Here’s what I think of Aldi

pros and cons of aldi

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 summary…

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.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on Aldi, please share in the comments.

Comments

  1. Kellie says

    Great article, thank you.
    I agree with your pros and cons and wanted to also add that buying their fresh produce has been a big con as most of it comes prepackaged and not always in great condition as you can’t weed out any of the bad ones in the package. I am working hard to reduce the plastic and packaging waste in my home and I have found it impossible with the fresh produce at Aldi.

    • (dt)em says

      Yes! That is a great point. I never buy fresh produce at Aldi so I overlooked that. I can’t stand the double packaging with a rigid container and then a soft plastic wrap over the top , drives me nuts!

  2. Ros says

    Yes, I agree with the pros and cons. I do like Aldi organic products. I wish they had more of it. A lot of their specials just create more landfill so I try and avoid them (as tempting as it is to buy sometimes!). Just wondering what is Aldi’s stance on the palm oil issue? I believe most their biscuit range is not palm oil free and neither is most of their chocolate. How about their other products? With Aldi, I buy selectively and tend not to purchase their prepackaged fresh fruit and veg. Their plastic bag policy is great though – I just can’t work out why the other supermarkets can’t follow suit. How hard can that be?
    Ros recently posted..Festival VirginMy Profile

    • (dt)em says

      Yes, their organics are great, although watch out for the dairy – I think most of the organic dairy comes from New Zealand. IN regards to palm oil – this is from the Shop Ethical website: “This company received a score of 6.5 out of a possible total of 12 in the WWF Palm Oil Buyers’ Scorecard 2013. This report measures if major retailers and consumer goods manufacturers are acting responsibly in terms of palm oil use and sourcing”. I don’t think Aldi has signed the RSPO, but the pressure is on for them to do so.
      I actually asked Coles and Woolies about plastic bags a couple of years ago and they both told me there were no plans to stop offering single-use bags. One spokesperson told me the reason Aldi can do it is because their stores are more likely to be stand-alone stores, so people drive there and are more likely to remember their reusable bags. I rolled my eyes…

  3. Brooke P says

    Hi Jo I think I mentioned Aldi in my comment last week thanks for addressing your reader’s questions. It is such a hard decision to know where to shop! We have switched to Aldi because of low prices, sustainability and support for Aussie suppliers but still have to top up at Woolies for items we can’t get at Aldi. We do have a local co op selling organic, local and bulk produce and can get our organic fruit and veg delivered fresh in a box from a farm 20km down the road. So why don’t we do that? It literally doubles our grocery bill and we can’t afford it financially. Although it pains me as that is what I want to do. Any suggestions?
    Brooke P recently posted..How to Choose What to Grow for a Thriving Winter Vegetable PatchMy Profile

    • (dt)em says

      You did! Thanks for sparking this post :)
      Did you see this post about saving money beyond the supers?
      When I made the switch, I felt like I was spending way too much money, but it has all evened out. I buy less and am smarter about it. We don’t have a lot of processed food and during the growing season I can supplement my veggie box (which costs $52) with pickings from the garden. I cook like a peasant, too, adding dried beans to the mix when we don’t have meat and reinventing leftovers. Could you try switching to non-supermarket shopping for a month to compare how much you spend over a longer period?

  4. Jan (A gluttonous wife) says

    Thanks for your informative post Jo! I am the first to admit to being an Aldi devotee, to a point and I try and spread the love with my weekly shop. I buy a large amount of what we need from Aldi, but I won’t buy their fresh produce that is in packaging. They have bananas loose and apples sometimes but I try and shop for my fresh produce either out of our back yard or our local green grocer. I also love Aldi’s Organic range but seeing as I live in dairy country I buy locally produced butter from an IGA.
    I’m off to read Dick’s rant :D
    Jan x
    Jan (A gluttonous wife) recently posted..Cornflakes on Chicken? Yes please!My Profile

  5. Brooke P. says

    Jo thank you for your post link and suggestion of just trying out a no super shopping month to compare prices. My husband Tim and I decided on that last night too. We also thought if we did what you do and buy less, get less processed food, cook like a peasant (I love this!) and supplement from our veggie patch then it could work. Thank you for an informative blog by the way, I like your honesty and useful info.
    Brooke P. recently posted..How to Choose What to Grow for a Thriving Winter Vegetable PatchMy Profile

  6. Eliza says

    Thanks, Jo, I really appreciate this post. Since ‘quitting’ Woolies (was never a Coles shopper) I have been to Aldi a bit. I love their organic dairy food, especially their milk and butter. I don’t buy their fresh food (like someone else has already said, too much packaging) but I do like that they declare where it is from. Something that really bothers me about Aldi is that a lot of their food is imported. I can’t buy Australian tinned tomatoes there without sugar in them. The organic tinned tomatoes and the non-organic sugar-free tinned tomatoes are from Italy. Their organic pasta is also from Italy. A lot of their tinned stuff seems to be from other parts of the world, which really adds to it’s impact on the environment.
    Eliza recently posted..Play time funMy Profile

  7. Ros says

    I also shop at the local organic shop and I find a lot of their produce – eg liquid stock, chips, juice, soaps, etc are not from Australia. Probably best we use farmer markets where we can. Unfortunately, this does not help the weekday shop!
    That comment regarding plastic bags from Coles and Woolies is such a cop out from them. When I first went to Amsterdam, say 15 years ago, I went to the supermarket and they didn’t have plastic bags! Had to walk out with it all in my arms!
    Great blog. Keep it up!

  8. Sarah says

    I worked with Aldi on building new stores. I admire their commitment to some environmental issues in the construction process, mostly related to energy efficiency (which lowers their running costs). But when I shop their, I find time and time again I walk out empty handed, or with 1 item (usually the organic fair trade chocolate as all chocolate/cocoa is imported) that I have to queue for 10mins to pay for. I scrutinise the ingredients and place of origin, and nothing ticks all the boxes. I love their organic museli clusters, but it is from germany, and no doubt the ingredients come from all over. I also don’t like that they have very low prices, pushing down fair prices for the produces & manufacturers. And they are a huge company with not many people benefitting. For me there are more negatives than positives

  9. Bec @ The Plumbette says

    You opened my eyes to a lot of things that I didn’t know about Aldi so thank you for that. I try and get my fresh produce from my local fruit shop, meat from the butcher and essentials from Woolworths. I have never liked Aldis fresh produce as I found it to be poor quality. Thankfully we have the ability to make choices on where we buy our groceries from.
    Bec @ The Plumbette recently posted..Underdogs and DesignMy Profile

  10. Amy says

    Great post on Aldi, Jo!
    Another con to add is: I find the large amount of imported stuff off-putting. Why would I want to buy choc-chip cookies made in The Netherlands? Or cornflakes made in France? I’m ok with imported stuff only when it’s that particular country’s specialty AND Australia doesn’t make it, e.g. fish sauce from Vietnam or roasted seaweed from Japan / Korea.

    I used to not pay attention to these things and would do a big shop at Aldi every few months, but since then have realised all the cons, and so the range of stuff I want to buy from them is extremely small –> haven’t visited a store for months.

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