Would you risk your neighbours spotting you at Aldi More and more middle class shoppers are being lured by Aldi's (slightly eccentric) bargains. So what did picky JAN MOIR make of it
12:00 GMT, 6 October 2012
Apart from the names you give to your children, nothing says more about you than your choice of supermarket. Asda, Waitrose, Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Morrisons For years, allegiance to any of the big boys has marked us out along tribal factions as neatly and distinctly as woad body markings.
Asda devotees are cost-conscious shoppers; Waitrose customers are top-of-the-range aisle-rovers who don’t mind paying for premium goods; Sainsbury’s is the haunt of young professionals who find comfort in authentically sourced mozzarella; the Tesco tribe ranges from mothers in pyjamas shopping for cheap fags to anyone with an eye for a keenly-priced bargain, while Morrison’s customers have solid, northern values and — according to their adverts — a fondness for ‘fresh-cut’ meat and cream cakes.
But what could shopping at Aldi say about you Sales at the budget German chain store are soaring — up by more than 500 per cent in the past year. A rise attributed to an influx of once-affluent posh shoppers who are desperate to cut their weekly grocery bills.
Jan Moir inspects the offerings at Aldi
Does this mean that Aldi stores are now heaving with customers in Tattersall check shirts and Boden velvet-trimmed skirts, mowing down old ladies in their rush to get their mitts on the champagne, the cut-price sirloin steaks, the rosemary-flecked crackers, soya milk and bargain nappies
At the Kingsbury branch of Aldi in North-West London this week, I find the customer mix to be an assortment of ethnicities and social groups reflecting the neighbourhood.
Monks in burgundy robes from the Buddhist temple in Kingsbury Road truffle for vegetables next to ladies in sheepskin coats. Schoolboys stock up on cheap chocolate, while men in V-necks and casual shirts study the wine shelves attentively. A woman shopper with a bindi decoration on her forehead kindly explains the mysteries of pineapple maturation to me.
‘You can’t cut this one now,’ she says, slapping the bottom of a recalcitrant fruit. ‘But take it home and keep it for a week, then it will be fine.’
I’m not impressed by the range of fresh fruits and vegetables on show, but perhaps other shoppers are less fussy. For Aldi has become so successful that they have just unveiled plans to open 40 more of their modestly-sized supermarkets by the end of 2014 — taking their total number of UK stores to more than 500.
Aldi stores have seen sales rocket by 500 per cent in the last year; the German group plans to open 40 more stores in the UK by the end of 2013
Apparently, Aldi has become the latest mecca for the squeezed middle classes who don’t want to give up their lifestyles but certainly do want to pay less for life’s little extras.
That, at least, is the new urban shopping legend. That is what everyone is saying. Yet, during my midweek visit to Aldi, that wasn’t exactly what I discovered.
Darling, the mangos are way past their best, I can’t find any unwaxed lemons or organic chickens, and there is only one type of soy sauce on sale. Dark, to match the economic climate.
And do my eyes deceive me, or are there only — shriek! — five types of dried pasta on the shelves (not including the long-life stuffed tortellini because, really, who does).
It also boasts a cheerless fresh flower section, with mustard-coloured chrysanthemums and a selection of 3 bouquets that look distinctly Garage de F’Orecourt
Pass me the gingko smelling salts, because there is also no fresh tagliatelle, no five-seed loaves, no dips section boasting a dozen different types of houmous, and no sausages with a label that tells you not only the name of the pig they came from but also the boarding school he went to.
There’s a further shock at the checkout. After scanning my items, the bloke on the Aldi till just crams them back into the trolley. Has he gone insane
Aldi appears to be poaching new middle class customers from stores such as Sainsbury's
‘Madam,’ he points over to a shelf by the window. ‘You take your groceries over there and you pack them yourself.’
I pack them myself
‘Yes. Now, do you mind’
‘Do you mind helping to put them in the trolley We’ve very busy today and there’s only three of us on.’
What This never happens in Waitrose, where customers are always asked ‘Would you like help with your packing’ even if you’ve only bought two tins of caviar and a rare-breed avocado.
Similarly, in Waitrose, any questions as to the location of a product will result in a close protection squad taking you directly to the shelf where the item in question resides, helpfully pointing to said item and then practically curtseying to you afterwards.
Here at Aldi, though, I appear to be about five minutes away from being handed an overall and told to mop the floor. However, the till queue does rattle forward with super-fast efficiency, and there is something about the brisk, no-frills way the store is run that I really like.
And yes, there are lots of bargains to be had. Even the pickiest middle-class shopper is not going to turn down 29p cartons of passata, a 500ml bottle of extra virgin olive oil for 2.19, an award-winning bag of roast filter coffee at 1.79, or a quid for a five-pack of small Kit Kats.
Aldi is competing with UK supermarket giant Tesco which is struggling to maintain its sales growth, and Morrisons
There is even a bottle of balsamic vinegar — middle class ketchup —for only 99p, although further investigation reveals it to be molto heavy on the vinegar, not so mucho on the balsamico. But I can certainly see how these bargains are helping shoppers to overcome the supermarket snob factor.
The shop itself is easy to navigate, with wide aisles and a large range of products. The yellow-tinged lighting is not exactly complexion-friendly, and the ambience is hardly glamorous — but the emphasis here is on prices rather than a quality shopping experience.
Aldi does sell big-name brands, although the one I chose at random — a 250g jar of Marmite at 2.55 — turned out to be cheaper in Asda (2). Most of the Aldi stock is what is known as ‘imitation branding’ — cheaper copies of best-selling and well-known labels. They are the grocery equivalent of tribute bands, and are reassuringly affordable.
Ergo, Aldi’s Aero choc-a-like bars are called Bubbles, their Pringles are called Stackers, and Kellogg’s Rice Krispies Squares have been reincarnated as Harvest Morn Crisp Rice Oblongs, with a packet blurb to ram home the point (‘They’re not squares, they’re oblongs!’).
Compared with the selection she is used to, Jan Moir found a choice of just five pastas at Aldi too few
Aldi sells Nescafe instant
coffee-alikes and a box of suspiciously familiar man-sized tissues
called Softly — which softly fill my nostrils with a strange, petrol-y
cut-price bin bags are as see-through as a ten-denier stocking — and
almost as useful for disposing of household rubbish.
However, the 3.99 Angus sirloin steak was an excellent bargain. Yes, it was a small cut, but unlike many supermarket steaks, it had a good, rich flavour. The 4.99 free-range chicken was stringy and a bit tasteless — though to be absolutely fair, I did slightly overcook it.
The much-vaunted wines were unconvincing, and certainly not as good as the well-chosen bargain selection at Tesco. Aldi’s Champagne Philizot NV (12.99) foams like crazed Alka Seltzer then collapses into nothingness; the Minarete Ribera Del Duero (5.49) manages to be blandly inoffensive, while the Baron Amarillo Rioja Reserve (5.99) is probably the best of the bunch — but I still didn’t like it much.
Where Aldi really comes into its own is on the household basics front — items such as breakfast cereals, cheeses, biscuits, beer, frozen goods and cleaning products. I must say, it’s a big thrill to buy a packet of dishwasher tablets that don’t cost more than a night out (Magnum All In One, 3.99 for 40). Thankfully, Aldi has all bargain bases covered.
And unlike a delicatessen-style offering of condiments, pictured, Jan Moir found the balsamic vinegar more on the vinegar side than balsamic, but at 99p it was too good to pass
In addition to the aisles, most Aldi stores also have a weird central area that’s a bit like a street market, selling a random selection of goods. Ladies, ever had one of those monthly moments when you need an axe and a total support bra RIGHT NOW
At Aldi, these items are on sale conveniently side-by-side, priced at 14.99 and 4.99 respectively, along with halibut pellets, maxi briefs, giant balls of wool, sledgehammers and cut-price Russell Brand DVDs. I impulse-bought a sewing kit for 3.49 (it turned out to be hopeless) and a dust sheet for 2.99.
Back in the traditional aisles, there are some thrillingly unheard-of beauty products to peruse. What on earth is a Caffeine Eye Roll On (3.49) and what does it do There are shampoos enhanced with something called Aquarich — search me! — plus a Dcollet & Neck Cream (4.99) that has completely