”Culinary Confessions” is a series that opens the books on our eating habits and shares our shopping, cooking, dining and diet strategies with you.
We are budget-conscious shoppers at every turn. If we had more money in the bank, and if we had even less money in the bank, we’d still seek the best deals on consumer products. That thrifty trait is why our allegiance has aligned with Aldi (pronounced All-dee) in recent years for buying our groceries.
Previously, we had rotated our grocery shopping between the other stores in our area, including Food Lion, the usually-more-expensive Ingles and the anxiety-inducing free-for-all store that is Walmart. Aldi didn’t make the cut simply because we weren’t that familiar with it.
Then, my career situation changed. I stepped away from a traditional office job that had become hazardous for my already-shaky mental health, and I suddenly had more time on my hands while we had less income. I decided it was time to investigate Aldi, which meant taking my own reusable shopping bags, a quarter for a cart and an open mind on trying something new.
For almost three years now, we’ve made our regular grocery runs to Aldi about once every other week, and we’ve been very pleased with the prices, shopping experience and products. But like other towns near our home in western North Carolina, our community recently welcomed a similar-but-different German-headquartered grocer, Lidl (pronounced Lee-dle).
Once the local Lidl opened we walked through a few times to scout the shelves and aisle displays, but we didn’t really buy anything. Then we received an already-expired coupon in the mail, I complained about the erroneous discount on social media, and Lidl sent us a no-minimum-purchase-required $20 gift card.
All right, now you’re talking to this couple of budget-minded foodies! On top of the card, I discovered Lidl has a smart phone app (Aldi does but doesn’t really offer deals), and I found a $5 coupon good on a $30 purchase—just for downloading the app! Those potential savings together secured me as a customer, at least for one visit.
I checked out Lidl, substituting the store for Aldi for one full bi-weekly grocery run. With the experiences of both stores in mind, here’s my take on how Aldi and Lidl compare, at least in our community. My wife Molly and I hope this is helpful for all of you who are savers like us. Our stance: Why would we pay more than we need for groceries? Well, many people we know do, either because of brand loyalties or old habits. But not us, and here’s a categorical report on what we think of our local discount grocery stores.
NOTE: This is how we find our local stores. We have seen from food Facebook groups to which we belong that stores can vary in different parts of the United States. In some areas, there may not be Aldi or Lidl locations at all. That was the case recently when we vacationed in an area of Florida, and that led to us paying $3.69 just to have one gallon of milk. We were used to paying 99 cents for a gallon of milk at our Aldi. That contrast, with the very same product, sums up the value of discount shopping.
Let’s get to this Aldi vs. Lidl comparison!
THE STORES: Lidl is a much bigger store than Aldi in our town, meaning there’s much more room to move around with a shopping cart (or buggy, if you prefer to call it, as many do in the South).
However, much of Lidl’s extra space is dedicated to a plethora of organic products and a bakery area. Aldi offers some organic options, but Lidl appeared to stock more, and Aldi does not offer a bakery. More organic items is great for some shoppers, but organic products usually cost more, which in our view means you defeat the purpose of budget-friendly shopping at the checkout.
Speaking of the checkout, Aldi defeats Lidl in that department. At Aldi, the cashier moves scanned items into a cart past the register, and then you pay and move that cart to a long shelf to bag your groceries. At Lidl, the groceries slide onto an extended two-sided conveyer belt, where there’s room for you and one other customer to load groceries while still standing in the checkout area. The whole operation gets a little congested because shoppers are not as efficient at bagging as some employees who bag for a job.
THE WINNER HERE: Aldi might have less room, but it’s a smoother, more streamlined shopping experience overall.
THE PRICES: Overall, most prices on basic products are similar at Aldi and Lidl. At each place, a gallon of milk is normally about $1, a dozen eggs cost about 75 cents, a loaf of plain sandwich bread is less than a dollar, and bags of sugar and flour are just a bit more than a dollar each. There are some differences we found in common items we purchase regularly. For example, cereals, cheeses and avocados cost more at Lidl. On the other hand, ground hamburger meat was more expensive per pound and total at Aldi, by just a little bit.
THE WINNER HERE: In the end, there’s really no clear winner here. Both stores offer great value.
THE PRODUCTS: Very few items we’ve bought at Aldi the past several years have been disappointing, with the consistent exception of bananas. Often, Aldi’s bananas do not ripen properly or, as was the case this week, are severely bruised. Otherwise, we’re very happy with the quality of the food we purchase. The same was certainly true at Lidl. Every item we took home turned out to be solid. From dairy to meat to produce to nonperishable pantry staples, Lidl really held up to the standards Aldi has set in our household for low prices and quality food.
However, as Molly and I compared each individual product from Lidl with what we’re used to from Aldi, we found ourselves often saying Aldi’s is slightly better. The lunchmeat at Aldi is more flavorful. The double-stuff chocolate-cream sandwich cookies (store-brand Oreos) are so good at Aldi that they’re better than Lidl’s version. We even think they’re better, and contain more cream, than the name brand. And the quick-cook oats—I eat a bowl every morning—have a much better taste. Lidl’s had a slight hint of cardboard taste, and I’ve never thought that about Aldi’s oats.
THE WINNER HERE: Lidl’s products are good, but Aldi wins the head-to-head comparison on many products.
THE FINAL VERDICT: While Lidl offers a larger store, more perks like app discounts and a bakery and numerous organic selections, Aldi’s quality holds strong in more areas than Lidl’s, and the checkout experience is so much better.
Personally, I am a shopper who battles significant challenges with anxiety on a daily basis, and I found the experience at Lidl’s checkout to be incredibly stressful. If that’s the normal layout and procedure at all Lidl stores, I’d suggest corporate consider a change to something more like Aldi’s.
I have also battled stress eating and weight challenges my entire life. At one time not that long ago, I weighed 325 pounds. Now about 255 pounds, it’s important to me to eliminate temptations at the grocery store. I like to say that, “I can’t eat junk food that I don’t buy.” It sure is difficult to avoid junk food when there’s more of it in front of me at the grocery store. One perk of staying away from stores like Walmart and Food Lion is that I see far fewer junk and seasonal food items. Lidl’s bakery and additional specials pose a threat to my efforts to simplify and improve my grocery shopping, eating and mental health.
So, there’s nothing wrong with Lidl. I appreciate the availability of coupons and all the store offers. But at the end of the day, we’ll continue to be loyal Aldi customers in our household unless something significant changes our minds.
Where do you buy most of your groceries and why? We’d love to hear your shopping strategies! Comment on this post, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter!