We’re all looking for ways to save money on our grocery bills, and if there’s an Aldi near you, that might be the way to go. With Aldi hitting a growth spurt in the US market, you’re more likely than ever to find yourself heading to this European favorite for your shopping. Not everything there is a great buy, though, so let’s talk about some of the best and worst things you can find at Aldi.
Chocolate-lovers need to head to Aldi. Right now. (We’ll wait.)
Why? Because their chocolate aisle is filled with deliciousness imported from Europe. You’ll be paying a little more, but it’s worth every penny. Pick up some Belgian or German chocolates, and you’ll be surprised to find how much creamier and richer they are than American chocolates. If you bake with chocolate, take The Country Basket‘s word for it that European chocolates melt much better than your American staples, and that’s true whether you’re using milk, dark, or even white chocolate. You’ll also find a variety of different flavors you won’t find anywhere else. Toffee and Irish cream liqueur? Yes, please!
Worst: Pre-ripened avocados
There are a few choices when it comes to avocados from Aldi, and while you can certainly pick up a sack of them to ripen at home, you can usually find pre-ripened avocados, too. They’re more expensive, and according to The Guardian, that’s not the only thing that makes them a bad buy. There are no real regulations on avocados and other fruits that are advertised as ripe or ready-to-use, and oftentimes, they’re either not ripe at all or they’re a day from going bad. Plan ahead, spend less, and give these a miss.
No one should turn their nose up at buying wine at Aldi, and here’s why. They take their wine as seriously as they take their food, and in 2017 the Irish Independent reported their Cotes de Provence Rose was voted one of the best in the world at the International Wine Challenge. It took the silver medal, and that’s not bad for a bottle that costs less than $10. PopSugar says you can get it in the US, too… if you can find a place that hasn’t sold out of this once UK-only wine.
If you can’t find it, pick up a bottle of something else. From prizes for their merlot to their riesling, there’s a pretty shocking list of awards Aldi wines have won. Award-winning wines at a fraction of the price, you can’t go wrong.
Worst: Chicken and turkey
One of the big draws of Aldi is that shopping there has a noticeable impact on your bottom line, but not all of Aldi’s deals are good ones. When Clark did a toe-to-toe price comparison between Aldi, Kroger, and Walmart, they found Aldi’s chicken and turkey were regularly higher than one or both of the other stores. Cheat Sheet found the same thing, and said that in order to get the best deal, you should check the sale prices at other stores before heading off to Aldi — a valuable tip, especially if you buy in bulk and freeze a lot of your meat.
Best: Organic foods
Aldi has been making a big push to make their foods healthier, and according to Forbes, they increased their organic offerings in 2014, at the same time they were advertising they could save their customers 25 percent on those items. Lauren Greutman lists some of the organic foods Aldi stocks, and not only does that include things like fruit and vegetables, but canned goods, snacks, soups, juice, meat, sauces and salsa, and even pastas.
If you dread taking the kids through the temptation-filled checkout aisles of other stores, Aldi’s got your back there, too. They’ve replaced all that candy with organic snack-sized packages, reducing your sugar access while giving you some delicious alternatives.
Worst: Pizza and pizza crust
Who doesn’t love pizza night? There’s nothing wrong with picking up a premade pizza for those nights when you just can’t, but Aldi’s pizzas — and pizza crusts — leave a lot to be desired. Their store brand pizzas are pretty light on the toppings and bland when it comes to seasoning, and if you’re looking for something that’s going to be a fast but filling meal, you’ll probably find yourself heading back to the fridge.
Delishably took a look at their original pizza crusts, another viable option if you’re looking for something quick and easy. Their review was that it was a less-than-stellar crust: thin, bland, and little more than a vehicle for your own toppings. You’re better off with takeout.
We get it — coffee is one of those things you refuse to compromise on. Fortunately for you, Aldi has consistently gotten some seriously amazing reviews on their regular coffee and their Expressi, a Nespresso-like machine that uses pods you buy at a fraction of the price compared to those for the Keurig. According to Gizmodo, it makes good coffee for pennies.
If you already have a favorite coffee gadget, Aldi stocks Fair Trade beans from some of the best coffee-producing countries. Their Barissimo Fair Trade Organic Honduras Coffee Beans come from high up in a mountain region you’re helping to support with your purchase. That’s a win-win.
Worst: Those super-cheap vegetables
All those super-cheap vegetables come at a price, and farmers are paying it. In 2014, The Irish Farmer’s Association issued a statement condemning Aldi for reducing the price they were paying for vegetables by as much as 10 percent. There’s a huge problem with that, and it boils down to Aldi’s hesitance to pay farmers enough to invest in machinery, upgrades, and technologies while still keeping their books in the black. The message wasn’t received, and in 2016 AgriLand was reporting on protests staged by farmers at both Aldi and Lidl. Selling fresh, sustainable, locally-grown produce at rock-bottom prices was presenting farmers with a serious threat to their livelihood, and if there’s one thing all foodies can agree on, it’s the need to support the world’s farmers.
Best: Pantry and baking basics
A fully stocked pantry makes for a happy chef, and Aldi makes it easy to make sure you have all those basics on hand. Gimme Some Oven says they get their stock of basics from Aldi, including everything from baking necessities like flour, sugars, and spices to nuts, oatmeal, and chocolate chips. Rather Be Shopping counts baking basics among the must-buys at Aldi, too, and if you head to big box stores to buy this stuff in bulk, you might want to rethink that. Since Aldi packages things in smaller quantities while keeping the price low, you’ll use them up before they go funky.
Let’s face it, sugar-heavy cereals just taste better. That doesn’t mean we should be eating them all the time, though, and Aldi is one of the biggest offenders when it comes to putting sugar in their cereals. According to The Telegraph, Aldi’s Harvest Morn Choco Rice isn’t just high in sugar, but there was an 18.2 percent increase in its sugar content between 2012 and 2015. When Choice rated 170 breakfast cereals based on a number of factors, there were a couple Aldi cereals that got their 5-star rating. There were plenty that got a 2.5 rating, too, and as if that isn’t bad enough, they’re cereals that sound healthy — like Honey Nut Corn Flakes and Power Grain. When it comes to Aldi cereals, read your labels.
Best: Healthy snacks
Since Aldi keeps tight control over exactly what makes it to their shelves, that means they also have their finger on the pulse of what their consumers want. Today, that means snacks that are filling and delicious while being good for you, and Clark says you’ll find a whole selection of healthy snacks at Aldi. That includes things like popcorn, sweet potato chips, gluten-free pretzels, and gluten-free granola.
If gluten-free makes you cringe a bit, don’t worry. Spoon University says their quinoa chips, salsas, and hummus can be the perfect quick fix that’s not going to ruin your diet, and you can also be sure to find fun things like wasabi nuts and pumpkin seed brittle.
Worst: Plastic-wrapped produce
Aldi veterans know you’d better be bringing your own reusable shopping bags, but at the same time, shoppers have noticed a hugely wasteful practice: wrapping veggies in plastic — and sometimes even on Styrofoam trays. They use them so much, in fact, that The Sydney Morning Herald even reported on the hypocrisy, along with the revelation that in 2015, each NSW store created an average of one ton of plastic wrap waste on its own. Multiply that per store, and those wrapped veggies are canceling out a lot of the good you’re doing with your cloth shopping bag. News.com.au did some more investigating, and found the only reason stores do it is to make their produce look more special — it has nothing to do with freshness or quality, so if you’d like to help send Aldi a message, skip the wrapped produce.
No matter what type of beer you gravitate toward, you’ll need to check out the beer section at Aldi. What you’re going to find on the shelves of your store varies by location, but let’s take The Taste‘s review of Aldi’s Irish craft beers as an example — because if there’s any place that’s picky about their beers, it’s the birthplace of Guinness. They say that from a Pilsner from Co. Offaly to an IPA from Limerick, they’re all delicious. Don’t believe an Irish review? Ken Hayes from Duluth’s KKCB’s Breakfast Club says Aldi’s cheapest beer ended up being much, much better than he expected, and he couldn’t tell the difference between it and a more expensive version.
Milk is such a common kitchen staple you might not think twice about where it comes from, but Aldi — along with competitors like Lidl — have been accused of putting some serious pressure on dairy farmers. Selling cheap milk means getting it at a lower price, and in 2012 The Guardian reported on a number of dairy farmers who were being forced into bankruptcy because of stores like Aldi. Even paying a couple pennies less for that carton of milk was putting entire organizations out of business, and while everyone likes to save, this is one purchase that can have some devastating consequences.
Gin is a love or hate thing, and if you love it, you need to try Aldi’s gin. Don’t take our word for it that Aldi makes good gin, take the word of the International Wine and Spirits Competition. In 2017, they named Aldi’s Oliver Cromwell London Dry Gin one of the best in the world (via The Independent), and their smaller batch, more expensive gins took home awards, too. Their Boyle’s Gin was given two medals (via Lovin), and while you might not be able to find this small batch Irish gin, you can be reassured they put as much quality control into their liquors as they do their foods.
Worst: Dairy products with carrageenan
When it comes to carrageenan, we’re still not sure just how bad it is. Prevention says this natural thickening agent — often added to low-fat and fat-free dairy products — is possibly linked to an increased risk of cancer, and it’s almost certainly connected to several digestive issues.
Some Aldi dairy products can contain carrageenan, according to findings from the Center for Science in the Public Interest’s Clean Labels report. While Aldi has removed a lot of additives from their shelves, carrageenan isn’t on the list of ingredients left out of their Simply Nature line, and while it’s not prohibited by any health agency, the CSPI still lists it as one of the additives those with digestive issues should be cautious of.
Best: Red Hot Specials
Every week, Aldi switches out a big section of their merchandise. They’ll stock super-good deals on products you might never expect to see at a grocery store — think lawn furniture, tools, and clothing — but it’s worth taking your time to look through their Red Hot Specials and other weekly deals. You’ll find all kinds of good stuff buried in these sections, including seasonal or holiday foods, spices and seasonings you’ve never seen before, and all kinds of weird stuff. A word of warning, though: once these things are gone, they’re gone. If you see anything you really like, be sure to stock up!
Getting a good, rich butter means the difference between a good dish and a great one, especially when it comes to baked goods. Prices of butter have been steadily on the rise, though, and it’s not just at Aldi — in 2017, they were just one of a number of stores who were raising their prices to be more in-line with global demand.
Since that’s the case and you’re going to be paying more anyway, you might as well go for the good stuff — and that’s not any of the brands you’ll find at Aldi. And there is a measurable difference in butter quality, with Kerrygold taking top honors. The Kitchn says it’s the year-around green grass Kerrygold’s cows graze on that makes a difference, and since you can taste it in everything, just go for the good stuff.
Best: The Specially Selected range
Aldi moved their own private brand to US stores in 2013 (via Food Navigator), and that gave American consumers the chance to experience what European shoppers already knew: Aldi’s Specially Selected brand of products isn’t just as good as any other brand name, it’s earned the awards it’s gotten. In 2015, The Telegraph reported on the slew of awards Aldi products won at the Grocer Own Label Awards of 2014, and according to AgriLand, they swept the 2015 Great Taste Awards with 62 wins.
The list of awards goes on and on, but what kind of products are we talking about here? A little bit of everything.
Worst: Salmon and other fish, especially Sea Queen
In October 2017, news agencies like ABC started reporting on a strange side effect of buying certain types of fish. An Associated Press investigation had found some brands of fish — including Aldi’s Sea Queen — were being processed in China by North Korean workers. Further investigation found the North Korean government took as much as 70 percent of these workers’ salaries, essentially using the fish processing industry to siphon money from China into North Korea.
Sounds crazy, right? Reporters found a ton of evidence linking thousands of North Korean workers, the nuclear-armed government, and the fish you’re buying not just from Aldi, but a number of North American and European stores. Look for product labels indicating fish was processed in China, and you might want to think twice about buying.
Best: Anything with the "Improving Animal Welfare" label
In 2017, Germany’s Aldi announced (via the European Supermarket Magazine) they were rolling out a new label. The German "Fur Mehr Tierschutz" translates to "Improving Animal Welfare," and guidelines for determining what products could be awarded the label were written with help from the German Animal Protection Association. The idea was to go a few steps further in regulating things like how much space and pasture dairy cows are given, and both Aldi Nord and Sud are participating in the program.
You can also keep an eye out for the RSPCA Assured labels that show up on some of Aldi’s products, like chicken, pork, and eggs. Who doesn’t love responsible sourcing?
In 2016, Aldi announced they would be phasing out the sale of eggs from hens restricted to cages by 2025, but in the meantime, you’ll have to be careful if you want to get eggs from responsibly raised hens at Aldi. Currently, Aldi carries a few different options when it comes to eggs, and while there are free range eggs available at many locations, Aldi says they "respond to customer demand."
According to what Ethical Consumer found, though, the lower-priced eggs Aldi stocks are "enriched cage" eggs, which is only a slight improvement over the tight confinement and cruel conditions suffered by hens forced to live in the battery cages many places have outlawed. If you’re looking for something cruelty-free, be extra-careful when picking up your Aldi eggs.
Among other things, Greenpeace keeps track of just how responsible various companies are in catching tuna. Aldi isn’t at the bottom of the list (that’s reserved for Starkist), but they’re not at the top, either. Out of the 20 brands Greenpeace examined in 2017, Aldi’s Northern Catch came in at number 9. There’s some good news — it’s pole and line caught, minimizing the damage done to other marine animals — but Greenpeace says there are links missing in the chain of supply. It’s not clear where 100 percent of Aldi’s tuna comes from or how it’s all caught, and given that some of it comes from areas already damaged by overfishing, they still have a lot of work to do before they can be said to be completely responsible.