Aldi, a German company with outposts across Europe, has quietly become one one of the biggest grocery chains in the US. Since it first opened its doors in Iowa in 1976, it has established 1,600 locations across the nation. Over the next five years, it announced in June, that number will jump to 2,500, putting its reach alongside that of Walmart and Krogers. The grocer is throwing itself head first into the American Supermarket Wars, and cranking up its numbers in a bid for dominance. But the Aldi strategy also includes a $1.6 billion investment in the renovation of existing locations: the company, after forty years in this country, is giving up its staunch disinterest in US shopping norms.
Existing locations will be updated with brightened lighting, wider aisles, and expanded perishables sections. These updates all mark basic standards in American retail; introducing them is the first major concession Aldi has made to the comfortably expansive, glitteringly bright megamarkets that surround it in the US. Existing stores, pre-renovation, feel more like German warehouses than American supermarkets; the dim lighting, narrow isles, and minimal perishables sections contribute to that feeling. But the entire Aldi system is in opposition to the more-is-more Walmart ethos.
In New York City, the company’s only location (for now) is on 117th on the banks of the East River. It’s five long avenue blocks from the nearest subway stop—no open-armed welcome to curious passersby here. If you are at Aldi, it’s because you needed groceries and you went out to get them, not because you were tempted in by a cute box of chocolates, or a deal posted in the window, or the warm comfort of brightly lit Christmas displays on a cold afternoon.