A few of you have asked how I feel about Aldi, so here goes. Below I have listed the pros and cons of Aldi supermarkets from an environmental and ethical perspective. As you’ll see, there are a lot of pros, and I commend the supermarket chain for putting the environment first (a result, no doubt, or originating in Germany). Then there are few cons but – in my mind – they are big ones, possible deal-breakers.
To state the obvious: this is all my opinion, based on my priorities. We’re all different and have unique situations. At this stage, I have no need to shop at Aldi, but that doesn’t mean I rule it out. I welcome discussion on any of the points below. Please add your thoughts to the comments.
The pros of shopping at Aldi
- The company puts environmental sustainability high on the priority list. It is factored into store design, transportation of goods, even the refrigeration. Aldi has around 60 stores in Queensland and each has EcoBiz certification, which ensures waste and emissions are minimised. Physically, Aldi stores are the greenest supermarkets by far.
- As Aldi stocks mostly own-brand products, they have more control over what goes into the products on the shelves, which can be a good thing. The removal of all artificial food colourings is an example of this.
- Since opening in 2001, Aldi has never offered free single-use plastic bags.
- Aldi currently sources 80% of food from Australian suppliers/farmers, and I have heard they are more “fair” to deal with than the other supermarkets (although I can’t, at this stage, confirm this).
- Aldi has a sound Sustainable Seafood policy, and offers informed consumers a range of MSC-certified fish, including tinned tuna. The company’s policy of not using suppliers that use FADs is a double thumbs up.
- Aldi seems to actively exclude genetically modified ingredients, including oils and animal products (exclusing chickens) from animals fed GM crops.
- Aldi stores are collection points for Planet Ark’s battery recycling program.
- Removed all phosphates from laundry products.
- Coin-operated trolleys reduce the impact of dumped shopping trolleys.
- Aldi claims that none of its clothing contains formaldehyde, azo dyes, nickel and phthalates.
The cons of shopping at Aldi
- Aldi is foreign-owned (in fact, by one of the world’s richest men, German Karl Albrecht, worth $20 billion). Due to the structure of the business, Aldi does not have to report on its profits, so there is no way of knowing how much of that money stays here in Australia and how much ends up in Bavarian palace somewhere.
- Aldi’s low-prices are possible due to the stores’ no-frills nature, but Coles and Woolies are forced to compete, dropping their prices and passing the cuts onto suppliers. This business of pushing prices down is all very unsustainable. The people who lose out are the food growers and processors. If they go bust, cheap imports will quickly replace them. Dick Smith believes this is imminent and reckons the advent of Aldi in Australia is the end of our food-producing heritage.
- Aldi employs very few people. Think about it…
- I am not a fan of the cheap, Chinese weekly specials. There is no way many of these could be produced sustainably and ethically. Aldi Sud (owner of the Australian Aldi stores) has been criticised for the poor working conditions of some of its suppliers, AKA sweatshops.
- Aldi seems to be on a mission to open stores, and new supermarkets always impact smaller businesses. I was surprised to see an Aldi in the heart of Byron Bay and a new one has opened in a village near me and is bound to muscle out a few of the independent shops there.
- Finally, the very fact that Aldi is a supermarket is a big con for me. Shopping exclusively at Aldi means you’re mostly supporting Australian food producers, but you’d have to be pretty vigilant to make sure everything you buy comes from local sources.
In light of all of the above, I guess my verdict is that Aldi is okay, but I’d still prefer that everyone mixed it up a bit and bought as much from local, independent sources as possible. For the record, Woolworths has some very good sustainability initiatives too, and it’s Australian owned, but I’m not comfortable shopping there either.
I recommend you read this rant by Dick Smith, which details some more of the negative impacts of Aldi (and yeah, I feel a little bit bitch-slapped over my no Coles and Woolies stance having read it!). Shop Ethical has more details on different aspects of the Aldi business and is definitely worth a look, and you can find out more about Aldi’s sustainability policy and various initiatives here.