I’ve never been much of a shopper, but not because I have somehow freed myself from the icy grip of late-stage capitalist consumerism. I’m simply lazy, and I find walking around a store (or stores) for hours on end emotionally exhausts me in a way that turns me into a raging asshole. The one exception is food shopping. Going to a farmers’ market, a fishmonger or a bakery is my favorite, but those special trips are usually reserved for the weekend. During the week, one slice of joy I allow myself is a lightly luxurious trip to the grocery store.
I go to different grocery stores depending on my needs, my mood, my budget. Depressed and uninspired? Trader Joe’s: I’m going to survive off of frozen foods for a week. Celebratory and with a fresh paycheck in my account? The bougie Japanese grocery store down the street from my apartment: I will try and fail to form a recognizable sushi roll. Stressed and in need of the basics? The standard chain grocery store a block away: 90% of my meals are veggie pasta, so it gets the job done without much fuss.
But there is one grocery store, in my mind, that rises above all the rest. It’s where I go when I’m on a tight budget but also where I go when I cannot emotionally fathom choosing between seventeen different varieties of peanut butter: Aldi. It seems to have the same psychological stranglehold on me as Target has on suburban millennials. I somehow feel comforted whenever I set foot into an Aldi. And as the well-designed aisles lead me to store brand versions of all the weekday essentials—jasmine rice, rigatoni, frozen brussels sprouts, ciabatta, tomato paste—I feel at ease.
I, of course, am not alone in my love for Aldi. For many Aldi stans, it’s about the prices. Compared to most other grocery chains, Aldi’s prices tend to be lower. In the face of rapidly rising inflation, many Aldi shoppers have reported seeing a significant jump in prices at Aldi stores. But still, it seems like relatively low prices compared to other chains are now pushing even more people to shop at Aldi. The company says it maintains its low price point due to its business model: Customers must bag their own groceries and return their own shopping carts, so the store doesn’t have to employ as many workers as most other stores. And the company saves money on brand name products by selling its own products almost exclusively.
But it’s not all about the prices—the simplicity of these stores also makes for a less-overwhelming grocery shopping experience. In 2019, Forbes reported that the average “traditional” grocery store stocked 40,000 SKUs while Aldi was only selling 1,400 products. And though you may not get to choose between nine different types of three-cheese marinara sauces at Aldi, that may actually be a good thing. We’ve all heard about how, despite what you may assume about the joy of having limitless options, having too many choices actually makes us miserable. If you’ve ever used a dating app, you probably instinctively know this to be true.
Aldi is just so streamlined. For the most part, I can get everything I need for a week’s worth of eating at my local Aldi, but I don’t have to spend an hour and a half wandering through the entire store to get it. Sometimes, Aldi doesn’t have exactly what I want and I’ll have to make a special trip later in the week, but for those trips when you have to stock up on the basics, it’s hard to beat what an Aldi offers.
All of this must come with a caveat. Aldi is not a perfect company. It has faced multiple allegations over labor issues, and employees have even claimed that the company committed wage theft. At this point, I feel like celebrating any multi-national corporation is bound to lead us to the same place. And yes, we should be trying to shop locally when we can. But for many, Aldi is an indispensable grocery option, especially as food prices continue to rise.
Maybe, like me, you love the experience of browsing an Aldi and picking up packets of vegetable bouillon before you buy a mop or a toy stroller from that one weird aisle. Or maybe the store’s sparse offerings remind you of the days your mom used to drag you through a K-mart to buy socks and plastic binders before the first day of school. But regardless, it’s hard to deny the subtlety and simplicity of this longtime grocery chain.
Samantha Maxwell is a food writer and editor based in Boston. Follow her on Twitter at @samseating.