What the Heck Is Aldi and Why Is Everyone Talking About It?

This German-based grocer brings a whole lot more than just groceries to the (American) table. Here's why you'll want to start shopping at one, if you don't already.

What-the-Heck-is-Aldi-and-Why-is-Everyone-Talking-About-It--Courtesy-AldiCourtesy Aldi“Oh, actually—I’ll need that cart for the next customer,” the cashier at the Minnetonka, Minnesota-based Aldi says, as she kindly directs me away from the checkout line. At any other grocery store, I might be embarrassed—offended, even. But not here. There’s something different about this place.

The cashier smiles and hands me my receipt. The total? $15.46. I almost don’t believe it, until I do. I’m at Aldi, after all. The small joy that comes from saving almost 50 percent on my normal weekly grocery bill is hardly something I plan to question.

For those of you who aren’t lucky enough to live within shopping distance of one of the German-based grocers 1,600 stores across 35 states, here’s a quick primer:

“Everything we do is focused on offering people high-quality and affordable food,” Liz Ruggles, Aldi spokesperson, says. “Our customers trust us to consistently and conveniently deliver the highest quality at the lowest prices. The more our customers know us, the more they love us.”

You only have to shop at Aldi once to get what all the fuss is about. Consumers rave about the chain’s low-cost organic options, award-winning wine that sells for less than the cost of a single pricey cocktail, and exclusive name brand products. More importantly, though, Aldi’s low prices and attention to quality are a testament to the notion that a thoughtful, balanced diet doesn’t have to come at a high cost. A healthy, happy lifestyle is something all families should have the opportunity to enjoy, regardless of the paycheck(s) they’re working with.

“We’ve always believed in one thing: everyone deserves quality food at quality prices,” Ruggles says.

Aldi wants you to not only save money on your grocery bill, but also feel really, truly good about what you’re buying—which is why they’ve taken matters into their own hands to distribute over 90 percent of their products via their own in-house lines. These private yet affordable labels allow shoppers to stock their kitchens with healthier, high-quality food items that won’t break the bank—and may even encourage a new summer diet in the process.

Among Aldi’s most praised brands are its SimplyNature, Specially Selected, liveGfree and Little Journey lines. Earlier this year, these four collectively dominated BrandSpark International’s list of Best New Product Awards, a report determined annually by the real opinions of over 10,000 consumers nationwide. The takeaway? Families really do love these lines.

But how exactly does Aldi manage to stay so profitable despite its amazingly cheap prices? Ruggles says through a simple, streamlined approach to selling the very goods its customers take home. “We’d rather save people money on the essentials than charge them for the unnecessary,” she explains. “For example, we only carry the most commonly purchased grocery items in the most popular sizes. Instead of half an aisle of ketchup, we sell only a handful of the best.”

And while the uniform layout of most Aldi stores seems simple enough, it’s definitely unlike that of any typical American grocer. If you’re a rookie, that first visit can feel very unfamiliar. “I was pretty overwhelmed at first,” Bryanna Sandquist, Minneapolis resident and Aldi’s shopper, says. “The setup forces you to walk in a straight line and you can’t go back to where you started.” Now, Sandquist attests to the time saving benefits of Aldi’s straightforward setup. “It’s actually made the pace of my own grocery shopping a lot faster when I’m shopping by myself. I’m forced to make quicker decisions.”

Aldi will boast nearly 2,500 stores from coast-to-coast by the end of 2022. Yet in the face of all this change, the grocer’s core business values—consistency, simplicity, and responsibility—will continue to mirror those of the families whose dollars keep the chain thriving. “Our values create real value for people. They’re not just words. They’re operating principles that inspire our products and people,” Ruggles says. “We’re growing at a time when other retailers are struggling because we’re giving our customers what they want—the best products at the best value. That’s been our formula for the last 40 years and we’re sticking to it.”

Lauren Bettenga
Lauren Bettenga is a contributing writer for Reader’s Digest covering Culture, Advice, Travel and Home Improvement. Her work has also been published in Country Living, The Pioneer Woman and Business Insider, among other outlets. She earned a BA in Journalism from the University of Minnesota and is a graduate of the NYU Summer Publishing Institute.