Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Trader Joe's or Aldi?

If we're going to eat cheaply during Lent, I decided, it might be a good idea to find out how much food costs. So yesterday I went to Aldi and Trader Joe's, conveniently owned by the same family of German billionaires and conveniently located on the same stretch of Roosevelt Road in Glen Ellyn, IL. (To go directly to my downloadable chart comparing several dozen items at the two stores, click here.)

I'm a big fan of Trader Joe's. Prices are often better than at Jewel, the quality is usually excellent, and they carry the kinds of food we like to eat. My few previous trips to Aldi, however, had not impressed. Shopping carts that have to be liberated with a quarter, involuntary self-bagging, stacks and stacks of junk food . . . put off by the environment, I'd never made the effort to see if good deals on good food lurked down some of those aisles.

Well, yesterday I learned something.

Three cheers for Aldi
Clearly breakfast is cheaper at Aldi. Look at this:
  • oatmeal, $1.79 for 42 oz (A) vs $2.29 for 18 oz (TJ)
  • cinnamon, $1.09 for 4.25 oz (A) vs $1.99 for 1.5 oz (TJ)
  • milk, $2.29 (A) vs $3.29 (TJ) for a gallon
  • bananas, $0.45 a pound (A) vs $0.19 each (TJ)
  • tea, $1.69 for 100 bags (A) vs $1.99 for 48 bags (TJ)
Dinner can be cheaper at Aldi too, though the meat may be less humanely raised and may contain more fat:
  • beef stew, $2.99 (A) vs $4.99 (TJ) a pound
  • chicken thighs, $1.29 (A) vs $3.99 (TJ) a pound
  • frozen salmon fillets, $3.99 (A) vs $7.99 (TJ) a pound

Three cheers for Trader Joe
You won't find masa mix (for making corn tortillas) or queso fresco at Trader Joe's; but then TJ's stocks quite a few things aren't available at Aldi: whole wheat flour, for example, or ground flaxseed, or unhydrogenated peanut butter. TJ's wine and beer selection is vastly better and often cheaper than Aldi's. And TJ has better prices on some food items:
  • little white mushrooms, $1.49 (TJ) vs $1.69 (A)
  • extra virgin olive oil, $7.49 for 1 liter (TJ) vs. $4.29 for 1/2 liter (A)
  • shredded parmesan cheese, $4.69 for 12 oz (TJ) vs $2.39 for 5 oz (A)
After spending an hour going up and down the aisles taking notes in my reporter's notebook, I noticed that my cart was strangely empty. So, having bought a few frugal supplies at Aldi, I succumbed to temptation at Trader Joe's. Hey, it isn't Lent yet. Tonight we're having a TJ simple feast:

Insalata Caprese
  • large ovaline fresh mozzarella, $2.99
  • small fresh tomatoes on the vine, $3.24
  • 2 oz. beautiful fresh basil leaves, $3.49
Season with TJ's coarse sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Drizzle with TJ's extra-virgin olive oil. Sprinkle some of TJ's bulk pignoli (pine nuts) on top. Serve with crusty bread and red wine.

Seize the day. Ash Wednesday is a whole month away.


seth said...

I have been wondering whether anyone had compared Aldi with TJ's recently. Thanks for sharing your findings.

Anonymous said...

Aldi rocks. Get your fresh mozzarella there along with the olive oil. Buy a baguette at trader joe's and you have super cheap bruschetta. Delicious.

Anonymous said...

Did you also learn they were owned by the same people?

Anonymous said...

I've been shopping at Aldi's for
years. I'm 65 and find it refreshing to save so much. I'm told the average shopper is 60.
I think it's popularity is growing
however. I had a feeling there was German influence because of the various products. Especially
stollen at Christmas. I'm now
experimenting with wines.
Any comments on such. I'm of German heritage.