I don't like grocery shopping.
While I will be the first to admit I love food, I will also admit I don't like buying it.
I've caught myself standing in the pasta aisle, comparing the deals between store brands and name brands, wondering if my coupon for Kraft macaroni and cheese makes it less than the Publix alternative. This has gone on multiple times, even in the same visit. I normally take a nap afterwards. Grocery shopping is exhausting.
So when an unknown store made its way to my neighborhood, I was sort of intrigued. Aldi - a German grocery chain - opened up their Deerfield Beach store in November and doesn't carry name brands. This actually scared me. If it's not 'Kraft' macaroni and cheese, I thought, then it's not really worth putting in a blue box.
Aldi's has opened three locations in Broward and a store manager who requested his name not be used says they plan to open nearly a dozen more in South Florida - Palm Beach County included - before the year is over. But are they even a threat to Publix, their pleasure-shopping competitors across the street? I spent an afternoon at both stores looking to find out.
At Aldi's, a cart costs you a quarter for your entire visit in the store. "It saves on labor," the store manager told me. "You put your quarter in the cart when you start, and take it out when you return it." Meaning, those who would normally be fetching carts in the parking lot are employees helping customers inside the store.
The store is smaller than its competitor. The shelves aren't very high or deep with items. It's not as bright as Publix. It's even quieter. It still feels like the chain bookstore it served as before the revamp last year. Really, though, it's not all about the look.
In my quest to discover a genuine price difference, I made a list of the exact items I would make for a meal. For this experiment, I'm comparing prices for a Sunday breakfast to feed a family of four. See my complete price comparison here.
"Most people see a drastic price change in their produce and essential grocery products," the manager told me. He's not wrong, either. A gallon of milk at Aldi's costs $1.99. The Publix store brand costs $3.39. Name brand McArthur costs $5.49. So is there really a difference in the actual product?
"We use some of the same distributors our competitors use," he said. "Tyson and Kraft are a couple of our main ones."
Ah. So my blue box is safe.
I checked the ingredients on a 32 oz. box of pancake mix. Aldi's Aunt Maple's mix costs $1.39, while Publix sold Aunt Jemima - also 32 oz. - for $2.59. Same ingredients, just less money.
Even a pound of bacon was more than double the price at Publix. Oscar Mayer charges $6.39 while Aldi's Appleton Farms sold it for $2.69. A 34.5 oz carton of coffee costs $4.99 with the new guys while Maxwell House is charging $11.89. One of the hardest realizations to accept is that Aldi's offers one or two choices per product. Publix can offer as many as four or five. Lessening the choices in turn lessened the grocery shopping headache.
My total breakfast at Aldi's was $46.83. That's roughly $11 a person. At Publix, I gathered prices for name brands and store brands, totaling $90.16 for the same products. Even with the store brand prices, I would still pay more than $40 more at Publix. Click here for the complete price comparison.
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While Publix offers convenience (they do have an iPhone app, you know), Sunday's breakfast will come from Aldi's, where it's a pleasure to spend less money.