Aldi and Lidl, oh my! A guide to Germany’s discount grocery stores

Posted in: Berlin Shopping

6 comments

Aldi
Bring your own bags to Aldi, one of Germany's most popular grocery stores. Photo: Mr. iMaax

Not all grocery stores in Berlin (and Germany, for that matter) are equal. Germans are well-known for their thrifty nature, which combined with the country’s market power has resulted in some of the lowest food prices on the continent.

Germany is well-acquainted with discount grocery stores, and is in fact the birthplace of the Aldi chain, now spreading across the US like wildfire. While the American and German shopping experiences do not coordinate 1:1, many of the money- and time-saving principles are the same:

• Limited selection: only the most essential and popular products are sold;
• Store branding: few name-brand options, though organics are often available;
• Warehouse ambiance: products are typically shelved in their delivery boxes;
• Customer inputs: self-bagging, deposit-based cart return.

For most travelers, these seeming limitations have great benefits. Stores are small and easily navigable. Restricted choice makes shopping quick and easy. Checkout is fast and efficient. And you can’t beat the prices on bottled water and produce, which help keep a traveler healthy!

Germany’s largest discount grocery store chains

The most common stores across the country are Aldi, Lidl, and Netto.

Self-catering travelers without cooking facilities will appreciate the following:

In-store bakery items: hot, fresh loaves of bread, buns, baguettes;
Prepackaged deli-sliced meats and cheeses;
Condiments, jams, and spreads;
Large selection of fruits and picnic-friendly vegetables;
Chips, pretzels, nuts, dried fruits, and other snacks;
Breakfast cereals, granola, and fresh milk or yogurt;
Cheapest bottled water available;
Amazing selection of inexpensive wines!

Perfect for cheapo travelers (with kitchens)

For self-catering travelers with cooking facilities, your options are unlimited. After a long day of sightseeing, you (and your pocketbook) might find a quick meal of refrigerated tortellini and prepared sauce, scrambled eggs and toast, or a glass of wine while your frozen pizza bakes the right respite from restaurant foods. Pants optional!

These stores also serve as a handy alternative to overpriced eateries in train stations and city centers. When all you want is a drink and a pre-packaged sandwich or salad, these can be had just as quickly from a discount grocery at a fraction of the cost.

In a pinch, these stores also offer a selection of basic items also available at discount drugstores, from toothpaste to sunscreen. If you’ve been invited to dinner, this is another easy place to pick up a bottle of wine, box of chocolates, and even an inexpensive bouquet for your host.

Your Aldi, Lidl and Netto thoughts?

Have anything to add to our love-song to Germany’s discount grocery stores? Share with us in the comments section.

About the author

Hilary Bown

An academic by training, a writer by day, and a Cheapo by heritage, Hilary Bown's meagre means and insatiable travel appetite have helped her sharpen her "no-budget travel" skills across the European continent over the past decade. At home in Berlin or on an adventure abroad, you'll find her in sandals, riding the bus, reading novels while walking, drinking the local wine, writing out postcards with a felt-tip pen, and browsing the shelves of the supermarket and hardware store. Find her unique blend of travel adventure and tested advice at Less Than a Shoestring.

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6 thoughts on “Aldi and Lidl, oh my! A guide to Germany’s discount grocery stores”

  1. More of a practical tip re: customer inputs, esp the bagging your own items part. When shopping at a Netto market in Abenberg, Germany last summer, I found it easiest to simply put all the items back in my shopping cart after they had been rung up, pay my bill, and then put them into my shopping bags outside the store before returning the shopping cart to get my deposit back. German check-out people (at least in my experience at discount stores) are very, um, efficient and the people behind you in line will NOT be pleased to wait while you bag your groceries at the register.

    It’s not a discount grocery store, but I really liked shopping at Edeka in Bavaria last summer. Great selection (but similarly abrupt service at the checkout!).

    Reply
  2. While traveling through Ireland we always shopped at Aldi’s as I was familiar with them in the US. Great value (especially wine) & the smoked salmon was a fraction of the price in other stores & especially what we pay in the US. We were in Portugal & saw a few Aldi’s so will always look for their sister stores when we travel in Europe.

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  3. Aldi also owns Trader Joes in the states. I have bought Trader Joes branded-food at Aldi in the Netherlands.

    Note on the wines: If you read the back of the bottle, it will say which winery & village it’s from. You really can’t go wrong with any Mosel wine for 3€ tho.

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  4. It has been noted that German people are perceived, generally speaking, as being thrifty as opposed to being spendthrifts, a “spendthrift” being one who spends money recklessly and wastefully. Unless I am mistaken, I don’t believe this was is the quality the author wished to convey in this piece.

    Discount grocery stores certainly have their strengths and weaknesses; sometimes you just get what you pay for. While suffering from a cold when on vacation in southern Germany I purchased an inexpensive box of facial tissue ironically called “Soft” at a discount grocery store. I subsequently joked that “Soft” could be used as German slang for “sandpaper” as there was nothing ‘soft’ about “Soft”.

    Reply
    1. Thanks for the “thrifty” correction, Jane. I should have caught this earlier.

      As for the relative softness of facial (and toilet!) paper, this sounds like an excellent follow-up post!

      Tom

      Reply
  5. It’s worth noting there are two Aldis – originally run by different parts of the same family. Nord – Aldi Markt – run the shops in the north of Germany, and Aldi Sud in the south. Each branch of the company takes the lead in different countries outside Germany – e.g. Nord in France, Sud in the UK. Sud trades as Hofer in Austria and Slovenia.

    Aldi and Lidl are becoming very popular (and ubiquitous) in the UK – where Aldi is the fastest growing supermarket.

    I agree they’re a great choice for budget groceries when travelling in Europe.

    Reply

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