We are lucky to have a number of great full-service grocery stores in Columbia. We’re also lucky to have a brand new discount grocery store in town. ALDI recently moved from their old location on the Business Loop down the street to a brand new building at the corner of Business Loop and I-70.
I was curious about the store, since we’re constantly looking for ways to save money, so I checked it out a couple of weeks ago. When I pulled up to the store, I noticed the parking lot was very well-designed for ease of getting in and out. The building is pretty standard from the outside, but they added some signage and architectural details to make it look clean and modern.
When I walked in, I was very pleasantly surprised at how nice the store looked. It was big and bright with fresh-looking marketing signs around the store.
The aisles were huge! I dare say they’re bigger than any other grocery store in town, though I can’t prove that fact.
When you go to an ALDI store, you learn pretty quickly that nearly everything in there is generic (or private label, as stores are calling it these days). According to their website, ALDI partners with many of the same suppliers that produce national brand foods, so you can be sure you’re getting high-quality food.
I’ve sampled many of their products and can confirm that the food is just as good as (if not better than) private label/generic products you find at other grocery stores. And I’m pretty picky when it comes to food taste. (Tip: their chocolate is excellent.)
Plus, something that I just discovered, if you’re not happy with something you purchased there, they’ll refund your money AND give you a replacement product. That’s a pretty impressive guarantee.
It cracks me up how much they try to get the packaging to match the national brand equivalent. I had to look twice at this package of cereal before I realized it was generic!
The other thing that surprised me at the new ALDI is that they carry a very reasonably priced wine selection. I really wanted to try some, but they didn’t carry the particular type of girly-wine that I tend to like most.
#1 – You have to pay for your cart
Well, actually, it’s more like a deposit. It’s ingenious, actually. Instead of paying for people to go retrieve carts from the parking lot, it leaves the work up to their customers. The carts are hooked together right outside the front door. You deposit a quarter in a little slot on your cart, which releases it from the cart corral. When you return the cart, you get your quarter back.
#2 – You need to bring your own bags
As eco-friendly grocery bags have become more popular in recent years, this isn’t that big of a deal. But trust me when I tell you it was a big ordeal trying to find suitable bags to bring to the grocery store when my mom & I frequented the store back in the day.
If you forget your bags, you can snag empty boxes as you shop. You can also purchase paper bags at the checkout counter.
By the way, you are also responsible for bagging your own groceries, which is actually kind of fun, once you get the hang of it.
#3 – They only accept cash, PIN-based debit cards and food stamps/EBT cards
While it may seem a little inconvenient that they don’t accept credit cards or checks, there are two very good reasons why they don’t. First, they don’t have to pay processing fees that the credit card companies charge, which helps keep their prices low. Second, checks and credit cards are the two slowest forms of transactions, so it speeds up the checkout line when they don’t accept them. I call that a win-win!
#4 – You may not be able to get all of your grocery shopping done there
While I’m a fan of ALDI stores, this is one of the major drawbacks of shopping there. They may or may not have everything on your list. It’s kind of a crap shoot, especially with the frozen items. They carry many items that are regularly stocked, but if you’re looking for something special for a specific recipe, such as a particular spice or something “fancy” like Canadian bacon, you’re probably going to be out of luck.
I also find that I personally do some impulse buying while I’m there because I’m never sure if they’re going to carry it again (or if it’s just a really good deal). This is something to watch out for if you’re trying to stick to a list and remain in budget.
Overall, I highly recommend checking out Columbia’s newest grocery store. They offer good food at great prices and the new building makes for a great shopping experience. For more tips on how to navigate the store before your first visit, check out their website.
If you’ve been to the new store, let me know what your experience was. And make sure to report back if you end up trying the wine! I’m so curious!