We decided to take a little tour through Pinot Noir, using wine purchased from two of our favorite stores–ALDI and Trader Joe’s. The video below shows Tansey tasting these bottles blindly; text reviews for each wine reviewed here are coming soon! The glasses used in this video were these from Riedel, and they’re amazing!
ALDI and Trader Joe’s: What are they?
ALDI: The Deep Discounter
According to a study completed by Market Force Information in March of 2014, ALDI is one of the fastest growing favorites of today’s grocery markets. The German company is somewhat similar to Trader Joe’s, but ALDI seems to take it to the next level when it comes to savings. There are no Hawaiian-shirted employees or any costumer service guides walking around the store. Nope, ALDI is as simple as it gets.
When you pull into an ALDI and exit your car, you will instantly notice that there are no shopping carts in the parking lot. This is because shopping carts are self-service; if you want one, you simply put a quarter in the slot and the cart is released to you. When you return the cart you get the quarter back. Forcing you to return your cart keeps the carts out of the weather, saves the company from having to pay someone to retrieve carts several times an hour, and prevents carts from being wheeled away by homeless folks. (In California, the cost paid for stolen carts is estimated to be around $14 million a year, according to the Los Angeles times.
The Shopping Experience
ALDI saves money by limiting the number of employees in the store. The trick, therefore, is maintaining an organized and simple shopping experience with few employees. This is a bare-bones operation. Many products are left in their wholesale-sized boxes, stacked on pallets to the side of each aisle for customers to browse and select. You’d be surprised, though, what little effect this has on the overall shopping experience; pretty shelves just don’t matter as much as we thought, when we’re saving tons of money.
Another way the store keeps the shopping experience simple while cutting costs is the bagging set up. At ALDI you must either bring your own bags or pay a small amount for bags in the check-out lane. This encourages you to use reusable bags but it also keeps the line flowing quickly. When you check out at ALDI the cashier places all of your groceries into another cart, rather than bagging them for you. After you pay the tab, you simply wheel the cart to a large table where you bag your own groceries. My wife says that she prefers this system because she can organize the bags, making it easier at home when it comes time to put everything away.
One important fact worth mentioning here: ALDI is not dependable. Their products are of the fantastic, imported-quality that devoted customers have come to expect, but one week they might have tons of grated parmesan, and the next week, not at all. Their offerings are often seasonal, and if they run out of something (butter quarters for $1.99, eggs for .99, unrefined organic coconut oil for $5.99), that’s it. You have no idea when, or if, that item will be replenished. This is especially true during the holiday season, when their stores are chock full or unique and delicious treats from across the Atlantic–German chocolates, fig preserves, Manchego wedges and seasoned salami. You’d better be prepared to stock up while they’re available, because once gone, you’re going to wait a full year before seeing them again.
ALDI stores are also open only during select, peak shopping hours–you’ll never find a 24/7 ALDI. All together, these practices are what enables ALDI to cut store costs and maximize savings for customers. The way we shop to maximize savings and avoid frustration is to start with ALDI, collecting everything that they have on my list, and then finish up at another market. I’d also like to offer this bit of wisdom: Once you go ALDI, you never go back.
“Going Green” at ALDI
ALDI stores are small in order to cut down on rent and utilities, and have a smaller carbon footprint. They even avoid painting the walls to save money and avoid potential fumes. Customers are encouraged to recycle bags, and even the way they price things is efficient. ALDI has a growing following, and you’ll often encounter customers in the store who say things like, “Wow, I thought this was a expiring products/dented can store! This stuff is all so…good! And cheap!”
Wine at ALDI
The biggest gripe I have with ALDI wine is that their really interesting bottles are all available seasonally–just like those fig preserves I mentioned. One store may get one case (12 bottles!) of something that ends up tasting unbelievable…but by the time I realize this and head back there to stock up, there are only two bottles left. The “ALDI-brand” wine, Winking Owl, is always there and priced at $3-$5 depending on varietals. I would group these into the “cooking or sangria” category. The seasonal bottles, though, have garnered nothing but high ratings in our blind tastings. I mean, 90 points and above. Plus, I have yet to see a bottle of wine over $19.99 at ALDI, making the quality-to-price ratio absolutely superb.
Trader Joe’s: The Cool Kid
The biggest difference between ALDI and Trader Joe’s is the quality of the shopping experience–which includes the number of employees, and the decor. Trader Joe’s stores are just a tad bigger than ALDI, though not by much. Trader Joe’s employees, of whom there are many, always seem to be thrilled and excited to assist you. You will often see one of them walking around with a huge sign that reads, “What can I help you with today?” or something to that effect. Heck, if I was allowed to wear a Hawaiian shirt and lei to work every day, I would be happy to serve as well.
The Shopping Experience
Faux cedar plank walls and dedicated tour guides throughout the store add to the shopping experience by offering more customer service and a novel shopping experience. There is a decidedly tropical theme–emphasis on theme. TJ’s has branded itself very, very well. There is original artwork in every store. Like ALDI, they almost exclusively sell their own store brand; unlike ALDI, the packaging for said brand is detailed, recognizable, and just plain cool.
You will never see brand reps providing samples at ALDI, but there is an entire counter at Trader Joe’s dedicated to offering freshly cooked samples of their products. There is definitely an experience because purposefully created here. As a good friend of ours says, “I get dressed up and feel really excited to go to Trader Joe’s. It’s a destination.”
“Going Green” at Trader Joe’s
TJ’s puts a real emphasis on organic products, and those organic products are often less expensive than nonorganic products at other grocers. (I’m not kidding; the organic produce at TJ’s, for example, is often a third of the price or nonorganic produce at any other grocery store!) They also practice sustainable shopping practices by only bagging groceries in either recyclable brown paper bags or reusable bags. This encourages a reuse/recycle approach to shopping. Though they do spend money on sustaining their brand and prefer a certain amount of frills, this seems to have only a minimal effect on prices–perhaps explaining the slight price difference between TJ’s and ALDI!
Wine at Trader Joe’s
TJ’s wine selection is quite diverse. Their Charles Shaw brand, affectionately referred to as “Two Buck Chuck” is suitable for cooking, for making sangria, or as your fifth bottle of the night. But if you’re looking for a gourmet food pairing bottle, turn your attention to the rest of the selection. While they do include a few major brands (Dark Horse, for example), the majority of their wine is exclusively, or almost exclusively, sourced for TJ’s stores only. I once had a very offended TJs wine associate argue extensively with me about whether I had seen one of their wines in another store–she insisted that it was impossible, as that wine was only sold to them and by them. She actually seemed ready to call the vineyard.
Wine snootery aside, their selection is very impressive. The major wine regions are all well represented, the prices range from $3 to $60 (with most bottles in the $7-$18 range), and they also include a few little unique specimens for adventurous palates. This is definitely a store to try if you are looking to host a party, or just stock your bar, cellar, closet, etc.
Either way, you get more for less
The prices at Trader Joe’s are only slightly higher than at ALDI stores, but still much lower than most other grocery stores. Higher quality and lower price is what you get from both grocers. If you have never experienced either store, then it’s time to put on your adventure boots and do a bit of exploring. These are NOT low-end, bargain shops. They are simply grocery stores that are, happily for customers, focused on offering high quality products at low prices—products that are purchased directly from suppliers and not mass produced like larger grocery brands. Like wine, it’s always a good idea to try something new. Venture out of your comfort zone! You never know what treasure you might find next. Cheers!