There’s a new grocery store in town, and it combines all the things I like about shopping at Aldi, Trader Joe’s and regular grocery stores.
The German grocery store chain Lidl (rhymes with needle) opened several stores in Virginia and the Carolinas over the summer. They plan to open 90 on the east coast before the end of the year. Since one of these new stores is in Wake Forest, about 15 minutes from our house, Jon and I had received a flyer in the mail.
Avocados for 49 cents each and a “$5 off if you spend $30” coupon grabbed our attention, so we loaded up the SUV and headed out to investigate. We had a bunch of questions.
- What is Lidl like?
- How does Lidl compare to Aldi? Trader Joe’s? Regular grocery stores?
- What products does Lidl offer?
- Is Lidl cheaper than other stores?
- How does Lidl’s quality compare?
We found our answers. Lidl compares favorably in almost every respect.
What We’d Heard and Lidl First Impressions
Lidl is a discount chain, and all that I’d seen about it made me think it was another Aldi. The grocery flyer reinforced that impression…super cheap prices on a variety of generic products, plus an assortment of odd non-food specials.
I like Aldi. It has high-quality generic products and great deals on staples. I know I’m giving up some of the more appealing grocery store amenities when I shop there, though. Aldi feels more like a small warehouse than a grocery store. Having to put in the quarter deposit for a cart is annoying, and they never have more than one lane open.
Imagine my surprise when we pulled into the Lidl parking lot and found a gleaming, modern-looking store with wide aisles and a bakery. Even the grocery carts seemed shiny and ergonomically designed.
This place was nice, far nicer than I expected.
It was also freezing. The store thermostat seemed to be set to about 65 degrees. Jon, who dressed in shorts and short sleeves for a 90-degree day, said he felt cold as soon as we entered the building. The store temperature probably cut our visit short, but next time we’ll know to dress a little differently.
And then we went shopping.
Stripped Down Selection
The aesthetics of Lidl may seem closer to a Kroger or Harris Teeter, the soul is much closer to Aldi or Trader Joe’s. The selection is small and dominated by store brands. You might choose to buy chocolate chip cookies, but you’re going to choose between crunchy or chewy instead of 20 different variations and 5 different brands.
That doesn’t mean they didn’t have a nice selection of items, though. The selection is just more oriented towards different items rather than different brands.
That said, Lidl still had a nice variety of gourmet items at reasonable prices. If I want a cheese tray, I can stock it as easily from Lidl as I can from Trader Joe’s, and more readily than I might from the neighborhood Food Lion that gets most of my grocery dollars. While I didn’t pick up any imported chocolate, that was only because I exercised sheer unadulterated willpower.
Other things I noticed included:
- A solid wine and beer selection, not quite on par with TJs but plenty of interesting inexpensive choices.
- A surprising amount of Indian and Greek foods, far more than most grocery stores carry in North Carolina.
- Plenty of appealing and slightly exotic snacks: nuts, dried fruit, sweet potato chips, etc.
- More non-food staples like paper products and cleaning supplies than I was expecting.
- Pretty produce, with lots of organic options and plenty of variety.
- Two aisles of seasonal and special merchandise, about double the amount our local Aldi carries.
- Prices are posted above the items, not below. Read carefully.
Prices: Pretty Hard to Beat
If the selection and appearance beat my expectations, what about the prices?
Opening disclaimer: Jon and I did our regular grocery shopping, so I stuck largely to the sections we needed: Produce, Dairy, pantry goods, and frozen foods. We skipped over much of the meat, household products, toiletries, etc since our household is well-stocked in those areas. While I browsed a few other areas that grabbed my interest, like snacks and beer, I didn’t check every section comprehensively.
Where I did check prices or buy items, though, Lidl came out ahead. Behind? Under? I don’t know. Bottom Line: We Saved Money.
We found their regular prices on par with Aldi, which means they beat most everybody else in town. In addition, we found a few things that seemed on ridiculous specials, like the 49 cent avocados, 79 cents a pound grapes, and extra-large eggs at 67 cents a dozen. Jon picked up a pack of hot dogs for less than a dollar and a frozen cheese pizza for $2.29.
I even managed to find fresh raspberries at 8 ounces for $1.79. That’s 21 cents less than the lowest I’ve paid this summer.
Once I got home, I plugged the numbers into my old price book spreadsheet. I found I’d spent less than the standard Aldi price on every item but granola bars. In several cases, Lidl beat the lowest Aldi sales price I had recorded, too.
Check Out: Friendly, Fast, and Eco-Friendly
One of the worst things about check-out at a lot of discount grocery stores is that their check-out lines tend to be few and long. It’s one of the reasons that, despite the tight aisles, shopping Trader Joe’s can be such a nice experience: fast, friendly service.
Lidl had as many check-out counters open as your average Trader Joe’s and wasn’t nearly as chaotic. The staff seemed just as friendly despite their lack of Hawaiian shirts. The guy who waited on us had drunk the company kool-aid and was waxing on about how much he liked the store and the company he worked for.
Happy workers make happy customers. His service was excellent.
The store does make you bring your own bags or pay for new ones. The price for a paper grocery bag was 6 cents. Not terribly expensive, but enough to prompt us to go get our reusable bags. Frankly, if more stores nudged us like that, we’d probably use them more often instead of forgetting them.
Between the wide aisles, variety, and friendly service, we had a good shopping experience at Lidl. Add to those factors the good prices, and this store seems hard to beat.
Quality? Not a Problem
So surely something had to give, right?
Maybe, but it wasn’t the food quality. We haven’t consumed every purchase, yet, but we’ve enjoyed enough to know that what we bought met or beat expectations.
The produce didn’t go bad in a day or two. The salami and smoked English cheddar tasted appropriately gourmet.
Our daughter thought the ginger snaps tasted too spicy, but that’s exactly the way I like them. I consider that a bonus (even if it undermines my “cut back sugar” goal.) She adored the freeze-dried strawberries and mangos, though, and thought the yogurt tasted terrific.
Based on our purchases, there’s absolutely no reason to avoid Lidl and every reason to go back.
Sign Me Up
Lidl is a grocery titan wading into the US market. According to Forbes, the company is known for being honest, transparent, and customer-centric. I can easily see it getting the same cult following in the US as Trader Joe’s enjoys because it’s that darn good.
If you had to ask me why I grocery shop where I do, I’d tell you I go to:
- Food Lion and Kroger for the convenience of being able to pick up everything I need at one go and because they are conveniently located and laid out (but I have to hunt for the best values.)
- Aldi because it has all those cheap store brands on staples (but it’s not my favorite grocery store experience.)
- Trader Joe’s because it has a tempting variety of high-quality, unusual items at great prices and terrific service (but the crowded aisles make me feel claustrophobic and it doesn’t stock all the items I need to replace a regular grocery trip.)
Lidl has every one of those pluses (except a location 10 minutes away) and none of the negatives. It has good prices, good variety, and a good experience. So if a Lidl store opens up in your town, you should give it a try.
Like my checkout clerk, I’ve drunk the
wine kool-aid and become a fan.
I was not compensated in any form for this post. The opinions are my own.
Do you have a Lidl opening near you? Why do you grocery shop where you shop?
*Part of Financially Savvy Saturdays on brokeGIRLrich.*