The global supermarket chain ALDI opened its first Brooklyn store last Thursday—its third in New York City. The German-based company operates over 9,000 locations worldwide based on their principled “Truths,” which include a 100% money-back guarantee and ingenious money-saving tactics: shoppers must deposit a quarter to use a shopping cart, bring their own shopping bags or pay a “nominal charge” for paper or plastic ones, and—here’s the kicker—can only buy ALDI-produced and branded products, save for the occasional Maruchan ramen and Coca-Cola. This is where it gets a little weird.
I’m creeped out by food stores that have their name all over everything. At a place like ALDI, I feel more like a cultist than a bargain-hunting shopper. I do make an exception for Trader Joe’s, but I was surprised to find out that the Albrechts, the sibling team that opened up ALDI (short for Albrecht-Diskount), bought TJ’s in 1979. While TJ’s operations are private and thus largely outside ALDI’s jurisdiction, the same money that allows ALDI yogurt to be sold for $.39 also makes the amazing, criminally under-appreciated Simpler Times Lager (and those pitas!). I’ve always had stellar food experiences from TJ’s, but ALDI is, like, the bargain version of TJ’s bargain, which got me curious—how cheap is cheap?
39-cent yogurt was the first flag, and when I started reading up on the company, which is more popular in the UK and Europe, it got weirder as I went eastward. Earlier this year, when we were panicking over whether our burgers were horse or cow, UK ALDI stores discovered that their ready-made lasagna and beef dinners were 100% horsemeat. Around the same time in January, German news source Der Spiegel reported that a former ALDI “detective” was ordered to record data about employees’ personal relationships and financial situations in addition to minding the store for possible theft. While there have been no reports in either of the three NYC stores of this kind of behavior, and ALDI US is probably not importing meat from the UK given their price points, I really wonder how that yogurt is made.
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