Have you joined the ALDI fan club yet? All my friends have. The supermarket is responsible for feverish conversations amongst Australian enthusiasts. There's a dedicated Facebook page where people rave about low prices and great food. Apparently, I MUST switch stores and climb aboard the ALDI love-in.
My response? I reckon the supermarket is more hassle than it's worth. I've never set foot in an ALDI, but I picture a haphazard store, packed with sub-standard goods in a limited range. Oh, and don't I have to pack my own bags? No, thanks!
It seems like ALDI love a good sceptic, so they ask me to take their shopping challenge: complete my standard weekly shop at ALDI and see if I can buy every item and save money. I agree (although between you and me there's no way ALDI will prise me away from my usual supermarket).
Arriving at the local ALDI armed with my weekly shopping list, I meet the lovely Naomi. Naomi is ALDI's representative and will guide me through the store to help me find the items I need.
I'm surprised to see the supermarket isn't a shambles but a series of neat shelves with products arranged at eye-level. The aisles are wide, clean and brightly lit. It's a good start.
First impressions are positive, second less so. The first aisle is filled with long-life groceries such as chips and crackers. The products are still in their cardboard packing pallets. It looks a bit ugly. But as Naomi explains this approach has benefits.
"We save money by spending less time stacking shelves, plus, goods aren't double handled which means less risk of damage," she says.
It makes sense, but I miss the fresh fruit and veg that greets me at the front of my usual supermarket. Naomi explains there's a good reason why the store doesn't put fresh produce at the front.
"Customers don't want their fresh produce squashed. That's why we put our fruit, veg and bread towards the back of the store, so they can be the last items into the trolley."
Seems like ALDI have thought about the shopping experience. It's not the headache I imagined.
We make our way though the store and Naomi points out items that are like those on my shopping list. Most items are ALDI's own brand (private label). I frown.
Naomi twigs I have some doubts about quality. She's right. I trust my well-known brands and don't want to swap them for inferior products. Naomi tells me not to worry.
"ALDI has quality control and tasting teams that monitor private label brands for taste and quality. If it's not up to standard, it doesn't go on the shelves."
Naomi adds that ALDI are so confident about product quality they regularly put their produce up for ratings and awards.
I pick up a tub of ALDI's hazelnut spread (significantly cheaper than its major brand equivalent) and look forward to doing some taste tasting of my own.
As we continue, I can see that prices are very low. It's exciting, but something is bugging me. Why is everything so cheap? Are there poorly paid workers in overseas factories churning out ALDI goods 24 hours a day?
Naomi tells me the ALDI pricing comes from their streamlined business model. By cutting out the frills (but not the quality) customers save money.
Naomi adds that the vast majority of stock comes from Australia. "93% of dairy, 91% of fresh produce and 100% of meat is Australian", she explains. I'm pleased to hear that ALDI make a point of supporting Australian producers and only import when they can't find locally made equivalents.
We've nearly finished the shop and ALDI has matched nearly every item on my list (right down to the organic soy milk that's part of ALDI's Just Organic range). I've swapped out a few items, but no biggies. This is pretty impressive. The fresh produce looks great and I won't have to do a 'top-up' shop.
But now for the major test: the checkout. The thought of packing my own bags makes me nervous (shopping pile-up!). Naomi shows me that the trick is to re-stock the trolley as the items are scanned. Once I've paid, I wheel my trolley over to the designated packing shelf and pack bags at my own pace.
I'm done. I take a look at my shopping docket and find ALDI have saved me over $50 on my usual shopping bill. Over the course of a year, that's a saving of over $2,500. Thanks to ALDI, we could afford an extra family holiday every single year.
So, am I a convert? Put it this way, since taking the ALDI challenge I've warned my usual supermarket that they can expect to see a whole lot less of me.
Disclaimer: the writer received a free basket of groceries for the purposes of comparison. Essential Kids received no money from ALDI for this review.