The one thing I miss more than anything about Indiana, besides the many wonderful people I met there, is Aldi. If you’ve never heard of Aldi, they’re a German grocery store chain. Maybe you’ve heard of Trader Joe’s. They’re also an Aldi company.
Aldi stores are a lot smaller than typical grocery stores. They sell very few national brands. The shelves are stocked with mostly house brands and so Aldi controls the packaging. This, in turn allows them to do some pretty cool things like putting barcodes on all sides of a box so that the cashier can scan a cart much more quickly. The checkout lane at Aldi moves about three times as fast as at the average grocery store. Carrying just one brand of each product instead of two hundred and seventy three also allows Aldi to run much smaller stores the typical American grocer. In fact, the average size of an Aldi store is a cozy 15,000 square feet vs. Kroger (40,000-60,000) and Walmart Supercenters (up to 260,000 sq. feet).
So why is Aldi a cyclist’s best friend? There are a lot of reasons. For one, smaller stores mean smaller parking lots. That makes it easier and safer to cycle to an Aldi store than a Walmart, Meijer or SuperTarget, all things being equal. Some Aldi stores have no parking lots at all. Aldi doesn’t supply bags, so you can bring your cycle bags or backpack right into the store and pack your groceries without the added layer…no muss, no fuss. Because you’re not walking through acres of products you’re never going to buy, it’s just a better all around experience, especially if you’re donning lycra and a helmet.
But there’s more. Because the stores are smaller yet still give you most everything you need in terms of convenience, many people (even those not typically inclined to do so) are starting to rethink the whole American supersized shopping experience. As they do, many are coming to realize that it doesn’t have to be the way it is now.
Aldi is already succeeding in the US market but the company is about to take it to the next level. Aldi has started accepting credit cards for the first time. This will allow them to take market share from larger competitors and, in turn, it will encourage other retailers to downsize as well. Walmart already is with their Neighborhood Market concept, but even those stores are too large. Stores will get smaller still.
The result? More bicycle friendly communities where people live closer to home and shop in smaller, more intimate settings. As that happens, it will be the most natural thing in the world to hop on our bikes and leave the car parked in the driveway…all because a German grocer saw a better way. Thank you, Aldi.