The Tip Jar: Do you save money by shopping at Aldi?

Is Aldi cheaper than Walmart? And how does Trader Joe's stack up against Kowalski's and Lunds?
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A couple of weeks back I compared nine grocery stores in the Twin Cities to see which was the cheapest based on a shopping list of around 40 items – with Walmart the comfortable winner.

But some of our readers (and my wife/family/friends) pointed out that a couple of chain stores were missing from the list, namely Aldi and Trader Joe's.

As I was looking for some name-brand goods I decided to avoid these two own-brand stores initially so as to make a fair comparison. But this week I've been to both to see how they stack up, and if shopping at either of them (let's face it, mainly Aldi), saves you money.

The original results

Here's the top nine from the original run. The prices are based on a grocery list of around 40 items including fruit, vegetables, meat, fish, dairy, dried goods and household essentials. You can see the full list here.

  1. Walmart – $86.59
  2. HyVee – $107.23
  3. Target – $107.82
  4. Fresh Thyme – $108.29
  5. Cub Foods – $112.27
  6. Jerry’s Foods – $119.07
  7. Kowalski’s – $127.43
  8. Lunds & Byerlys – $131.67
  9. Whole Foods – $163.80

How does Aldi stack up?

Total cost: $70.05

Cheap. Cheaper. Cheapest. That's how Aldi stacks up, smashing Walmart's total by $16.54.

It's been a long time since I've been to Aldi. My experience was tarnished when I was a college student and found their fruit and vegetables lasted about a day before going off, but this latest visit has me reassessing since most of the produce on display looked pretty good.

By shunning most name brands in favor of its own, and setting out its store in a way that maximizes cost efficiency (as Business Insider explains), the German budget retailer is able to comfortably undercut the competition.

Not being a regular Aldi shopper, I can't make any comment on the food quality compared to its cut-price competitors, so I'll leave that up to you readers. But given how cheap it is, maybe I'll become a bit more familiar with its selection in the future.

The choice isn't as extensive as other stores; its onions and potatoes come in bags of 3 pounds and 5 pounds, which is fine provided you can use them all. Its dried goods and dairy items were markedly cheaper, though it didn't have any cage-free eggs, so you could add a buck or two on to the final total.

Aldi even had a couple of name brands I had on my list. A Sweet Baby Ray's bottle was more expensive than many other stores at $2.49, but its box of Honey Nut Cheerios was cheaper than all nine stores I'd previously surveyed.

Also, its fresh pizzas were ludicrously cheap. A four-cheese, 16-inch pizza came in at $4.99.

I've added Aldi to my grocery comparison spreadsheet, so you can compare prices of individual items here.

What about Trader Joe's?

Total cost: $119.05

Fie on everyone who suggested I should go to Trader Joe's. Not only did I end up spending money on some (probably very tasty but) wholly unnecessary items, TJ's sells much of its fruit and veg individually – not by the pound.

That's irritating when it comes to comparisons, since most other stores go by weight. I've had to take a look around Google to see how many tomatoes, bananas, apples, potatoes and onions you would typically get in a pound, and figure out the costs that way.

Also, several items on my list were nowhere to be found in Trader Joe's, which makes the comparison imperfect. For the four items I couldn't find in Trader Joe's (fresh pizza, cilantro, Sweet Baby Ray's and potato salad) I've taken an average cost from all 10 other stores and added it to the overall cost.

Nonetheless, its total puts it ahead of who I consider to be TJ's Twin Cities competitors, finishing 2 cents ahead of Jerry's Foods, though cheaper than Kowalski's, Lunds & Byerlys and Whole Foods.

There were a couple of good deals there – its own-brand Oreo-style cookies are cheap, as were its salmon fillets. And the meat is reasonable. But the household essentials it had stocked were expensive, as was the individually-priced produce.

Updated rankings

Here are the rankings when Aldi and Trader Joe's are taken into account. If you think there are any other grocery stores in the Twin Cities metro that Tip Jar should visit, drop an email to adam@gomn.com.

  1. Aldi – $70.05
  2. Walmart – $86.59
  3. HyVee – $107.23
  4. Target – $107.82
  5. Fresh Thyme – $108.29
  6. Cub Foods – $112.27
  7. Trader Joe's – $119.05
  8. Jerry’s Foods – $119.07
  9. Kowalski’s – $127.43
  10. Lunds & Byerlys – $131.67
  11. Whole Foods – $163.80

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