By Princess Tightwad, the parsimonious eco-warrior Princess Tightwad has now abandoned the hushed, designer aisles of the Marks and Spencer food hall for something easier on the purse. As the foreign discount stores Lidl and Aldi are about the only shops showing profit, I thought I would pay a visit and see if good food really could cost less.
In the previous recession, the Lidl car park in Locksbottom was the inspiration for one of Mr Tightwad’s best jokes: as a shiny new green BMW drew up alongside our 10-year-old Vauxhall Nova, he noted’Look she’s saved enough money shopping at Lidl to buy a BMW’. Now, if you have a BMW you have to shop at Lidl just to keep the darn thing on the road. So is Aldi the new shopping experience of choice for erstwhile devotees of M&S? A glance at the car park tells the story. It is now so full of Mitsubishi L2oos, Volvos and BMWs that septuagenarian Mrs Edith Wiggins, a longstanding (and therefore savvy) Aldi customer can barely squeeze her Subaru Justy in between them. Beside Mrs Wiggins with her Battenberg cake and cat food, blonde mummies with Ugg boots, pashminas and Boden-clad moppets (who are actually behaving in the trolley) load up their 2.4s with Waitrose bags-for-life packed with Aldi goodies. Change has come to Selsdon, and Aldi now has that flag of the middle-class haunts ” a busy Big Issue seller, plump and well dressed. So what is the food like? Well, pretty good, actually. A lot of it comes from continental Europe, so there’s a hint of foreign holiday flavour without the foreign holiday. This means that the’tear-and-share’ brioche, chocolate and cheese products are glorious. Aldi stocks smaller British brands such as’Fine Lady‘ bread (remember their ubiquitous lorries with Queen Guinevere on the sides?), Village Bakery and Harvest Morn. The Aldi version of Special K ” Benefit ” is actually much tastier and cheaper than its branded counterpart. The Aldi’Super 6’ veg is a meisterwerk in combining a healthy eating opportunity with affordability. This week, there are: Brussels sprouts (750g), lemons (5), satsumas (750g), parsnips (500g) potatoes (2.5kg) and carrots (1kg) for 39p each! How socially responsible is that?
Aldi often has a featured cuisine and for a fleeting while, it’s a Greek week. But don’t fall into the trap of assuming you’ll always be able to get your Fassolia Gigantes there. Go back the next week and Spain has arrived so it’s all chorizo and Serrano and other things ending in o. There’s not a Big Bean to be seen. Some foods are dreadful. Aldi doesn’t do justice to the pea family. Frozen peas are like air rifle pellets however long you cook them for. The delicious mixed vegetable soup sells out fast leaving ranks of unsold pea and ham soup so dire that even Mr Tightwad couldn’t finish his. And as for the wines, go to Sainsbury’s. You’re worth it. And the shopping experience itself can be surreal. As well as sweets and chocolate, cheese and caviar (yes, really) you could find a pop-up cat bed, a toilet seat, a suit, wallpaper stripper, a shoe rack, a universal dog guard, or a radiator cover and drop them in your trolley. Mr Tightwad wanted a blow-lamp. Why? So what’s the customer service experience like? No’Can we help with your packing?‘ Oh no. We’re not even allowed to put our groceries into bags at the till. The charming yet steely till staff, well trained in the art of’stuck record’ communication repeat:’Just put back into trolley please…not bag.”Just put back into trolley please…‘ until you find yourself either meekly obeying or entering into a packing race you can never win, dropping your eggs and your tear-and-share brioche all over the floor, and wondering why you didn’t just surrender to one of the quirks of Aldi. Goods are flung off the conveyor belt back into the trolley, except this time all the soft, squashy and breakable things you so carefully put on top now end up at the bottom of the trolley under the set of monkey wrenches, cat food, juice cartons and your universal dog guard. And you daren’t complain because there’s a stern Serbian manager called Dragan and some even sterner pensioners glaring at you because you are in front of them with a fortnight’s shopping for a family of five and they’ve just popped in for some Battenberg cake and a nice tin of stout, which was a quick queue-free nip-in before all the hedge fund managers’ wives came over all budgetary and invaded their local shop. Princess Tightwad likes Aldi. Most of this year’s Christmas shopping has been done there, and you can always guarantee a comedy moment with the hardware on offer. The Tightwad food bills have been reduced by half, and you even have to take your own reusable shopping bags or reuse their boxes, so it’s good for the environment as well. I must tell The Wildlife Gardener ” she would approve. Although her parsnips come out of the ground at much less than 39p.