maggiealderson

Seven Days of Positive – Day 78

In Food, Shopping on December 5, 2014 at 10:19 pm

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A brand new branch of Aldi opened yesterday about a mile and a half straight up the hill from my house. I was so excited to get myself into it this morning.

The German supermarket chain which, along with the competing brand Lidl (and they’re owned by competing brothers, just to add to the intrigue), is cutting swathes through the UK food retail scene.

Supermarkets own food here in a way they haven’t quite yet managed to do in Australia and while it has to be said that a branch of Waitrose, or Sainsburys is a pleasure to shop in (Tesco, Morrisons and Asda, not so much), their overbearing dominance has meant the death of many a fine high street, where a butcher, a baker, a candlestick maker – plus a fruit and veg shop and a fishmongers – had served the community for generations.

They can’t possibly compete on price with such giants of economies of scale.

The ‘big four’ (T, M, A and S above) have come to be seen as rather unscrupulous consumer-fleecing, producer-murdering corporate machines by the British public, so there has been a rather joyful uptake of these more recent arrivals with their quirky European stock, no frills sets up – and astonishing prices.

When it first arrived in the UK, Lidl was seen as rather a desperation destination, but now it’s positively chic to shop there.

My mum – always an early uptaker, I’ve just taken possession of a desk she bought from Habitat’s very first collection – has been going on about Lidl for years, ever since she was taken to one in Germany by a rather grand family friend.

‘If Hanne shops there,’ she says, ‘it must be good quality.’

And it is, that’s the extraordinary thing.

For a couple of years now, I’ve been doing my main shop up at Sainsburys, then stopping at Lidl on the way home to get specific things: the amazing huge tubs of the best Greek yogurt you can buy; free range British chickens for £5; delicious bags of pretzels; really good bread; great smoked salmon and all kinds of charcuterie, wurst and pork products.

The salami with fennel seeds is one of the best I’ve ever tasted.

It’s not all great. The tinned tomatoes are watery and weird (although my foodie friend Henrietta Green told me that if you boil them down a bit and add a bit of sugar, before using, they are as good as the premium brands). My cat walks away from the pouched food. The really cheap wine is nasty. But mostly it’s really good and I usually spend about £40.

So I’m delighted to have this Aldi just up the road, a much more direct drive than Lidl and a spanking new store, where the trolleys still go in the same direction as you. (That won’t last long.)

It’s pretty similar to Lidl, although they don’t do the Greek yogurt, annoyingly, so I’ll have to make a side trip to pick that up, or the family will protest. But I got my free range chicken and they had some things Lidl don’t do, such as frozen raspberries. (Great for trifles.)

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A feature of both brands is a strange ‘middle aisle’, which is like a dodgy market in a Calais car park, where they pile up random stuff, usually seasonal, at ridic prices.

One week you might find document shredders, socket sets and children’s snow suits. The next, sprinklers, chocolate fountains and slug pellets. It’s bonkers.

I don’t normally bother with it, as it just seems like a temptation to bring more crap into the house, but today I got some really nice wool socks for my husband’s Christmas stocking and a true bargain – flock-covered, queen size air beds, with integral battery-operated air pumps. £22.99.

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The last ones we had (for camping and sleepovers and now knackered from years of hard use) were £70 each.

The chrysanthemums in the picture at the top were £2 a bunch. Two makes an impressive show in the corner of my sitting room.

But while I’m delighted to have this alternative supermarket nearby, I will continue to buy my fruit and veg from the wonderful independent greengrocers, Carroll’s, nearby. They sell the biggest potatoes I have ever seen and wonderful fresh herbs.

In other shop news, ‘Paddy Patel’ as the hilarious Irish proprietors of my local corner store call themselves, have really gone to town on their Christmas grotto this year.

One of the santas sings…

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  1. You’ve been away too long! We have Aldi too now and I am a firm convert, although I still pop into Woolies or Coles to get the products I can’t find in Aldi.

  2. Unfortunately for Australian food manufacturers, we do have Aldi here; people may not realise it but every single item they sell is imported. This is bad for our workers because it puts more ridiculous pressure of the “our standard of living is too high and so we need to cut wages in order to compete with these cheap imports” kind, and it’s bad for our manufacturing, because it puts immense pressure on them to cut costs in order to compete with cheap imports. As somebody who understands the link between ridiculously cheap clothing and not paying people a decent wage, I’m surprised you’re advocating a supermarket chain that does the same thing. It will be a cold day in hell before you find me in Aldi.

    • This isn’t strictly true. A lot of the stock is locally sourced. For instance Aldi sells both Australian and imported canned tomatoes. What Aldi does is put pressure on Coles and Woolworths to lower their prices and profits. I hate those two and love being able to have the opportunity to buy German chocolate.

    • Simply not true, Isabella! Go Aldi 🙂

    • I understand how you feel about it Isabella – but do see the comments above. They don’t import everything, they really don’t. Not in the UK and not in Aus. I believe the big supermarkets do far worse damage – the pressure they put on suppliers here is unbelievable. If a farmer, or small manufacturer, wants to sell produce to them they have to offer it at prices which frequently put them close to bankruptcy and then they just end the contract, with no notice -0 after the businesses have invested in extra staff, equipment etc. And now they sell everything there, they have put unbelievable pressure on all kinds of sectors – including publishers. One of my books wasn’t stocked by a major supermarket here (meaning it couldn’t get on the bestseller list…) because they weren’t buying ANY books from Penguin that quarter, because Penguin refused to sell them a major celebrity memoir – for less than it cost them to PRINT it! They are horrendous bullies. Since Aldi and Lidl have come into the UK market, all the big supermarket chains have had to improve their game, which has been very good for hard-pressed British workers, who’s real pay hasn’t gone up for years now.

    • I agree with you. To believe that Aldi is the good guy is absurd. If Aldi is giving the majors a run for their money it’s because they too are screwing their suppliers. To believe otherwise is naive.

      • Hi Annelouise, I’m not a spokesperson for Aldi and I’m suspicious of all big businesses, but see Lyn’s comment below – her brother supplies Aldi, Woollies and Coles and finds Aldi a different experience.

        How I feel about it in the UK is the big supermarkets here have also been screwing the consumer for years and at least Aldi and Lidl give all the people who are really struggling financially somewhere they can get good food at reasonable prices.

        The other thing the big supermarkets here do is squeeze out all the specialist retailers by doing ‘seasonal’ specials on things like gardening supplies in spring, BBQ equipment in summer, toys at Christmas etc, so those small businesses miss out on their annual busy times. And what they’d done to the publishing industry here defies belief! Of course, you are entitled to your opinion, but I just want you to know that I have put some thought into mine too x

  3. Aldi is growing in Australia which is great because Coles and Woolworths have about 80% of the food market from memory – a scary number!

  4. We are heading off to Aldi more frequently now. Similarly to the UK, our big 2 – Coles and Safeway- have been ripping off producers and consequently Aldi is seeing a rather spectacular growth in its share of the market here.

    They’ve made some very quirky Australian ads: http://www.youtube.com/user/ALDIAustralia

    I love their German biscuits – heart shaped, apricot filled and covered in chocolate. Yum.

  5. And – they actually do use some local producers and suppliers – mostly rebranded, but at least make an effort to use local rather than exclusively import.

  6. Have to disagree with Isabella – a lot of Aldi produce is sourced in Australia, and it is excellent quality. I’ve compared with the dominant two chains, who increasingly use imported products for their house brands.

    Alfi cheeses consistently win awards in Australia.

  7. It took me years to shop at Aldi in Australia (I thought like Miss Golightly) that it was all cheap imports – but no, actually a lot of local product. I don’t “like” Aldi but it is tempting. The Middle Isle Thing is bonkers – but the punters love it and those who studiously check their Aldi flyers do score some amazing deals (a couple of friends proudly boast on their “incredible bargain” purchases regularly). I will always try to shop small and local if I can (I think there’s a “shop small” happening in London this weekend?) but sometimes one runs out of time and the urge is too great. Really do like Waitrose – we def. don’t have the Aussie equivalent. M&S food good too but a little $ for what it is maybe. I fly tom. BX

    • Waitrose is such a gorgeous experience but very very £££. I’m almost glad we don’t have one in Hastings, as the temptation would be unbearable. They have the nicest of everything. Good luck with the new adventure! Keep me posted x

  8. I love the bonkers aisle! Anything to make grocery shopping more interesting.

  9. I’m a big Aldi fan – great quality, good prices and it’s not Coles or Woollies. Hooray! Heavenly Greek yoghurt, killer German Christmas goodies, excellent free range chooks, those spinach frozen cubes which can do no wrong – yep, big fan xx

  10. we have Aldi in our country town, I don’t shop there, but they have divine Belgian chocolates, at a ridiculously cheap cost, in that mid-section jumblesale part, I stocked up this morning for presents……

  11. Almost monopolies, Coles and Woolworths deserve a run for their money, but a pity Aldi is a German brand. That said, their Greek yoghurt and their organic yoghurt, free range chicken etc. are fantastic and Australian products. I also buy their Australian grown Olive Oil. Chocolate is great in there too. Peanut butter is made in China (a lot of their stuff is Chinese, but if you shop carefully, read the labels etc. you can stick to the local stuff). I have a cashmere scarf from the middle aisles and boxes of herbs/seeds for home growing. This week in the middle aisle they sold tablets (as in 16 gb i-paddy type things) for $99! Sold out in seconds though.

    • I didn’t know Aldi was in Australia too – very interesting. I don’t think much of the product here is Chinese, because it would be so far to bring it. I think a lot of it comes from Eastern Europe, I’m going to look at the labels with interest next time I go x

  12. Maggie
    Sadly globalisation, and badly behaved grocers, rule! Coles and Woolies (with their UK imported management teams) have borrowed from T, A, S et al!

    So hurray for Aldi, I avoided it for years but am now a fan. Meat, F&V are great value and excellent quality; and it’s worth a trip just to see what is in the hilarious middle aisle. Last week a freestanding electric oven! And some months back stackable Ghost chairs! Yes that’s right. Long may Aldi give the corporates a run for their money.

    PS. Still clearing the pantry shelves
    Sally

    • Is there Aldi in Australia now then??? Or are you expat. Gosh, I would have loved the Ghost chairs. Great for the garden. I seem to be filling my shelves up again, so it’s time to work through the freezer again…. x

      • Darn, I should have thought about the garden! They were hard to walk past! No, Brit parents but Aussie made! Love your work Maggie!

  13. I think I’d like Paddy Patel….my kinda corner store!!! Probably crazy like my local markets…but soooo friendly and very yummy food. Have a look on my blog…http:parisallons-y.blogspot.com. Used to be all about Paris….now it’s all about Brizzie, Queensland, Australia!!!!!!! I kid you not. Merry Christmas Maggie…will be following all thru the crazy season.

  14. So happy you have an Aldi I wanted to post on your blog this weeks bargains and tips – is this allowed and how do I do it.

    I’m poised!!!!!!

    Henri xx

    Email: henrietta@henriettagreen.co.uk Mob: 07961 300 237 Phone: 020 8969 0866 Sent from my iPad

    • Henri!!!!! so glad you saw this with your mention! Would you like to write a guest post???? that would be so fun!!! and it could form the start of your own blog The New Lidl Class. It would be lovely to have a pic of you to put on it and some iPhone snaps of your Lidl/Aldi feasts (with Poundstretcher accessories). You can send it all to me via email. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

  15. Wow! This post sure hit a nerve. I paid my first visit to an Aldi this week, by accident. How can you not love the crazy middle aisle? Good to read that if you are check it out a lot of the Aldi stuff is Australian produce. Also, don’t forget your local SPAR store – owner operated and often with quality produce.
    Very lucky that my local fruit and veg shop is of a very superior standard despite Coles being right beside them, nearly everyone buys at the local.

  16. With you on the fruit and veg shop Claire – but I fear for the one near Aldi here. It’s sooooo good – and I don’t like the fruit and veg in Aldi because there is too much packaging – but a one-stop shop is too much to resist for people already tired from work…

  17. Actually my brother is a local food supplier and supplies all three – Woollies, Coles & Aldi. He describes dealing with C& W as an unfortunate unpleasant necessity but Aldi as a pleasant mutually beneficial,relationship.

  18. Love Aldi…love the middle aisle…it’s a srum, but still. One week motorbike jackets and jeans, the next week say…cast iron casserole dishes. I admire the way they watch the seasons and the trends and sort their middle aisle out accordingly. It works for disadvantaged suburbs where people with low incomes get much more for their money and it works for everyone else, because even well off people love a bargain, don’t they?

    • I don’t find it a very enjoyable way to shop – which is odd because I love skanky junk shops. But I totally agree about low income areas. And at least they only do a few of each thing. The big supermarkets here have destroyed so many specialist retailers by doing huge displays of all the seasonal things as they come around, wrecking a small businesses chance to get their annual surge of business. It’s corporate bullying greed at it’s most unattractive, but who’s going to turn down getting, say, the new Ottolenghi cook book at the half price it is in your local independent bookshop? I feel like a schmuck buying it, but we’re all on a budget and you’d be mad not to. x

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