles sit on shelves in cardboard boxes? The reasoning behind this is that it takes fewer hours to stock the shelves, which results in lower prices for me. You get a cart by inserting a quarter and unlocking it- this saves Aldi from paying someone to walk the parking lot collecting carts, also resulting in lower prices inside the store for me. I really don’t need an ‘experience’ when I’m food shopping. I know Trader Joe’s gives that experience. The closest TJ to me is an hour away. Aldi is 20 minutes away. I’m not that high maintenance. I will not pay more gas money to drive to Trader Joe’s to pay more for something that is not different enough to make me happier in life. I am not speaking for everyone. I get it that there are things at TJ’s that Aldi’s doesn’t have. For me, I’ll do without before going all that way to get my GMO organic grapes. Oh yeah! Aldi has those now! They actually announced a couple of weeks ago that all their produce is moving over to organic/non GMO. I’m quite happy and will continue to be a happy Aldi customer. And I wish you happy Trader Joe-ing, as well!