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Aldi not for all but worth a try for cutting grocery bill

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Published:   |   Updated: June 11, 2013 at 03:47 AM

 While sitting on Redington Beach the other week, a friend dropped this personal finance bombshell on me. In one month, he cut his family grocery bill by about 40 percent.
 
"Wow," I said, being a reporter who writes about grocery stores. "How?"

His answer: "Aldi." The spartan discount grocer has 80 percent of what he needs, and he buys the rest at Wal-Mart.

It's been three years and three months since The Tampa Tribune last calculated prices at Aldi, so I went back to tabulate the Tribune's 30-item Market Basket list with Aldi versus Publix versus Wal-Mart.

Wow.

The good news is prices have stayed relatively stable at all three stores since March 2010. Walmart is up 7 percent and Publix 3 percent. (High diesel prices are a main culprit in food costs lately.) Aldi has come up 22 percent since they entered the Tampa market.
But even so, in the Tribune's list of 30 representative items, Aldi was cheaper than Wal-Mart on 24 items for a savings of 14 percent, and cheaper than Publix on 29 items for a savings of 26 percent. Things like orange juice, mayonnaise, coffee, spaghetti and bread - basic things.

Product sizes weren't exactly the same in some cases, so I balanced the price data by ounce, and chose every generic or store-brand item I could find at Publix and Wal-Mart.

Every family's shopping list differs, but with that rough proportion, a family that spends $600 a month at Publix could save $157 a month by switching to Aldi. Put another way, in six months, you could buy a nice Samsung HDTV with your savings.

Aldi has a long list of drawbacks for people smitten with Publix - with Publix locations seemingly on every corner, fresh deli sandwiches and omnipresent employees. Tampa has three Aldi locations, though more may come soon.

Aldi shoppers must "rent" a grocery cart for a quarter, which you get back by returning it. About 80 percent of items in the Aldi store are Aldi's private-label brands like Peanut Delite peanut butter and L'Oven bread. Organic foods aren't their specialty, and the produce quality can vary based on what the truck brings that day. (Bananas in bags? Why?) Variety isn't their thing. Publix might have 12 kinds of peanut butter; Aldi has two - smooth or crunchy. Cashiers take cash or debit cards, and you bag your own groceries.

Still, some savings will pop your eyes out. A 1.5-liter bottle of pinot grigio wine for $2.89 (I haven't tried, so I can't attest to the taste.) Cups of cut fruit for lunch boxes cost just $1.69. Strawberry jelly is $1.99, and maple syrup that can cost $8 at Publix costs $3.99 at Aldi. For a more fair comparison, consider this: Milk costs $3.79 a gallon at Publix and $2.99 at Aldi. Aldi will also have Special Buy items that range from frozen raviolis to my favorite, a Banzai Aqua Blast Lagoon inflatable water slide that costs $397 on Amazon costs $269 at Aldi. We've tried the $1.99 frozen chocolate fudge pops and they rival anything out there.

Aldi isn't for everyone, and I doubt they'll steal away loyal customers of Whole Foods or The Fresh Market, but Aldi is worth a visit for anyone who added up last month's grocery bill and had to take a deep breath.

Other retail, restaurant and trend news across town:

Want a free night at the soon-to-open Epicurean hotel in South Tampa? Do you like social media and cruiser bikes? Then I have a deal for you. The foodie-focused hotel is throwing a social media contest where you borrow one of their cool cruiser bikes, roll around town, take photos and "plaster your social media with pictures, tweets, posts and video." You could win a one-night stay that includes dinner, an opening party invitation and bottle of wine. Want to try? Send an e-mail to the hotel's PR queen, Kelly Prieto, at kelly@hayworthpr.com with photos of yourself, your plans for the day and contact information. They'll take it from there. Contest ends Friday.

JCPenney opened its new home department areas Friday, with spaces devoted to designers and style celebrities such as Michael Graves, Martha Stewart, Jonathan Adler and others. The store-within-a-store areas have been under construction for the past few months, with the Citrus Park location perhaps the furthest along among local stores.

Winner, winner, chicken dinner! First it was hipster foodies who re-embraced chicken and waffles, which never really went away. In fact, our own Tampa Luv restaurant on Florida Avenue has some of the best C+W on the planet. But now the dish is moving further into the mainstream of America. Lay's has launched Chicken and Waffles chips, and Tampa's own Lee Roy Selmon's found its experiment of putting chicken and waffles on the menu was a massive hit, so now it's a permanent item.

 We've been fans of the Kiehl's brand of men's products ever since L'Oreal resurrected the Kiehl's name from the ashes of consumer history. Old-school "authenticity" like this is one of the most powerful trends in culture lately (typewriters, record players, farm-to-table restaurants, etc.) and we're all for it. Kiehl's shave cream rivals anything around. The Kiehl's store on Michigan Avenue in Chicago is a temple of dude-focused awesomeness.

Kiehl's is partnering with Marvel comics to take the brand in a somewhat different direction. There's a Captain America-themed Heavy Lifting Facial Fuel that's "clinically proven to promote stronger, youthful and visibly healthier skin." (Does a superhero need anti-aging cream?) Anyway, want a tub o' the stuff? We spotted it for $40 at Nordstrom.

 Lots of reader mail came in this week after my column on Sweetbay's saga and sale to Bi-Lo Holdings. Jim Conefry lays much of the blame for Sweetbay's woes on the corporate parent, Delhaize.

"Delhaize was clueless when it came to the Florida market, and they succeeded in driving it into the ground." Meanwhile, Wal-Mart may have helped push Sweetbay into a corner, but George Henson has little love for the discounter in this situation. He calls them Wallyworld, partly because a new Wal-Mart drove their Winn-Dixie out of business. As an aside, he once drove trucks and made deliveries for Publix, and said their warehouse floors were clean enough to eat off. Now he's an Aldi shopper.

"If I had my way, I would never enter Wallyworld except to purchase fishing supplies."

rmullins@tampatrib.com

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Twitter: @DailyDeadline

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