I have never been inside an Aldi. There, I said it.
Although my friends rave about the prices and value, and my husband occasionally slips in to buy prize-winning booze, I have not personally shopped in an Aldi, Lidl or any of the discount supermarkets taking Britain by storm.
Yet profits at Tesco have fallen by 92% while Aldi’s profits rose by more than 65% in 2013. There’s got to be a reason for that. A new Aldi has opened just a five-minute drive from my house, so I went to check it out...
In my 20s my friends and I would all compare how much we’d spent, but now we’re in our 30s and have kids we all seem to compare how much we saved instead.
I mentioned that I was heading to Aldi and my friends were keen to share their tips. “Stock up on cheap washing powder.” “The fruit and veg is so cheap!” “At Christmas I get one of their frozen geese for £20 instead of £75 from the local farm.”
And they got almost evangelical about the price of alcohol, raving about cheap, good quality lager, and low-cost cava and award-winning cut-price champagne.
In fact, a bit of a battle broke out as Lidl fans argued that their supermarket of choice was superior, with one student friend claiming to have halved his weekly shopping bill since moving closer to one.
Almost everyone mentioned one warning: “Don’t buy the baked beans!”
With such enthusiastic support, I was almost excited about trying it out myself.
Walking into Aldi, it’s very obviously a budget store. The big supermarket chains design a wide, welcoming entrance with flowers, fruit and veg enticingly laid out before you. Budget brands like Aldi clearly have no such space to waste; as soon as I was through the door I was in an aisle and surrounded by high shelves and masses of stock.
It wasn’t always easy to work out what produce would be where; cereals were piled up next to sauces, sweets were stacked above the freezers and the shelves were a jumble of brands and products.
And then there were the inexplicable items in the middle aisle. I was browsing the frozen food when suddenly there was a Play Dough display. Next to that, a pile of slow cookers, and next to that a pile of children’s horse-riding fleeces. There was even a display of metal sack trolleys.
I was surprised to see so many brands I regularly buy, such as Kellogg’s. But even more surprising were the many, many lookalike brands. There were crisps in tubes, all in the same colours as Pringles so that you knew exactly what flavour you were buying. There were packets of dishwasher tablets and washing machine powder all with almost identical branding to the big names, just with different names.
The prices seemed impressive, even though I didn’t have any comparisons to hand, so I stocked up and hoped the quality was as good as my friends had promised.
The staff weren’t especially helpful, but they did seem to be working furiously hard.
What about welfare?
Lots of people recommended Aldi and Lidl’s meats, but I am a vegetarian and only buy high-welfare meat for the rest of my family. The very cheapest priced meat only had Red Tractor Farm Assurance logos, which is better than nothing, but doesn’t say much for the welfare of the animals.
However, I was pleased to see there were free-range options for sale, even though they were obviously at a higher price.
How did the prices compare?
So how did the prices compare? I saw some undeniable bargains in Aldi, including 12 bottles of San Miguel for £6.59, where I would usually pay £10 in Sainsbury’s – that’s more than 34% cheaper. A pineapple was 59p, where I’d pay £1 in my normal supermarket, and a free-range chicken 1.5kg chicken cost £4.99 compared to £5.98 for a smaller bird at ASDA.
How much would my shop have cost elsewhere? I used the supermarket price comparison website MySupermarket to find out.
I’ve compared like-for-like, so I have used own-brand products where appropriate rather than budget or big brands unless stated otherwise.
500ml washing up liquid
Jar ploughman’s chutney
Fresh filled pasta (serves 2)
£1.05 (for comparable amount, sold as £2.10 for larger bag)
Size 4 nappies
£4.49/44 so 10p each
£5.97/48 so 12p each
£4.50/52 so 9p each
£6/38 so 16p each
White seedless grapes
Bag of fresh salad
6 wholemeal pittas
Multigrain hoops (375g)
Prices sourced via MySupermarket.com and correct as of 28.10.14
So Aldi emerged a clear £1.74 cheaper than the next cheapest supermarket (ASDA) and £2.78 cheaper than the most expensive, Sainsbury’s.
You can use MySupermarket yourself to work out if another supermarket could save you money, it lists prices from Tesco, ASDA, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, Waitrose, ALDI, Poundland and Iceland.
How is it so cheap?
Although I love to find a bargain and I’m always looking for ways to save money, I was a bit concerned about the prices. How could it afford to sell groceries for such a comparatively small amount?
In short, it focuses on selling good quality own brands, meaning it doesn’t have to pay a premium for the big brand products.
It does sell limited amounts of branded products, which it negotiates at a discount and sells at a reduced price.
For example, I spotted Kellogg’s Fruit Winders for £1.49 for a packet of six. They were £1.80 in Tesco.
So I was very happy about the prices, but what about the quality?
Will I shop there again?
Hell yes. My experience of the actual Aldi shop was only so-so, but the produce was good and the prices were great. We were happy with the taste and quality of almost all the food we bought, the only thing that let it down was a mouldy raspberry hidden at the bottom of the packet.
I can see why the discounters are stealing so much market share and I will be trying out Lidl as well in the near future.
There may be some items I won’t buy at the discount shops, such as beans and yoghurts, but there was nothing wrong with anything else and I will return to stock up on washing powder and other non-perishables. Big brands were cheaper and the lookalike brands weren’t knock-off products, but good quality groceries.
[ Tesco Profits Plunge 92% In Accounting Chaos ]
I’m a discount store convert. Are you? Let me know your experiences using the comments below.