I do seem to have been in reflective mood recently. Not sure why that is - I've never been one for too much introspection, even when I was trying to be a goth. But having just purchased tickets to take Pink to see Olly Murs, something I thought I'd never do (and not just when I was trying to be a goth - at which point, I hasten to add, Mr Murs was probably no more than a proverbial twinkle - I feel so OLD) I thought the time was probably right to 'fess up to something else I never thought I'd do - shop at Aldi.
Of course it's quite the thing these days, isn't it, to declare that you shop at Aldi, and I don't want really want to jump on the band wagon. What I will say is that while I've called this post 'How to succeed shopping in Aldi...' what I should probably have called it is 'Confessions of a food snob' because that is basically what I realise I am guilty of, and what you have to get over if deep down you believe your supermarket soulmate is Waitrose (or Booths for those of you that know) with a liberal sprinkling of the farmers market.
Not that there's anything wrong with shopping at Waitrose if that's your environmentally-friendly jute bag, and definitely nothing wrong with a farmers market, but, as they say, there is another way. Of course in an ideal world perhaps there wouldn't be any supermarkets and we would all shop in small, hyper-local stores but certainly in my life as it currently is, this is unrealistic.
My relationship with discount supermarkets goes quite a long way back. I have memories of my mum coming home triumphant from a Lidls with bags of delicious Liebkuchen - spiced German cookies - but at what ever impressionable age I was, the way she talked about it all being so, well cheap, it was just embarrassing. And now that I have a nearly 11 year old who is suffering from the crippling agonies of living with THE MOST embarrassing parents E-V-V-A, well I can kind of see how her enthusiasm for Lidl turned into a negative in my brain.
For a long time - since I've been in charge of the food shopping, I have essentially avoided discount supermarkets like the plague. I did frequent Leader Price during the year I lived in France in my very early 20s because it was close to the flat I was living in, and of course a discount supermarket in France was bound to be the equivalent of Waitrose (or at least Sainsburys) in the UK. I've also got a deep seated suspicion of Tescos - don't ask me why, but there's a hierarchy that I've lived with for a long time now and it involves trying to buy locally where possible and Sainsburys online delivery (because Ocado is just too expensive) for everything else.
Well since moving West, I've had to change all that. The nearest Sainsburys is a long way away for a start (in fact I'm not sure I know where it is) - no online delivery from them here - and in fact plans for a Sainsburys in Cardigan now appear to have been scrapped as the supermarket has all but admitted to pulling out. Not necessarily a bad thing. Morrisons is a 40 minute drive away (at least - assuming you don't get stuck behind a tractor) in Carmarthen and I think there's an Asda somewhere down Llanelli way...
There are plenty of fabulous farm shops round here, market gardens and the like, but I like to use those for my fresh stuff - meat, veg, eggs - and not the endless tins of chopped tomatoes and pasta we get through.
So what are the options? Well here, it's Tescos and Aldi. There is a Co-Op too but I don't go there - my mind is firmly set in its way of thinking that the Co-Op is for emergencies only (from where we used to live - talk about stuck in my ways). And reader, after coming out of Tescos a few times early on since the move here practically weeping about the cost of my supermarket shopping, which seemed to have inflated beyond belief, I decided I had to do something. So I ventured forth into Aldi.
Now, Aldi is not the best shopping experience in the world. You need to remember to have a £1 coin for the trolleys which can be a challenge, the car park is quite small (but see speed of shopping, below, which encourages high car turnover). You can't always rely on finding that fabulous product that was there last week or last month because it simply may not be there - but if you haven't deemed Aldi worthy of your attention, you really should give it a go.
The price element is certainly attractive - I would say that I have more than halved what I spend in supermarkets. On 'big shop' days, I find myself in a little challenge to see if I can actually spend more than £50. It's pretty hard, if not impossible, to do. Once (can I admit to this? Deep breath...here goes) I actually BOUGHT A DAILY EXPRESS (I can't believe I am admitting this - the ultimate betrayal of my Guardian reading-self?) to get a token that gave me £5 off my shop - but even with purchasing said paper, I had to buy 2 more packs of chocolate buttons to bump the value up to the requisite £50 to then pay £45...The advantage of course is that I can spend more on delicious, local, fresh produce that this area excels in, thus satisfying my inner Waitrose customer.
And shopping in Aldi is so quick. Not only have I cut my shopping bill, I have cut my shopping time. No dawdling round the higher-end establishments agonising over whether to go for branded or own brand, and whether paying for the 'premium' range actually means I'm getting a better product. No, at Aldi, the reduced choice is actually an advantage.
And quality? Well, as I'll share, you do need to be slightly circumspect. The middle aisles for example, stuffed full of the latest offers which Aldi has become renowned for - discount Wagyu beef anyone? Some of them are fab, some are not. Spending £1 on a pack of 5 pairs of pants for Pink might not have been the wisest £1 I've ever spent, but I guess it was worth finding that out... But for tinned goods, cereals, rice and pasta, baking ingredients - well you know, it's really pretty good. And then there's the special selections - I even bought some Laverstoke Park Beef Jerky there once, and it definitely didn't cost £2.49. And the prosecco with the orange label for £4.99 (yes, £4.99) is exceptionally drinkable. And the chorizo (in fact cooked meats generally)... and the chocolate (they do this really lush milk chocolate with almonds bar which is to die for - you'll find me eating it in the car park...) the list goes on. You'll establish your own favourites, I won't impose my pre-conceived ideas on you!
But to get the most out of Aldi, you really do need to bear a few things in mind, so I thought if you were dithering, wondering about whether to embark on a voyage of Aldi discovery, I'd share what I wish someone had told me.
- Remember your £1 for the trolley; there's no (un)'helpful' customer service desk to exchange your purseful of coppers for a shiny coin. Alternatively loiter by the trolley park and persuade someone to take your fistful of change in exchange for their (empty) trolley.
- Go with a list. Yes, I know this applies to all supermarkets, but the likelihood is that you will get your head turned by all the amazing products and how cheap they are. You might even end up spending more than £50.
- If there's something there that you use a lot of - buy it (even if it's not on your list). I got a huge number of jars of 'Paprika Smoked' in Aldi recently - I suspect because there had been a labelling malfunction that meant Schwartz felt unable to peddle them to the 'more upmarket' stores. Too bad! Also look out for things like bottled cherries in syrup - fabulous on top of cheesecake...
- But be honest with yourself - how many luxury marzipan stollens can you actually eat before Christmas?
- Be brave. I'll admit to an inherent nervousness about buying something that isn't familiar - so indoctrinated have I been that cheap food is inherently bad food. This is simply not the case. At least we haven't died yet.
- There are some things that you just can't get in Aldi - or you can get it but it's just a false economy. This will be personal to you. For me, loo roll comes top of the list. Sorry, Aldi, but there it is.
- Finally, and most importantly - if you haven't experienced check out at Aldi, brace yourself. No longer will you scan for the shortest queue. Checkout at Aldi requires a bit of a brain re-wire. If you're doing a relatively big shop, you need time to get all your items out onto the conveyor belt and (if you're anal like me and like to bag things in a certain way - it's all coming out now, isn't it) ordered as you like. Also open your empty bags that you bought with you and place them into the trolley and have them ready to receive your goods. Hopefully you've done all this before it's your turn. Get your trolley into position and on your marks... get set... GO! I challenge you not to end up just chucking everything in as quickly as possible to try and keep up with the flying hands of the checkout staff who have been trained to smile and ask you difficult questions about your weekend whilst shooting your purchases through the scanner at warp speed, and on to the impossibly short counter at the other side at lightening speed. I understand this is a tactic, part of why the costs can be kept down, Get used to it - and get in training...
So there you go. Confession over. Now get thee to an Aldi...
*Just in case you are wondering, I haven't been paid or otherwise induced to write this post by Aldi or anyone else. Just think of it as a public service broadcast