Central Texas has a new low-cost grocery store that should be on your radar.
The German-based Aldi opened last week in Pflugerville, and even though there are already 1,600 Aldi stores around the country, this is the first in the Austin area. The store is in the middle of a major U.S. expansion that will add nearly 1,000 stores by 2022.
Southwest Missouri is rarely ahead of the rest of the country when it comes to food trends, but I grew up near an Aldi when I was a kid. I remember that it was clearly a discount chain with a weird cart situation and where we had to sack our own groceries. But until yesterday, I hadn’t been to an Aldi in years, even though there are locations in College Station, Killeen and Temple.
This is the only Central Texas store they have planned, so far, but I have a feeling that the Pflugerville store is going to do well enough for the company that they’ll consider adding more locations.
So, is it worth driving from Austin (or elsewhere) to Pflugerville to shop? If you live in Pflugerville, is it worth battling the lines? Here are my 10 takeaways from my shop yesterday:
- Prices are cheap. Like 2001 cheap. I haven’t seen a giant container of coffee for less than $5 in a decade, but you’ll find 30 ounces of ground coffee for $4.79 at Aldi, nearly $2 less than the similar container of Hill Country Fare coffee at H-E-B.
- You’ll need a quarter to use the cart. I didn’t have a quarter yesterday. I could have bothered some poor stranger for a one, but I decided just to use my reusable bags and not buy more than I could carry around the store. You get the quarter back when you return the cart, but it’s a small annoyance shoppers will have to get used to. You can buy paper and plastic reusable bags at the check-out stand if you need them.
- It’s not all canned goods and random boxed meals. The produce, meat and dairy sections have expanded significantly since the Aldi days of my childhood. The cheapest eggs will set you back 79 cents, 20 cents less than you’ll find in most stores. A gallon of the most basic milk possible costs $1.59, compared to $1.88 at H-E-B.
- The quality is, well, you’re not there for quality. I haven’t tried very many of the products I bought yesterday, but I know enough about the food chain to know that a store can’t sell food for this price if it is top of the line food. Many, many American shoppers, however, are not as concerned with pesticides and GMOs and animal welfare as your typical Whole Foods shopper might be. If you don’t like one of the Aldi brands, however, they’ll refund your money and replace it, if there’s a similar item in stock.
- Expect lines. The store only opened a week ago, but the cashier said it’s been nutty ever since. I was there are 2 p.m. on a weekday and there were lines to check out and people running into each other in the aisles.
- Have fun spotting the knock-off package design. At Aldi, you’ll see names like “Boulder” instead of “Bounty” on a package of paper towels, and you’ll pick up a brick of cream cheese and swear it’s Philadelphia brand, until you realize that it’s not. The in-house design team has spent countless hours trying to mimic the look of the most familiar grocery brands in America, and having nearly fallen for the fake Shiner beer, I’m surprised they haven’t faced any lawsuits.
- Beer and wine are also for sale, including some traditional brands. Just don’t get fooled by the knock-off packaging, like that Broegel bock beer. Not to say that it’s not good, but plenty of people will think they are buying Shiner until they get home and look most closely at the bottle.
- Go there for deals, but get there early. Aldi is known for having at least one major sale item each week, but I heard several shoppers yesterday looking for the on-sale items that were already sold out. “We get four trucks a day,” the cashier told one shopper who couldn’t find the advertised deal. “We don’t know what’s in those trucks, but they come early, so if you want to get an advertised deal, come early.”
- The store is open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. seven days a week, and they’ll be closed on Thanksgiving. It’s located at 1415 FM 685 in Pflugerville, near the intersection of East Pflugerville Parkway and FM 685 that’s also home to a Walmart Supercenter.