Trader Joe's and Aldi are two of the most popular affordable grocery chains in the United States.
As far as pricing goes, the two stores have many similarities, with only a few cents or a dollar separating them on most items.
For years, Trader Joe's has roped me in with its variety of tasty free samples and good coffee. But after years of being a faithful Trader Joe's shopper, I decided to check out my local Aldi store in Orange County, California, to find out if I should make a switch.
By the end of my shopping trip, I knew which of the two grocery stores I'd continue shopping at.
I live in Irvine, California, and decided to go to my local Aldi 10 minutes away in Lake Forest. It was 3 p.m. on a Wednesday, and to my surprise, the parking lot was packed.
The first difference I noticed between Aldi and Trader Joe's was that at Aldi's, you need 25 cents if you want to use a shopping cart. Even though you get your quarter back when you return the cart, it's pretty inconvenient if you don't have change on you.
As soon as you enter Aldi, the first thing you see is a ton of snacks. There was junk food galore — if you're looking for a variety, you came to the right place.
Oddly enough, right across from the snack section was outdoor furniture. I am not sure the logic of this but it made me eager to see what else I'd find.
And conveniently enough, to the left of the snacks, there was a wide selection of alcohol. Snacks and alcohol? All right, I can see the connection here.
As I passed the snacks and the alcohol, it seemed like a summer barbecue theme was emerging. Hamburger and hot dog buns appeared down the aisle.
Where to go next? Why not walk to the aisle stocked with more alcohol and plastic pools?
Not only did Aldi have pools, but it also had carpets … next to cereal … and apple juice?
And clocks … and baskets … and dog statues … what’s going on here?
But hey, if you’re putting together a château board, you will be sure to find all your needs here. I was seriously impressed with the selection of meats and cheeses.
Right down the aisle, you have a nice selection of flowers for $3.99. Not too shabby!
I soon found my first notable victory for Aldi — you can get Black Angus ribeye steak for $8.89. That's $4 less than what I've seen at Trader Joe's.
If I'm not craving steak, chances are my next choice will be salmon. Unfortunately, at Aldi I was not able to find fresh wild sockeye salmon — my go-to fish.
On the flip side, I did find frozen wild salmon for $7.69.
I also saw some solid family packs of chicken for $1.89 a pound.
When I went to check out organic spinach, it was $2.95 for a 5-ounce package. Meanwhile, at Trader Joe's, a 12-ounce package goes for $2.29. Easy choice here.
After strolling around the store for about 15 minutes, I started to get hungry. Where are the free samples? Sadly, there were no free samples, but plenty of random items like blow-up pools. Just in case you want an upgrade from the plastic pools they offered by the booze.
Or maybe you're feeling spontaneous and think to yourself that it's time to pick up a fountain for your yard?
Honestly, the list of random items is endless. They even have car seats and toys.
The flow, or lack thereof, really added some extra time onto the shopping trip. I’m still trying to figure out why weed feed and knitting kits were in the same section.
The best part of this shopping trip? This fabulous stuffed animal monkey wishing you farewell at the exit. At least that's how I saw it. I got a good laugh out of that.
Despite some good deals and the monkey's best efforts, I couldn’t get past the chaotic feeling and lack of organization at Aldi. As someone who appreciates a quick in-and-out grocery run, I'll continue to hold Trader Joe's as my store of choice. That said, I would not hesitate to come back to Aldi to pick up some ribeye.