Aldi vs. Walmart (with a side of Trader Joes)
July 29, 2010 7:45 PM   Subscribe

Does Aldi have any moral high ground on Wal-Mart? Do they both have the same flaws and virtues? Or is it something in between?

Just moved out of Trader Joe country (Carrboro, NC) and into Aldi country (Carbondale, IL) (I could be wrong but I think the two chains don't overlap much because of their demographic targeting). Like any good greenish type I go to the weekly farmers market, but as I travel by bicycle whenever I hit up a grocery store I try to stock up, to fill up my panniers. This means buying some (nonlocal) produce at Aldi alongside other staples like nuts, fruit, yogurt, a little meat, what have you...

I love Aldi. It's cheap, it's clean, it reminds me of Trader Joes. But lately I've begun to wonder: should stay loyal to Aldi as Trader Joe's stepchild, or should I add Wal-Mart to my grocery mix? From past trips I've seen better produce selection, if not quality, at Wal-Mart, plus lots of other affordable grocery items (I'm setting aside the non-food part of the store - but yes, I go there sometimes). Not only that, but Aldi's impact on the local economy seems to be every bit as complicated as Wal-mart's - they may pay their employees better and offer better benefits, but there's practically no one working their stores. Both have the low, low prices. Fine from a free-market POV - that's why I go - but then that's always been Wal-Mart's defense too.

Are there particular Wal-Mart sins that Aldi is free from? Labor's probably gonna be the biggie, and I'm just not sure Aldi's on better footing, on net...

(random Aldi/Trader-Joes comparo: I think Aldi's packaging quality is higher than Trader Joes! Surprising, since they are the cheaper chain - I've yet to have a bag of corn chips rip)
posted by harnharn to Home & Garden (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Aldi and Trader Joe's are owned by the same company.
posted by milarepa at 7:50 PM on July 29, 2010

I think you can shop wherever you want and then justify it. Wal-mart is, for example, doing a lot to be environmentally conscious and forcing its suppliers to be that way too.
posted by oreofuchi at 7:56 PM on July 29, 2010

I came in to say what milarepa said. Owned by one and the same company, though whether TJ's goodness is transitive to Aldi's is anyone's guess. FWIW, our local Wal-Mart seems to have made some decent strides in the produce department, and I've heard that they are trying to source more and more of their food from area(s) around the stores.
posted by jquinby at 8:21 PM on July 29, 2010

Response by poster: (Sorry, I should said it better - I know Aldi-Trader Joes are one company - that's why the cheaper packaging, at least in my limited exp, at the more expensive Trader Joes, surprises me)

Re Wal-mart's enviro record - I agree, they are doing a lot there.
posted by harnharn at 8:22 PM on July 29, 2010

Aldi allows their cashiers to sit down, or at least they used to. Most places don't, and there's little reason for that.
posted by dilettante at 8:24 PM on July 29, 2010 [7 favorites]

Aldi and Trader Joe's are owned by the same company.

Their operations are completely separate.

In my experience, while Walmart has the broader selection, Aldi usually has the lower absolute prices. They manage that by stocking a narrow selection of off-brands and keeping their overhead extremely low.

Labor's probably gonna be the biggie...

As I said, they keep their overhead extremely low.
posted by Iridic at 8:35 PM on July 29, 2010

Trader Joe's has good coffee beans, good cheap eggs in nonstyrofoam containers, delicious cheap hummus, cheap cream cheese, interesting candies, convenient boxes of quinoa and tubes of polenta, and a freezer full of fish and enchiladas and dumplings. Real, toothy, delicious bread. Plus lots of cheap booze, featuring Two Buck Chuck. And overpackaged bags and trays of reasonably priced basic produce.

Aldi has cheap canned goods, limited cheap fresh meat, and more diverse cheap short-term deals on lawn chairs, clocks, and spindles of writable CD/DVD media. Lots of cheap bad candy and bags of cheap sugar and marshmallows. It has very cheap, hideous coffee. It has a smaller array of overpackaged cheap produce, and no bread at all that is not closer to toilet paper than bread.

They're both part of the same conglomerate, so I think the ethics of shopping at one or the other wash out.

I don't hate Aldi, but I wish they'd stop selling so much stuff that isn't really food or is just posing as food, and borrow some insights from their brother Trader Joe on how to bring higher quality food to the masses at low prices.
posted by gum at 10:26 PM on July 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

A side note: the Theo Albrecht, the creator Aldi and Trader Joe's just passed away yesterday at age 88.

It is relevant because there are likely to be a number of news articles and blogs mentioning Aldis that you can puruse.
posted by eye of newt at 11:27 PM on July 29, 2010

I would typically abhor WalMart, but Aldi did something to me once that I've never forgiven them for.

I was a senior in college and it was slowly starting to dawn on me that I should probably start this "job-search" thing so many of my peers seemed so terribly worried about. As with most things in life, I had a take-it-as-it-comes approach to it, wasn't getting too concerned that things wouldn't work out. But damn, was I surprised at the low salary figures from my first few offers. I think I probably turned down 2 or 3 perfectly good job offers just because I didn't think the money was enough to even be a starting point for negotiations. I guess I had high expectations.

That's when my career counselor mentioned that Aldi would be visiting for interviews soon, and I should apply. So I did.

Now, I had never been in an Aldi's before in my life, but I had top honors in my business / marketing management major, and I had worked most of my college years in the local grocery store, everything from clerk to check-out to shelf-stocking to general janitorial. Before going to college, I had worked full-time for a year in a supermarket back in my home town, where I worked part-time before that in college. I knew grocery.

They were interviewing for the District Manager trainee program, and the starting salary was almost double what some of my early offers were, AND it came with a company car. I mean, this was it. I went into those interviews and I rocked it.

And then 5 days later I got the form letter: Thanks but no thanks. Of all the interviews I've had in my life, this was one of only two that did not lead to an offer of some sort. I may not be talented at much, but for some strange reason I've always been able to handle my self with ease in any interview scenario, and this had been no different. I had rocked the interview, I had the perfect qualifications - seriously WTF. I marched straight down to the career center and showed it to my counselor, demanding answers.

He made me promise not to tell anyone, but I suppose these things have a statute of limitations of some sort: he asked me if I remembered the question they asked me about what I would do if I caught an employee stealing from a till.

"I told them I'd of course implement whatever company policy on such an issue was, and document the discipline clearly."

But then they had asked me what I personally would do - what actions I would take.

"Well, not knowing policy, I'd have to say that human resources can be expensive to recruit and train, and I wouldn't want to lose a good person for making a bad mistake. I suppose I would suspend them without pay for a couple of weeks, have payroll garnish the lost funds from their wages, and then bring them back on a 3 or maybe 6 month probationary period. And I'd document everything."

My counselor curtly informed me that Aldi company policy on hiring new district managers was that unless the candidate answered this line of questioning with "I would fire them on the spot," they can not be considered for hire.

I went back to my dorm and burned the letter partly and then hung it on the back of my door.

Screw you, Aldi.

(Oh, and while I'm at it - I TOLD this story to my buddy Seth who was a year behind me and THAT'S why he got the job with you. So there. He hated working for you guys and quit a few years into it because you overwork all your staff like indentured slaves.)

In retrospect I would never have gotten to where I am today if I had taken a crappy job with crappy Aldi...I suppose I should forget about it already...damn if their prices on wine in Europe didn't kick ass when I was there.
posted by allkindsoftime at 4:56 AM on July 30, 2010 [2 favorites]

I think you can shop wherever you want and then justify it.

Honestly, this, only from a maybe less-cynical perspective: No store is flawless, no corporation behaves in a 100% ethical manner, no nationwide chain does everything perfectly. This is a question you can really only answer for yourself, based on where you draw your own particular lines. What's more important to you-- fair trade or buying local? Employee care (wages, benefits, hours, etc) or political donations? Benefiting from foreign child labor or misogynistic corporate culture?
posted by shakespeherian at 6:49 AM on July 30, 2010

Response by poster: @allkindsoftime, fascinating story! and what you say about working conditions is totally borne out by iridic's link to the class-action lawsuit by aldi employees.
posted by harnharn at 8:10 AM on July 30, 2010

Despite the link Iridic provided, the idea that Aldi and Trader Joe's are "one and the same" company seems to dominate. I was under this impression once too. But it seems not to be the case:
"In the USA, Aldi Nord CEO Theo Albrecht started a family trust that owns the Trader Joe's chain of specialty grocery stores, which is separate from both Aldi corporations. Trader Joe's has no corporate relationship to Karl Albrecht's Aldi Süd, which conducts Aldi's operations in the United States.(emphasis added)

posted by ViolaGrinder at 1:10 PM on July 30, 2010

Response by poster: @ViolaGrinder - I wonder how true it is that there is 'no corporate relationship,' since structurally the stores operate so similarily, just at difference price points. At the very least they seem to share the same guiding (corporate) philosophy, if not the same day-to-day management.

On another Aldi note, I have noticed that all the plastic Aldi items in my fridge (yogurt, cheese, hummus) are the dread #5 recycling option, which is annoying, but probably cheaper for them and us...
posted by harnharn at 1:40 PM on July 30, 2010

Aldi's, like all supermarkets in the U.S., imports mostly only what cannot be produced in the U.S. (at all, or in the current season). Thus it is not guilty of a primary Wal-Mart "sin" in many people's book: the degree to which it sells imported goods that could easily be manufactured in the U.S. (but for cost), and, with its supplier pricing pressure, actually plays a role in pushing production abroad from the U.S. (and lately from some foreign countries to some other, even cheaper, foreign countries).
posted by MattD at 5:21 PM on July 30, 2010

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