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I must admit from the start that my original impression of Aldi was tained a long time ago when i visited the store that opened a few miles down the road not long after it opened. The place was chaos incarnate, with all the products out of place, pricing unclear, staff non existant and tills that took cash only. I never went back again after that experience.
I bit the bullet about three weeks ago and dropped into the same Aldi for some bits and bobs as i was waiting for a CD player to be fitted to my car next door. What a pleasant surprise, it was a complete transformation.
First of all, the facia and windows on the front had been changed so that the whole front was open to seen by the world, it wasn't now as if they were trying to hide themselves from everyone. All the trolleys were neatly lined up outside in a trolley bay, easily accesible and no wobbly wheels.
On entering the store (nicely seperated from the exit, so no traffic jams) you are greeted with a light, clean (very clean) airy store. The first thing you run into is a wonderful display of fresh breads which offer a great range from standard white sliced to wholemeals and speciality breads. I bought some burger buns last week for a BBQ and they were fantastic, with the left over rolls still fresh enough to be toasted 2 days after the best before date.
It is then onto the biscuits, cakes and sweets. This section is probably the one you need to blindfold yourself and your kids as you walk through as the selection is massive, more than enough for every taste and at very reasonable prices. There are boxes of cakes like bakewells from as little as 69p, which is about half the price of the named brands, but no less quality or taste.
Snacks & drinks come next with a great selection of fresh juices where you can choose from those made from concentrate or freshly squeezed, with the fresh being about 70p and the concentrate about 40p. My kids go through fresh juice like they are dying from thirst, so i personally choose the concentrate, but it tastes great with a couple of ice cubes (2kg for only 69p by the way). On top of this there is also a great range of Hi-juice squashes and carbonated drinks with or without sugar. They also have drink pouches that are similar to Capri-sun, but with two important differences. The pouches are only £1.49 for 10 and the straw is actually inside the pouch so they cannot be lost or broken, just tear the pouch and there is the straw ready and best of all they have natural ingredients so are ideal for the school lunchbox.
On the snack front, they offer a great selection of nibbles, nuts and crisps. They offer two great kids snaks bags with 26 packs of about 5 different flavours in each like hot dog puffs or cheese & chive waffles etc. For the big kids, there are standard crisps and large bags of kettle chips and nuts, plenty for everyone.
Move into a hosehold items area with washing powders, cleaning products and pet foods. I must admit that i have not tried most of these as yet, mainly due to my wife knowing what she likes and not liking to experiment with new stuff, but i am trying. On the pet food front, one thing we do buy is the cat treats (49p for 10 bars) and the cat goes crazy for them.
Moving around to the middle of the store you have the shelves to your right with all the tinned and jarred staples, vegetables, sauces, fruits etc all at the right prices. On your left ( and filling a good third of the store on the middle) are the weekly special offers that these stores have become famous for. Here is an example of what they offer (w/c 8th August 2005);
Digital Freeview Box - £32.99 (Argos similar £29.99) CD Stereo / Radio / Cassette with remote - £19.99 (Argos similar £18.99) Bush Personal DAB radio - £49.99 (Argos same one £59.99) Stainless Steel Blender - £17.99 (Argos similar £24.99)
As you can see it is a little swings and roundabouts, so don't be drawn into buying something off the cuff without checking prices first. One great feature of these stores though is that they produce booklets/leaflets every week detailing what will be on offer over the next week or two, so it gives you plenty of time to check things out in advance. As i said the items above is just a small selection, they have had everything from kids t-shirts to wall routing tools on offer in the past, so there is usually something for everyone at one time or another.
Onto frozen goods. Again there is a good selection of frozen meats, vegetables, puddings and ices. Everything we have tried so far has been of equal quality to those we have purchased from other supermarkets and freezer stores. If you are looking for a quiet night in, try the stuffed crust pizza or an indian selection of snacks, or if you are after a heartier meal the fish is fantastic.
You then have the fresh chilled items, with everything from milk to bratwerst sausages. There are pre-bagged salad leafs for those who want to prepare a quick meal, a wonderful selection of cheeses and cooked meats to die for. There is also a great selection of uncooked meats with several different flavour sausages, bacon, marinated chicken (amazing on the BBQ) or just plain whole chickens. All the fresh meat we have tried from here has been fantastic quality, as in the marinated chinese chicken breast (£1.99 for 2) which we cooked on the BBQ and it came off well flavoured and wonderfully moist all the way through. The pre-cooked meats again are great quality with the simple things like thin sliced ham not swimming in water (as i have found in other places), and even items like pre-sliced garlic sausage which is fantastic on a sandwich with some salad and/or coleslaw.
We then move onto the fruit and veg. Again, as with everything else in store it is well presented and fresh as well as fairly priced. I try and buy as much fruit for my kids as possible, but i find that some of the 'treat' fruits can be far too expensive, but here i can buy a large pineapple for 99p and things like punnets of grapes for £1.09 or a punnet of plums for 69p. I can basically get a massive selection of fruit for my children to chomp on instead of sweets for well under a fiver. Salad items are very reasonable as well, which again is well and good for me as my kids can go through a large cucumber a day easily.
Finally we get to the booze. The pricing on the alcohol is not out of this world but it is comparable with the cheapest fly by night off licenses, but of high quality. This is the one area where you will find a few 'named' brands like Stella Artois for example. There is everything here including lagers, beers, ciders, bitters, wines and spirits. There is a great range of wines from a simple Liebfraummilch for £1.99 to a Cabernet Sauvignon Syrah 2003 for only £4.99, so whatever your taste or occasion there will be something to suit. Spirits tend to be the no frills type, with a basic vodka for £6.99 for 750ml, but it is more than good enough for a party while you keep the good stuff for yourself. Till experience is great with the isles being nice and wide, even with all the "impulse" items stacked around you. The belts are nice and long, so you can get around two trolleys worth on them which generally means no waiting to load up or only getting half your shopping on before the first items are at the till (take note Asda). The till assistants have always been pleasesant people, guiding your trolley into position ready for loading. This is where the experience is slightly different to a standard supermarket in that the goods come straight off the scanner, back into your trolley with no time for bagging or boxing (you do this afterwards). This again helps keep the customers moving along and shortens waiting times at the tills. Personally, me and the wife bring along three or four bags that we bought from Ikea (the big blue ones) and empty the trolley straight into those in the back of the car, so no stacks of used carrier bags at home or waste.
Aldi now take Visa & Delta debit cards at the tills which helps greatly, as i hate carrying cash around with me although they do not yet operate a 'code' chip and pin, you still have to manually sign your receipt.
Overall i would have to say that Aldi have turned around what used to be a shopping nightmare and created a wonderful store full of quality goods at reasonable prices. An all round pleasent shopping experience, well done Aldi.