Aldi is now in Queens! I couldn’t believe it when a fellow co-worker brought with one of my beloved German chocolates to work, claiming he had been shopping at a discounter in Queens. While I had driven past an Aldi in New Jersey two summer years one my way to the Jersey shores, I was rather amused at how far the popular German food store had advanced. However, I would have never thought they made the dream of cheaply imported German merchandise come true, so I had to check out for myself what exactly Aldi has to offer here in the US.
Therefore, today I made my way up to the Rego Park stop on the still significantly impaired R-train. Rego Park is supposedly one of the bigger shopping malls you can find in this borough, together with the Queens Mall shopping center. Aldi was somewhere next to Staples and Payless Shoes. I had troubles finding it at first until I noticed that there are no doors leading to the outside, you indeed have to actually enter the mall. Then I stood in front of it: The brandnew and all-too-familiar sign with the bright orange contour, blue background, and white letters. “Aldi Food Market,”it read, food market being the only term giving away that I was in a foreign country and nowhere close to home.
I then went on, fully entering the twilight zone: The common sight of shopping carts stacked to the side, but no Euro needed to snag one. German Choceur chocolates neatly rowed up in the beginning of the aisle, together with Schogetten, another brand that rings so close to home. True, the selection was tiny compared to what Aldi offers at German stores. Schogetten had three different flavors, whereas it usually offers 7 and more in its country of origin. And right next to the German chocolates? Captain Ahoy’s chocolate chip cookies and other American brands. Gourmet tartar sauce next to Hershey’s ice cream sauce. The list of controversies goes on!
German brands mixed with American goodies – who wouldn’t get confused at first. It took me a while to shut my mouth and actually make it through the entire store to get an overall impression. Of course the fresh produce, such as veggies, fruits, and dairy products, are not imported from across the ocean. However, especially now during the Christmas season you could find German cake and a goodie called “Stollen,” which is a pastry made of raisin bread and filled with either almond paste or other sweets.
Meat and milk comes from the US. I did find gingerbread that was exactly the same I bought when still back home. Even the price was not too much higher for most of the products. Schogetten cost around 80 euro cents, whereas here you can get them for one US Dollar. Stollen is 5 bucks and I believe you get some for almost 4 Euro back home. I overheard a German woman excitedly explaining that this is the real deal back home and that you really have to try it to experience a true German Christmas feeling. I shot her a freaked out look and went on, more uncomfortable than ever.
It appears that the German discounter has been able to successfully apply the concept of keeping the shopping experience cheap in this country. But I was rather baffled when I saw the marketing strategy they use: Aldi Truths! Truth #25, for example, states that “the same is always better when it costs less.” Duh! I am unsure if these truths are also stated in its country of origin, I, however, have never seen them around and have decided not to be a big fan of them.
Regardless of the store not being overly pricy, I still had to pay $15 for a few sweets I bought, and I am certain I would have not spent that much in Germany itself
disregarding worldwide inflation and economy crisis. An ecofriendly Aldi paper bag costs 6 cent, but you have to be careful as the paper is rather thin and if you can, get more than one. The best is simply to carry your own bag with you, as you would in Germany. You can also purchase a cloth bag for the price of $2, but I opted against it, since I am too embarrassed to don’t want to be running around with an Aldi bag when I do regular food shopping.
Even though I would have thought to be less homesick and more pro-American Aldi before I visited this store, the opposite effect showed: I am actually not sure I ever want to go back for fear of spoiling all the reasonably good memories of the real German Aldi I am used to. It was more of a bizarre experience to shop among English-speaking people in a store that offers a few German products, half of which are made in factories in Illinois or Mexico, despite the German name attached to it. The products have an English packaging and nutrition information is giving according to standards in America, not Europe.
The entire shopping experience painfully reminded me of the analogy of Coca Cola: You might be able to buy it everywhere but it does not necessarily evoke a feeling of being at home. On the contrary, it can let you wonder how far American thinking can spoil your feeling in pride of German merchandise.
Oh, and after reading some reviews on Yelp, I guess American consumers think it is a huge deal that cashier’s can sit. I guess it can be…
But get your own impression of things! Aldi has now also opened doors in Manhattan as of October of this year. Find more infos on their Web site at Aldi.us. Happy shopping!
No German words included in this post for fear of losing my mind!