ALDI touts simplicity and savings

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Shoppers at the new ALDI food market in Lisbon won't find a lot of brand names. Or row after row of food aisles. Or free paper or plastic bags to hold their groceries.

But they will find value. The grocery store sports deep discounts from its larger chain competitors and offers a host of groceries under its own brand names, with bakery goods sold under its L'Oven brand and its dairy products with the Friendly Farms moniker.

At ALDI, whose U.S.-based stores are part of a German grocery giant, the emphasis is on savings within a relatively small-store footprint. Judging by its growth in this country - it already has three stores in eastern Connecticut - customers are liking the ALDI difference in food shopping.

The chain's first store in New London County opened this past month in the Crossing at Lisbon Plaza along the retail-centric River Road. It only covers about 18,000 square feet, whereas some of the larger supermarkets in the region can stretch across 70,000 square feet or more.

The smaller ALDI store features five aisles, four cash register kiosks and plenty of its private label goods for sale. While the store doesn't feature its own deli counter, it offers nearly all the staples found in the larger supermarkets - but don't expect the same variety.

An ALDI store doesn't offer multiple types of ketchup, for example, or dairy products from a variety of vendors. Instead, it offers half-gallon and gallon-sized milk from its Friendly Farms brand at reduced prices. The Lisbon store was selling a gallon of milk for $2.49 during a recent visit. A dozen eggs were selling for $1.49. A bag of six large bagels would cost you $1.49, the same as a bag of six English muffins.

ALDI doesn't accept checks or credit cards. But cash is fine, as are debit cards and EBT (electronic benefits transfer) cards. If customers don't bring their own bags, ALDI offers plastic bags for a dime or paper bags for six cents. An "eco friendly" reusable bag is available for $1.99, and shoppers need to deposit 25 cents to release a shopping cart (the quarter is refundable when the cart is returned).

ALDI's slimmed-down approach to food marketing doesn't bother its shoppers, who say they come to the stores for their values. The food retailer features fresh produce, a large selection of frozen items, including meats and fish, and, like most grocery retailers, a variety of weekly as well as store-by-store specials.

For Tamara Violette of Voluntown, who was visiting the new Lisbon ALDI store with her husband Peter for the first time shortly after it opened on May 19, the grocer's offerings met her weekly shopping needs - and the prices truly surprised her.

As she loaded her cart with groceries, she said the ALDI brands appeared comparable to the big-name brands. The products are often the same size, feature the same types of ingredients and, according to ALDI officials, can be priced up to 50 percent less.

"They have everything here," she said as she surveyed the new store's shelves. Many of the items sold at the Lisbon store are stacked neatly within the boxes they're shipped in to the store, as opposed to individually stacking them upon the shelves.

Such cost-saving measures, say ALDI officials, allow the grocer to offer prices well below the competitors. In the cereal aisle, most of the products are remarkably similar to some of the well-known name brands in terms of size, offerings and, in some cases, even the names.

The ALDI cereals are sold under its Millville brand. Corn flakes in an 18-ounce box retailed for $1.39, its own brand of Raisin Bran sold for $1.89, and its brand of Frosted Flakes cost $1.69 for comparably sized boxes of the big-name cereal makers.

Other popular grocery staples also featured discounted prices. An 11.3-ounce can of the grocers' Beaumont coffee brand sold for $2.39.

While the grocer doesn't feature many name-brand items, they do offer some common names. The Lisbon store was offering larger-sized bags of Cracker Jack during its opening days and Kellogg's Pop Tarts could be found amid its own brand of toaster pastries. At the four checkout counters (ALDI checkout attendants are seated), popular candy was available, including Wrigley's gums, and Reese's and Snickers bars.

ALDI currently has 19 stores across Connecticut, and plans to open its 20th store in New Milford in September. It already has five stores in nearby Rhode Island. The stores typically are about 18,000 square feet in size and employ between seven and 10 employees.

The grocery chain has said it plans to open 80 new stores across the country this year. It has more than 1,100 U.S. stores in 31 states, mostly from Kansas to the East Coast. Worldwide, the German-based retailer has more than 8,000 stores. Its parent firm, according to retailing experts, is among the world's largest retailers, with worldwide revenues in excess of $68 billion.

It takes the ALDI name from a shortened version of Albrecht Discount, which was named after Karl Albrecht and the late Theo Albrecht, the German founders of the retailing giant. It opened its first store in this country in Iowa in 1976. The stores typically carry about 1,400 grocery items, including meat, along with bakery goods, produce, frozen foods, dairy items, seafood, snacks and sweets and household-related items. Some of its stores are allowed to sell beer and wine.

In the supermarket industry, ALDI is known as a "limited assortment" retailer, reflecting its mostly private-label mix of products and its overall limited merchandise mix compared to some of the big supermarket chains. But the company has gained notice among those competitors for being a nimble retailer that has moved into many of their markets with lower-priced goods and a simpler shopping experience.

In an industry roundtable conference this past year hosted by the Manhattan-based Supermarket News trade publication, retailing analysts noted that ALDI stores are very productive with a powerful value-for-dollar offering. One analyst dubbed the chain a "stealth bomber" in the industry because of its growing footprint across the country and increasing competitive threat to some of the nation's largest supermarket retailers. It's estimated that one of its stores can do the same sales as a larger supermarket covering up to 40,000 square feet. David Orgel, the editor-in-chief of Supermarket News, in a column noting ALDI's growth in the U.S. market, said the chain has quietly grabbed the attention of consumers and the retailing industry during difficult economic times, and has attracted both lower-income and upper-income consumers.

Bruce Persohn, a vice president with ALDI's South Windsor regional office, said the company's newest store in Lisbon has done well since its opening day this past month. The grocer is located in a concentrated retailing area off Exit 84 of Interstate 395. The Lisbon Landing complex across the street features a Kohl's department store, a Home Depot, a Wal-Mart, several restaurants, other retailers and a large movie theater.

And in the shopping complex housing the newest ALDI food store, there's a Lowe's home-improvement store, a Target discount retailer and several smaller chain stores.

Persohn said the new Lisbon location offers ALDI "high exposure where people are accustomed to shopping."

The ALDI vice president said the grocery chain offers customers three "simple" things: its own select branded products that he said meet or exceed the competition, savings of up to 40 percent to 50 percent off the brands of other competitors and a much smaller store footprint.

"The big advantage to shopping at ALDI is it's extremely simple, it's easy to navigate. It makes for a very efficient shopping experience," said Persohn.

"If you did go into any store in the U.S," he added, "the format would be the same."

Persohn says that ALDI's newest stores in eastern Connecticut - Lisbon, Dayville and North Windham - have been well received by their customers. "It's pretty obvious that consumers are looking for alternative ways to save money on their grocery bills, and we're very well positioned to provide that."

a.cronin@theday.com

Business snapshot

Name: ALDI Food Market

Location: 175 River Road, Lisbon

Other locations: Dayville section of Killingly, North Windham

Products: Grocery store staples, produce, dairy, frozen foods

Store manager: Jon Messier

Hours: Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., Sunday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Website: www.aldi.com

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