As someone who thinks the nation's financial crisis could be solved with more coupon-clipping, I was eager to check out the new Aldi stores.
I had heard about the discount grocery from friends and coworkers but had never actually shopped at one. On Thursday, I got my chance when four locations opened in the Tampa Bay area.
Shopping carts chained together greeted me at the door of the Aldi off Fletcher Avenue in north Tampa. No stray carts in parking spaces or wedged between cars. Here, you insert a quarter to unlock a cart. Bring it back, and you get your quarter. Simple enough.
Inside, the store is bright and airy with huge pictures of fruit, bread and salad on the light orange and green walls. Over the door scream words corporate wants you to associate with Aldi: smart, save, incredible, quality, everyday and fun.
Fun? Not usually a word I'd use to describe a grocery store, especially these days when $25 worth of groceries gets you like two things.
Not so at Aldi. Just about everything costs less than at regular grocery stores, even Wal-Mart. Loaf of whole wheat bread: $1.09. Gallon of milk: $2.79. Pound of boneless chicken breast: $2.99.
No doubt you can save a bundle, provided you don't mind buying off-name brands. With the exception of a few items, almost everything carries an Aldi name you've never heard of. Millville cereal. Happy Harvest canned vegetables. Sundae Shoppe ice cream.
Some of the product names are inventive, even amusing. Toaster tarts instead of Pop Tarts. Fruit Rounds for Fruit Loops. And my favorite: Aunt Maples syrup. (I'm not sure if Aunt Jemima would approve, but at $1.39 a bottle, pour it on.)
I have no idea how this no-name stuff tastes (some samples at the store would have been nice) but it seems worth a try. Hate it and you're only out a few bucks, or less. Love it and your wallet will thank you long-term.
The store accepts only cash, food stamps or certain ATM debit cards, which saves Aldi money but could pose a problem if shoppers forget. You bundle your own groceries, and bags are sold separately. (Plastic bags are 6 cents apiece, paper ones are a dime and canvas are $1.99.)
Go to Aldi to stock up on the staples. Canned peas for 47 cents. Yellow mustard for 99 cents. What deals.
It's not the place for picking up dinner or that special recipe ingredient. No rotisserie chickens or sushi rolls. Frozen rules the entree stuff.
The overall item selection is limited. Want pasta? You've got two choices. Thin spaghetti or elbow macaroni. Want jelly? There's strawberry or grape.
All of the produce and meat is prepackaged and individually priced, which is helpful. There's no surprise at the checkout when your big bag of grapes weighs in at $15.99. At Aldi, you know ahead of time you'll get 2 pounds for $2.38.
That said, I wasn't too tempted by the produce. The baby carrots looked pretty good at 99 cents, but I wasn't keen on the green bananas sealed in a plastic bag, even at 45 cents a pound.
I also steered clear of the personal hygiene stuff. Nanny's diapers were a steal at $5.99 a package but they didn't seem heavy enough. And Jafeena brand pantyliners? I don't think so.
Aldi's great discounts aside, sometimes it's worth paying full price for something you know.