Aldi in Moreno Valley, Calif.
German grocery chain Aldi has set up shop in the Inland Empire (the San Bernardino-Riverside-Fontana area made famous by two terrorists this past December), touting savings of 50 percent on your purchases.
Thing is, you won’t find many of the name brands you’re using to shopping for. Aldi uses what appears to be private label brands, or off-label simulations of what you’re used to buying.
But first things first: What strikes you first upon shopping at Aldi, which I did yesterday, is the quarter you have to insert into the shopping cart’s handle to unleash it from its station to which it’s locked. Yeah, no freebies here, as there are no hand baskets inside either.
It’s either rent the cart or use your paws, which a lot of people did (the cheapies).
Aldi does have a cashier, so it’s not a self-checkout joint; but no one will bag your foodstuffs, and bags themselves cost 10 cents each, which you can then fill once outside the store when done shopping. (Eerily, the cashier seemed to be the only person working inside the store, with another employee stationed outside to guard the shopping carts.)
Aldi reminds me a bit of Fresh & Easy (now defunct), but it’s about twice the size with bigger aisles.
As for those off-label food products, the two I’ve tried so far — Clancy’s wavy potato chips and Savoritz saltine crackers — taste remarkably similar to what I consider the real deal, and at half the price.
True, Aldi is no supermarket. You can’t get meat cut to your liking as there’s no butcher or meat counter, just prepackaged chicken and other proteins. The fruit and veggies are semi-abundant, but again, this is not your neighborhood supermarket. It’s a once-in-a-while destination to stock up on off-label products that you otherwise might not buy or consume very frequently because of price.
Aldi opened in early April in the Inland Empire, with a goal of 45 stores in California this year. Overall, the company hopes to open 1500 to 2000 stores nationwide by 2018.
Will Aldi be another Fresh & Easy, eaten alive by Walmart and supermarket competition? Time will tell. The store I visited certainly wasn’t very crowded, not at all reminiscent of the Walmart near me where I shop and have to fight my way through the aisles. However, the savings are not to be denied.