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The Coupon Lady: Checking out Aldi

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I was invited to attend the Jan. 31 grand opening of Aldi on Bobby Jones Expressway. The parking lot was packed full of anxious shoppers wanting to check out the new arrival.

The new Aldi grocery store on Bobby Jones Expressway doesn't accept manufacturer coupons, but there are lots of savings to be found. The grand opening Jan. 31 attracted a large crowd.  JIM BLAYLOCK/STAFF
JIM BLAYLOCK/STAFF
The new Aldi grocery store on Bobby Jones Expressway doesn't accept manufacturer coupons, but there are lots of savings to be found. The grand opening Jan. 31 attracted a large crowd.

I had a clipboard in hand and got a chance to speak with Gordon Stewart, a representative of Aldi. Stewart walked me around the store while he explained how it works.

The first difference you notice is that shoppers must pay a quarter to retrieve a chained shopping cart. Once you finish shopping and put the cart back in the chain lock, your quarter is returned. This system is put in place to encourage shoppers to return their carts. This keeps the chain from having to hire people to bring the carts back inside, so it saves on overhead costs.

Aldi also charges for bags. A shopper must pay 6 cents per paper bag and 10 cents per plastic bag. Shoppers can easily avoid this charge by bringing in their own reusable bags or by purchasing reusable bags at the store. Filling the bags is up to the customer – the cashier takes the items off the conveyor and them back into the cart. It is the shopper’s job to bag their groceries once checkout is complete.

Another thing you notice is that Aldi carries mostly store brands. Since there are so few manufacturer brands, Aldi does not accept manufacturer coupons. Two or three times a year, Aldi will offer store coupons such as the $5 off $30 coupon featured in its first weekly circular.

I asked Stewart if he felt that the store labels were comparable to manufacturer brands. He told me that Aldi is so confident in its product quality that it has a “Double Guarantee” policy. If a shopper feels that any store-brand product does not meet expectations or the shopper is not satisfied with the quality of the product for any reason, then Aldi will give the shopper a replacement product and the money back. He said that each product is tested to be as close to the manufacturer brand as possible.

Stewart encouraged me to price a few products with him. I immediately noticed a familiar brand of baby carrots that I purchase frequently at a 75 percent discount compared to my nearest store’s regular price. He told me that Aldi has a goal to bring the freshest produce and meats to the store and the low overhead makes it possible to pass on the savings. He also told me that Aldi will do price checks weekly to make sure it has the lowest prices in town.

I was very thankful for Stewart’s help and I asked a few patrons what they thought of the place. Most shoppers were excited to see the store come to Augusta. Several had either shopped at the Aldi in Aiken or at stores in other parts of the state and were happy to see one locally.

So, how does a couponer like me fit Aldi into a savings plan? Is couponing still worth it now that there’s a new guy in town? I think Aldi has a place in my shopping routine for anything I need but don’t have coupons for, such as meat, dairy, bread and produce. Getting a store-brand cereal for $1.99 is a great buy for a shopper who doesn’t use coupons, but I picked up cereal last week for only $1.25 so I know I can do better.

For this week I’ve decided to do an experiment. I wanted to know how much a week’s worth of dinners would cost my family if I shopped at Aldi and used its brands. More importantly, would my kids eat it?

I returned home and signed up for an online meal planning service called Emeals. Emeals has a “classic” plan tailored to Aldi’s selections. When I signed up, I received a weekly shopping list and recipes for seven meals. For more information on Emeals, check out my Augusta Coupon Lady page on Facebook.


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