Weird Food Rules That Aldi Follows

Shopping at Aldi is an experience that takes a little getting used to. The grocery chain launched in the United States in the 1970s, bringing along with it a set of rules that shoppers back then found strange. Bring your own bags? Pay to use the cart? Well, a long time has passed since then, but Aldi has continued to keep things interesting and managed to earn a cult following that shows its love for the supermarket in many ways including ... cawing while in the store (via Atlas Obscura). Weird? There is more to the list: You can't call the store, as there is no phone number listed (via Mental Floss); they don't match prices (via Aldi); and it's not their problem your zoom call went over, they close by 8 pm or 9 pm sharp.

How the store is run has a lot to do with its origin as a small village shop in Germany, started by the Albrecht brothers Karl and Theo in the 1940s — the business was established as Aldi (short for Albrecht Discount) in 1962. They focused on selling popular items at dirt-cheap prices out of small stores, and built an empire worth over $50 billion by 2009, as reported in The Guardian. Though among the richest people in the world, the brothers were quite frugal; Theo was reported to have always used pencils "down to the stub" and worn cheap suits.

The rules in Aldi are there to save the moolah, and here's a rundown of the weirdest ones.

Aldi displays the products in the boxes that they come in

If you are a first-time shopper at Aldi, seeing all the items resting in boxes might strike you as a tad abnormal. Worse, you might doubt the employees' diligence. But as it turns out, it is a part of the store's philosophy to not unbox the items from the cases they are shipped in. As per Frugal Bites, "Heavier things like flour and sugar are left on the pallet. Milk arrives on racks so that 80 gallons can be shelved in just five seconds." How cool is that for the employees? Not as cool as you think.

Sure, they do not have to spend hours placing individual soda bottles on shelves, but it doesn't give them time to loaf. Aldi keeps much fewer staff than other supermarkets, as Forbes reports: "The only staff in an ALDI store are: forklift operators bringing in new pallets, a cashier (or two) and possibly a third-party loss-prevention agent."

Anyhoo, the boxes are display ready. The color and patterns on them match the items they hold within. Aldi calls it the "invisible case project," a fancy name for the open case boxes that allow shoppers to see what's in them. They are designed in such a way that the shelves and pallets are able to hold the maximum number of these boxes, making sure no space is wasted, reports The Guardian.

Cashiers are expected to be extra fast

If your Aldi shopping were a movie, the checkout part would seem like it's always on fast forward. There is no time to vent about your day no matter how friendly your cashier looks; you unload the items on the conveyor as fast as you can and swing the cart around for the employee to load the ringed in items back into it, then pay and take the cart to a separate area to bag them yourself ... deep breath. Yep, the checkout process is fast — 40% faster than other grocery stores (via Forbes). As one shopper tells Reddit: "I like to make it a game — can I empty my cart faster than they can ring it up? I can never win, no matter how hard I try. I think the game is rigged."

Only, the game is not rigged. The employees have little choice but to be good at it, as they are timed for every checkout and the time it takes for them to move on to the next customer. An Aldi employee told Reddit, "Aldi cashiers are supposed to scan 48 ipm (items per minute) in comparison to the 23 normal grocery stores require [...]." This is why sometimes customers are asked to dip their credit/debit cards even before the total shows up, so that the cashiers can save the few seconds it takes for the machine to scan the cards. 

Aldi products have more than one barcode on them

The barcodes on Aldi products are so conspicuous that at some point you begin to wonder whether it's part of the cover design. They run all around the box, and sometimes there are more than one — like butter tubs that have three and vegetable bags with two (via Birmingham Mail). An Aldi employee by the moniker Yeoul told Reddit, "All of the boxes in the store also have multiple barcodes so we're not searching for them while trying to ring." But hey, an extra few seconds is no big, right? Wrong. "The Store Managers expect us to meet a 1,250 items an hour speed," writes Yeoul. Sometimes to meet that standard, some cashiers also, quite cleverly, memorize barcodes of certain items.

"Items like milk and water have codes that we memorize. ... For example, someone could be buying six gallons of milk, and instead of having the customer put all of them on the belt for us to scan one by one, we tell them to leave them in their cart and we key in the codes, making the checkout process faster," Sara, an Aldi employee, told Mental Floss.

Aldi hardly sells products by popular brands

If you are looking for popular brand-name products in Aldi, you might as well be reading "Where's Waldo?" It's that hard to find one. National brands account for only 10% of the stock — the rest is all Aldi's own private label items (via Business Insider). There are 70 private labels just in the food section: Benton's, Clancy's, Lunch Buddies, Appleton Farms, Friendly Farms, Simply Nature, and Nature's Nectar to mention a few. The products sold under these labels are significantly cheaper than their versions sold by the name brands.

For example, you can get two Aldi's Corale premium baked beans for the same price as one Heinz baked beans in the UK. They taste no different. Then there are some Aldi products that taste better than their name brand versions — like Aldi's Choceur Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups, which per Delish are better than Reese's; or Aldi's Ethiopian coffee, which was given a higher score than Starbucks's Lavazza by the UK-based Consumer's Association, Which? (via European Supermarket Magazine).

Sure, it's weird to step into a store where you don't see any familiar brands, but from Aldi's standpoint, by stocking mostly private labels, it doesn't have to expend its energy negotiating with national brands and is thus able to keep prices low. Lower than even Walmart's (via Forbes).

All of Aldi's products are taste tested about 30 times before they are sold

Aldi's taste testing process is so rigorous that while we appreciate it, we also wonder: Is that normal? The Aldi headquarters in Atherstone, United Kingdom, has a dedicated taste kitchen where knock-offs of popular name brands are created and tested for quality (via Birmingham Live). As per a 2013 report published in The Telegraph, once a food item is created, it is tasted 30 times (Trader Joe's only does five rounds of tasting, per Eating Well) by a panel before it is given the green signal. The tests ensure that the texture, appearance, and flavor are better than comparable products in the market. Once approved, the products hit the shelves — but Aldi still keeps an eye on them. They are tasted once every year or as soon as another supermarket launches an item similar to Aldi's.

The grocery chain is pretty open about the fact that they create knockoffs of items sold in other more expensive supermarkets such as Waitrose, Tesco, and M&S. Their attempt is to make versions of the popular items in a much cheaper, yet tastier way. According to the company's ex-managing director for buying, Tony Baines, "Often we will have very similar suppliers to the likes of M&S and Waitrose. ... The recipes are slightly different, but we'd aspire to always have at least the same chicken or beef content and have the right quality of spices."

You need to pay a 25-cent refundable fee for using an Aldi cart

In the age of Apple Wallet, let's admit it: It's a little weird to have to carry a lone 25-cent coin in your jeans pocket when heading to Aldi. But you need it to get cart. As per the company policy, you have to insert the 25-cent coin in the slit on the cart to unhook it — the coin is spit out when you place the cart back after shopping. Aldi explains on its website that by having this rule, it doesn't have to hire a dedicated staff to bring the carts from the parking lot to the store corral every time, thereby saving them money.

Customers are expected to do the work, and according to an Aldi employee on Reddit, "... people really care about getting their quarter back. I don't usually have to get any carts from the parking lot." Another Redditor attested to the commitment of their customers: "I very very rarely see a cart that hasn't been returned properly."

Having said that, there have been cases where people tried using their house keys to unlock the carts instead of the quarter cent coin — an idea that Aldi strongly advised against, as there is a good chance the keys might get stuck in the system (via 7News). A much better idea is to have the coin as part of your house key chain — something that Etsy has gone hog wild about. 

Aldi doesn't give you free bags at checkout

If you don't remember to take your own shopping bag to Aldi, you would either have to scramble for an empty cardboard case in the store or buy their reusable plastic or cloth bag (via Aldi). According to the company, they have never given away free plastic bags, ever — a feat that they say has helped keep "15 billion bags out of landfills and oceans" (via Aldi press release). However, per The Sydney Morning Herald, the grocery chain has been pretty lax about the use of plastic in its produce section by offering plastic-wrapped zucchini, kiwi, corn, carrots, mushrooms, and kale among others.

Having said that, the grocery chain is attempting to make amends and launched a new sustainability charter in 2021, promising to convert all packaging materials to be either reusable, recyclable, or compostable by 2025. As part of this effort, the press release states, they plan to introduce alternative packaging that uses less plastic for produce such as blueberries, tomatoes, and mixed bell peppers.

Aldi can refuse you a bottle of wine if you are shopping with your child

There have been cases where customers, though of legal drinking age, were refused their bottle of alcohol at Aldi stores because they had brought their children along. Erm, what? That was also the reaction of the woman who was asked to wait for a while at the checkout lane, and was not sold her bottle of wine right away, all because she was with her two teenage children. As per her Facebook post, while she was eventually allowed to buy the bottle, she was "embarrassed" and felt labeled as a "bad parent," though she'd done nothing wrong (via Daily Mail UK

Her post spurred a series of comments with other shoppers quoting similar instances. One shopper couldn't buy a bottle because her 18-month-old daughter accidently touched it, and another wasn't allowed a carton of beer because the staff saw her son carry it — in her defense, she had a bad back (via Yahoo! News). As it turns out, in all the three cases, it was within Aldi's right to decline service. An Aldi spokesperson told Daily Mail Australia, "The sale of alcohol can be refused if a minor has handled alcohol that could be potentially purchased by an adult for the minor's consumption. ... This also extends to a minor accompanying an adult purchasing alcohol, even if the minor has not physically touched an alcoholic product" (via Daily Mail UK).

You won't see any candies in Aldi's checkout lanes

Aldi doesn't have the conventional display of candies and sugary drinks at the checkout lane, but instead offers individual packages of "nuts, trail mixes, dried fruits, and granola bars" (via Forbes). Come again? It's true, the chain took the bold decision to make its checkout section a "guilt-free zone" in 2016. "By introducing healthier checklanes and through a number of other initiatives, we are doing our part to remove temptation at checkout and stocking stores with even more nutritious options," said Jason Hart, CEO of Aldi (via Forbes). Aldi's decision follows that of other supermarkets such as Clark, Craig, and Burrows, per a report published in Center for Science in the Public Interest.

There is actual science that explains the all-familiar temptation to grab a few candies and a soda while at the checkout lane. According to the report, "Simply seeing a product can activate an urge to consume it, and the fact that a product is immediately available to be consumed can intensify this urge." The report goes on to suggest that a shopper's willpower is at its minimum when they reach the checkout lane after having to make multiple decisions while shopping in the store. Add to that the feelings of fatigue and stress, and the shoppers are most likely to pick something from the array of unhealthy options that most supermarkets feature at the checkout lane. Not at Aldi though, no siree! 

Strangely, none of Aldi's cereal boxes has cartoon images on them

If you are in Aldi, rest assured that your kid wouldn't pester you to load the cart with cereal boxes. There are no Tony the Tiger, Toucan Sam or Cap' Crunch equivalents to capture your child's interest. Aldi's own brand cereals that include Harvest Morn Crisp Rice, Harvest Morn Choco Rice, Harvest Morn Frosted Flakes, and Harvest Morn Choco Pillows lost all traces of cartoons on their boxes in 2020, and now sport blander covers. This way, Aldi reasoned, parents wouldn't be pestered by their kids to buy the cereal — considered high in sugar — and it would be easier for them to make healthier choices for their kids (via Talking Retail).

Food Dive references a report by the Food Marketing Institute and Rodale that says children have a bigger role to play than you think in determining what their parents purchase. What they see on the food packages influences children's decisions greatly, according to a study in the Journal of Public Policy and Marketing. Naturally, many food giants such as Kellogg, Nestle, and Mondelez have invested gobs of money in marketing products for children — a whopping $1.79 billion, according to a 2012 Federal Trade Commission Report. All this kid-focused food was undeniably high in fat, sugar, and added colors — in short, not healthy. So, thanks to Aldi for culling the cartoons. 

The bread is discounted five days before it expires

Aldi once decided to install a machine that bakes the bread in seconds for customers. While this angered some German bakers, it confirmed to its customers that Aldi is serious about its bread being freshly baked. The bread that's offered at Aldi under their own labels L'oven and Specially Selected are made by Bimbo Bakeries (via Aldi), whose customers also include McDonald's and Wendy's, among others (via Food Business News). Fresh loaves get stocked on Wednesdays along with the produce; while that sure is a good time to waltz into the store to pick one up, there is an even better day to buy it. Some quick back-of-the-napkin math tells us that by waiting it out a few days, you get the bread for half the price (via Moneyversed).

According to food blogger Lauren Greutman, "Simply look on the package for the expiration date, if it is expiring in six days and it is nearing the end of the day, wait until tomorrow to get it at a deep discount." Though L'oven white bread is priced at less than a dollar to start with according to Instacart, isn't there always a thrill in getting a discount anyway?

If you don't like an item, you can return it plus get your item replaced

It only takes a little bit of dissatisfaction with your bag of chips to be able to return it for a refund and replacement at Aldi. The grocery chain is so confident about the quality of its products that it offers what it calls a "twice as nice" guarantee (via Aldi). As per a discussion on Reddit, Aldi almost always honors this guarantee. One shopper got a refund and replacement for a box of cookies that they weren't satisfied with, and another got a double refund for a spreadable salad dressing, with no questions asked.

The shoppers say that the items have to be taken back to the store without delay to get both the refund and replacement, or in some cases a double refund. The cashiers never give you that questioning Larry David stare down when you say you didn't like something "... I was buying a watermelon and mentioned the last one I bought at ALDI wasn't good, so she didn't charge me for the replacement melon," a shopper told Reddit. Another shopper wrote, "I once bought 2 lbs mozzarella that went bad, so I returned it and got 2 lbs mozzarella worth of goods and my money back as well." So can you return anything? No, there is of course a limit to being nice — the guarantee doesn't apply to special buy items, alcohol, or the national brands (via Aldi).