Monday, January 11, 2016

Aldi's Failed Experiment in the Northeast US

For those of you who don't have one near you (you might soon), Aldi is discount grocery chain from Germany and is one of the world's largest private companies with 10,000 stores in 18 countries.  In the US Aldi has over 1400 stores in 32 states.  In the UK and Germany and elsewhere in Europe Aldi is a near institution.

Aldi has recently begun pushing into the Northeastern US.  I see no reason why this won't be an unmitigated disaster with their stores shuttered within a handful of years at best.  Now perhaps I am too affluent and am not the target audience.  Their stores do appear to be urban and poor rural centered.  That said... I am hardly one to drive out of my way to try and go to a Wegman's or Whole Foods.  Hell, I don't even shop at a Stop&Shop or a Shaw's or a Hanford's...I'm a big time discount grocery store shopper--Market Basket to be specific...

But I do have to draw the line somewhere and Aldi is where I draw that line.  Since they opened a couple stores near me recentlyI decided to drag my family to it this weekend to see if it represented a cheaper alternative to where I usually shop.  It was an unmitigated disaster.

I had hopes for the trip given some of the innovative ideas they use (I'm all for trying something different and innovation).  Charging a quarter that is returned to you if you return your cart to the storefront is a great idea as it eliminates the wasteful need to pay someone(s) $8+ an hour to go collect carts that shoppers are too lazy to bring back.  CHARGING you for shopping bags or having you use your own is a great idea.  Having you bag your own groceries is a good idea.  Not offering the ability to pay for your groceries on a credit card and instead having you use a debit card, cash or check and thereby saving the company several percentages of profit on every purchase is a cool idea. Limiting the variety of products you offer so that you don't have to pay so many suppliers, track skus, maintain relationships with brands, etc. is interesting.  No trashy magazines inviting your generally obese housewife to find out about the love life of their favorite transexual (no, not that transexual, the other one...) is great...

But what do all these "innovations" add up to?  A miserable and if I might say, wholly un-American grocery store experience.  This is the land of the plenty is it not?  Well, instead of America, being in an Aldi store feels being in a Russian produktovyy magazin circa 1984.  There are few shelves...aisles are made up of stacking goods head high one after another.  The walls and floor are an undecorated grey concrete.  There seems to be little rhyme or reason to the placement or organization of products.  There are no signs of store staff to ask questions of...

And that's before we GET to the actual product...There is no bakery, no butcher, no deli...everything is prepackaged and flash frozen from timezones away. As the father of a four year old who will scarf down cheese sliced off the block like there is no end but won't sniff the same cheese purchased pre-sliced earlier that day as it "tastes yucky" this is a problem.  There are no personal sized frozen pizza...hell, there isn't a plain cheese pizza to be found--other than the huge size that puts BJ's and CostCo pizza to shame and won't fit inside anything less than a walkin.  There are no black olives, no cottage cheese besides plain and low fat (sorry my wife likes cottage cheese with chives), no white cheddar popcorn, no popcorn of any kind in the kid friendly lunchbag size.  The bananas?  Hey, I get it...bananas go bad quick so you tend to buy them a little on the green side but your ENTIRE STOCK BEING LIME GREEN?!?!?!  What am I supposed to do if I want to eat a banana??  Take a week long nap?  No sliced turkey at all. No cat litter other than the clumping kind.

The products that they do have?? All "generic". OK, not ALL but as even their website says....like 80%+ generic. You won't find Coke and Pepsi and Kraft here...Its Millville, Millville, Millville...Aldi presses upon you that all these generic brands are made in the same factories, with the same ingredients and to the same standards as the well known brands, and I'm sure they are...but they don't taste the same...not even close. Maybe its the American pallet of mine. Maybe my kids are picky. Maybe we're spoiled...so be it. Plop my kids down with a bowl of Kraft Mac&Cheese and its smiles all around...place a bowl of Millville Mac&Cheese and it will get spit out faster than you can say "cost savings!" But don't worry...due to the limited number of products, you won't have to spend time making a choice between brands because typically there is only a single brand. You want pasta sauce?? Great! We have some. You can have it in any flavor you want as long as its plain...and its Millville...

I can't do this. Neither can my wife. Neither can my kids or my cats. We're Americans...not Danes.
We're Americans...not Swiss. We're Americans...not English. We demand choice. We want variety, flavors, sizes. We want brands that our parents introduced us to and theirs to them. I want to see fish on ice. I want my cheese and meats cut off the block in front of me. I want to see the butcher grinding up the beef into hamburg. I want free coffee offered to me at the bakery, freshly baked bread. I want 1,000 different beers to pick from.

I don't think my feelings and preferences are that different than most Americans, or at least those not on foodstamps. I wasn't raised on a commune. I'm not insane, poor or Bernie Sanders...and you aren't either. From the completely empty store aisles and tumbleweed blowing parking lot, neither is New Hampshire and I suspect New England in general. If you value in even the smallest way the ability to make flavorful food, choose ingredients, not eat the same gulag worthy gruel day after day after day, make Aldi grocery stores your enemy. In five years these Aldi stores will be empty husks, likely replaced by Amazon delivery centers or drone warehouses...the sooner the better.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Most Aldis outside of Germany are a shit show.

spalind (Dan Spalinger) said...

If the ones in the US are any example....I concur!

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