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