Why no-frills Aldi grocery stores have cult appeal

There are no vegetable misters bathing kale, no Muzak on the speakers and no one grocery shopping at Aldi supermarkets, the German chain with the Midwest headquarters whose locations in the area include Hudson, Kingston, Newburgh and Wappingers Falls, to name a few.

It’s not the lack of these features that gives the store an almost cult appeal for savvy, budget-conscious regional consumers: it’s because of them.

Of course, other grocery stores like Wegmans and Trader Joe’s (who has a family connection to Aldi) also have their fanbases (we see you, Wegmaniacs). But Aldi — which has several dedicated fan groups on Facebook and more than 2,100 stores in 38 states — isn’t trying to win over the masses with shticks like Hawaiian shirts for staff (shopping is an adventure!), generous free samples or more – the best customer service. It serves slightly quirky, budget-friendly versions of brand name staples mixed with organic produce in a no-frills setting and lets shoppers do whatever they want.

Aldi has all the usual stuff you’d find in a Tops or a Hannaford – milk, eggs, meat, frozen foods, produce, cereals, sodas and more. Only they are often packaged with labeling barely far removed from branded foods, with incredibly low prices to boot.

Aldi’s version of Frosted Flakes, for example, is called that, but instead of the famous mascot Tony the Tiger, there’s a polar bear on the box. Its corn chips are virtually indistinguishable from the Frito-Lay variety in both packaging and flavor. The uncanny resemblance to well-known brands, says Aldi superfan Greg Moynahan, is a fun touch that makes shopping here something of a hybrid between a thrift store experience and a regular trip to the supermarket.

Another cult-appealing twist is a ritual among Aldi shoppers to “croacher” like crows in the aisles to signal to their co-shopper that they’ve discovered a particularly juicy deal in the store, as shown on a Facebook page dedicated to Aldi. His fellow Aldi fan site, “alley of shame”, is dedicated to finds in the central aisle, where seasonal and new products are placed. And Aldireviewer.com posts daily about product finds.

“I’m devoted to Aldi partly because it’s quirky but not fancy and at the same time you can find some fancy stuff there,” says Moynahan, who especially loves a Swiss fondue these days that costs less than $10. and which is very popular. with her two school-age children.

Moynahan is a Dutchess County resident and professor of European and German history at Bard College who first met Aldi when he was living in Berlin. He became a huge fan when he returned home and started raising a family.

In addition to its exclusive brands like Millville and Clancy’s, Aldi has plenty of organic produce and heaps of international items dotted around the aisles, where produce is sold straight from the box.

European products “are all pretty cheap and mixed in with everything else,” says Moynahan. “With family, I spend a third less on food than anywhere else.” And like a thrift store or antique outlet, he adds, “You never know what you’re going to walk away with.”

He looks like Frosted Flakes, but there’s no sign of Tony the Tiger. Aldi’s private label offerings are barely a step up from branded foods, but are often half or quarter the price.

Tom Gogola

The professor-superfan has studied Aldi with an almost academic passion and notes that unlike most other chains, Aldi doesn’t separate its organic products. Here, organic and non-organic products are mixed as if to signal to shoppers that the prices aren’t as wide as you’ll find in other stores. Separating produce, says Moyhahan, is a way to get people to “pay a premium for organic produce beyond what it would cost.” Other stores, he says, “will add twenty-five cents to the organic milk and put it in a special aisle. Whereas at Aldi they are mixed next to each other and attract people to buy organic.

An Aldi exit quickly reveals that it’s really two stores brought together by a common thread of affordability – the proprietary brands with their once-removed labeling and the more exclusive European and organic offerings.

Aldi stands out in other ways. Stores don’t always show up among major retail thoroughfares like a Walmart might. Instead of a Route 9W location in Kingston, for example, Aldi is at the southern end of the strip, away from the main action.

But the chain is becoming commonplace throughout the country. It is experiencing a growth spurt, aiming to become the third-largest grocery retailer in the United States by the end of the year in terms of stores (Walmart and Kroger are currently in the top two places) and adding new new stores and modernizes existing locations.

The Kingston location was renovated in 2019, and 162 Fairview Avenue Hudson/Greenport Aldi will close soon and be replaced by a new store at 300 Fairview on April 14.

Moynahan says Aldi is sometimes filled with the same low-budget shopper base as Walmart. Other times, he notes, shoppers seem to have a more hipster-internationalist bent. Regardless of demographic, everyone loves the no-frills, budget-focused approach.

“A box of this Millville cereal costs about $1.39,” he says of Aldi’s private label breakfast foods. Pour some of that cheap organic milk into it, he adds, “and it’s probably as cheap as anyone in the United States can get for breakfast. I love that it’s two totally different cultures – you can feed your kids cheaply and then decide, “Am I going to buy the organic chicken today, or the other chicken?” » ”

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