Photos show what it's like to shop at Aldi rival Lidl, from cluttered aisles to own-label products that look just like big brands

·10-min read
Lidl store in London
Grace Dean/Insider
  • Aldi rival Lidl sells own-label products that look just like big brands.

  • Its stores focus on promotions and discounts, with items ranging from Dutch chocolates to leaf blowers.

  • But the aisles were cluttered, products were in the wrong places, and it was hard to navigate.

German discount grocery chain Lidl is rapidly expanding stateside. It opened its first US store in 2017 and reached the 100-store milestone three years later. Aldi, in comparison, has more than 2,100 stores in the US.

Lidl store in Poland
A Lidl store in Poland.Beata Zawrzel/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Sources: Lidl, Lidl, Insider, Aldi

Globally, Lidl has more than 11,500 stores in around 30 countries. I visited a Lidl store in the UK, where the company has more than 800 locations. I'd shopped at Lidl occasionally, but had never been to this particular store in Limehouse, London, before.

Lidl exterior sign
The exterior of a Lidl store in Limehouse, London.Grace Dean/Insider

Source: Lidl

Though the store wasn't huge, it had its own large parking lot.

Lidl exterior
The parking lot of a Lidl store in Limehouse, London.Grace Dean/Insider

The outside area of the store was dedicated to gardening products.

Lidl exterior
The exterior of a Lidl store in Limehouse, London.Grace Dean/Insider

You had to go through separate doors to get in and out that reminded me a bit of airport security ...

Lidl exterior
The entrance of a Lidl store in Limehouse, London.Grace Dean/Insider

... and once in, you had to pass through a turnstile, too. It's not often you encounter one of these in a grocery store, and I wasn't sure what the purpose of it was.

Lidl entrance
The entrance of a Lidl store in Limehouse, London.Grace Dean

The first thing inside the entrance was a pile of instant barbecues next to bags of charcoal, a stack of shopping baskets, and a stray yellow cone that didn't seem to be protecting people from anything in particular.

Lidl interior - pile of
Products in a Lidl store in Limehouse, London.Grace Dean/Insider

The rest of the store was equally chaotic. There was a pile of crates full of discounted fresh produce at the front designated at Lidl's "pick of the week," though some were empty and stacked at jaunty angles.

Lidl pick of the week aisle mess
Empty crates in a Lidl store in Limehouse, London.Grace Dean/Insider

These included garlic, eggplant, and oranges, with differences of between 28% and 46%, though the eggplants were notably small.

Lidl messy pile of crates of fruit & veg
Products in a Lidl store in Limehouse, London.Grace Dean/Insider

Rather than unpacking products in rows on its shelves, Lidl displays them in the crates and boxes they're delivered in.

Aisle of crisps, packed goods in Lidl
An aisle of products in a Lidl store in Limehouse, London.Grace Dean/Insider

But this meant the store was littered with empty crates.

Empty crates at In
Empty crates in a Lidl store in Limehouse, London.Grace Dean/Insider

In some cases, these took over the aisles.

Lidl pile of
Crates in the aisle of a Lidl store in Limehouse, London.Grace Dean/Insider

Cages that staff used to stock shelves and remove empty packaging were littered around the store, too.

Lidl cage full of
Crates in the aisle of a Lidl store in Limehouse, London.Grace Dean/Insider

This was the banana section. It was a mess. Some of the boxes were empty, and none seemed to contain the multi-packs of bananas advertised on the price tags.

Lidl banana aisle
Banana display in a Lidl in Limehouse, London.Grace Dean/Insider

I can imagine it would be quite different to walk around the store with a shopping cart, buggy, or mobility aid.

Lidl milk aisle - boxes in the middle of walkway
Crates in the aisle of a Lidl store in Limehouse, London.Grace Dean/Insider

Some of the aisles were neater, though.

Crisp
The snack aisle of a Lidl store in Limehouse, London.Grace Dean/Insider

Another thing that made it difficult to navigate the store was how Lidl dedicated random sections to promotions and discounted items, with slogans such as "when it's gone, it's gone."

Lidl discounted products
A promotional display in a Lidl store in Limehouse, London.Grace Dean/Insider

One of these sections was a two-sided aisle covered in orange labels which included products such as beer, olive oil, hand cream, and car air freshener. It wasn't clear why these products were displayed here and whether they were discounted, approaching their use-by date, or simply being cleared to make room for new stock.

Lidl beer and olive oil on shelf
A promotional display in a Lidl store in Limehouse, London.Grace Dean/Insider

There was also a space dedicated to Dutch and Belgian items, too. There was a similar display of Dutch and Belgian products in the freezer section, including waffles, fish bites, and frikandellen.

Lidl Dutch & Belgian items
A promotional display of Dutch and Belgian items in a Lidl store in Limehouse, London.Grace Dean/Insider

You could, for example, buy chocolate windmills. The products were all labeled with the brands "Dutch Style," "Belgian Style," or "Original Belgian Specialities."

Lidl chocolate windmills
A promotional display of Dutch and Belgian items in a Lidl store in Limehouse, London.Grace Dean/Insider

In this section, there was also a box filled with a very random assortment of items with 30%-off stickers.

Lidl reduced items
Discounted items in a Lidl store in Limehouse, London.Grace Dean/Insider

But as well as the two-sided aisle, there were also piles of products at the end of some other aisles too, similarly touting orange "when it's gone, it's gone" labels.

Lidl clearance section
A promotional display in a Lidl store in Limehouse, London.Grace Dean/Insider

There was a section dedicated to promotions and special offers, dubbed "the middle of Lidl." This space was home to a massive array of assorted and miscellaneous products ...

Lidl middle aisle
The "middle of Lidl" aisle in a Lidl store in Limehouse, London.Grace Dean/Insider

... from electronics, kitchenware, and grooming products ...

Lidl middle aisle
The "middle of Lidl" aisle in a Lidl store in Limehouse, London.Grace Dean/Insider

... to "Frozen" pyjamas ...

Lidl middle aisle
The "middle of Lidl" aisle in a Lidl store in Limehouse, London.Grace Dean/Insider

... and leaf blowers. The aisles were designated as either "Thursday" or "Sunday," which I presumed was when the stock was being replaced.

Lidl middle aisle
The "middle of Lidl" aisle in a Lidl store in Limehouse, London.Grace Dean/Insider

Elsewhere in the store, there were also two boxes full of assorted 99p cleaning items.

Lidl box of 99p
A promotional display in a Lidl store in Limehouse, London.Grace Dean/Insider

While Lidl sells some big-name brands, it mainly sells own-label products. Just like at Aldi, some of its products appear to be based closely on popular brands, and in a lot of cases were displayed right next to them.

Lidl butter
Butter made by Danish brand Lurpak displayed next to Lidl own-label brand Danpak.Grace Dean/Insider

Some of Lidl's packaging was remarkably similar to that of the big-label products. The own-brand KitKat replica had the same color scheme, logo style, and layout as the original Nestlé product.

Lidl chocolate
KitKat chocolate biscuits made by Nestle displayed next to Lidl own-label brand Choc Attack.Grace Dean/Insider

Some of the Lidl-brand products didn't copy their competitors, though. I wouldn't have been able to guess that the pack of penne pasta on the right was Lidl own-brand – especially because it's labeled as "authentic Italian."

Lidl pasta
Delverde pasta displayed next to Lidl own-label brand Baresa.Grace Dean/Insider

As well as its basic own-brand products, Lidl sold some premium items with fancier packaging and higher price tags. These included pasta and granola under its "Deluxe" range, along with bars of chocolate under its "J D Gross" brand that cost around 50% more per 100 grams than its generic own-brand label.

Lidl chocolate
Lidl high-end and mid-label chocolate bars.Grace Dean/Insider

The store had some organic produce, too.

Lidl organic produce
The organic section at a Lidl in Limehouse, London.Grace Dean/Insider

Lidl is well known in the UK for its bakery, which sells fresh bread, pastries, and cookies at bargain prices. A variety of loose bread rolls were available for less than £0.30 ($0.37), while cookies cost £0.39 ($0.48) and pizza slices cost £0.69 ($0.84).

Lidl bakery
The bakery section at a Lidl in Limehouse, London.Grace Dean/Insider

But when I visited the store at around 4:15 p.m. on a Monday, many of the products had sold out.

Lidl bakery
The bakery section at a Lidl in Limehouse, London.Grace Dean/Insider

Supplies of some other products were low, too.

Lidl toilet roll aisle
The toilet paper aisle was nearly empty.Grace Dean/Insider

The "meat-free" freezer section, meanwhile, was being used to display some products that definitely didn't belong there, like chicken ready meals. The price labels showed that these items hadn't just been dumped there by shoppers.

Lidl freezer aisle with meat products
There were meat products in the meat-free freezer sectionGrace Dean/Insider

Throughout the store, Lidl also highlighted how a lot of its meat and dairy produce was British with big patriotic displays across the store.

Lidl meat
Lidl highlighted the British origins of some of its products.Grace Dean/insider

The store also had a huge outdoor sign facing the main road proclaiming it as "big on British," as well as union jacks dotted across some of its packaging.

Lidl interior and exterior showing union jacks, pack of butter
Lidl highlighted the British origins of some of its products.Grace Dean/Insider

At the store in Limehouse, you could pay either with a cashier or at a self-service checkout. While self-service facilities have been multiplying dramatically at British supermarkets over the last decade, they're more of a recent phenomenon at Aldi and Lidl, both of which are known for their fast-scanning staff.

Lidl checkouts
The checkouts at a Lidl in Limehouse, London.Grace Dean/Insider

Like at other stores, Lidl used the space behind the conveyor belt to plug last-minute items shoppers may have forgotten as well as snacks and treats. These included batteries, chewing gum, and small packs of peanuts. But the area had seemingly been used as a dumping ground for customers who'd changed their mind on which products they wanted ...

Lidl checkouts
The checkouts at a Lidl in Limehouse, London.Grace Dean/Insider

... as well as the checkout behind me, which was closed and was full of miscellaneous shopping and crates.

Lidl checkouts
The checkouts at a Lidl in Limehouse, London.Grace Dean/Insider

UK supermarkets have to charge for carrier bags. As well as plastic bags, Lidl sells a variety of more durable shopping bags, which it usually stores under the conveyor belt – but the store I went to appeared to be clean out.

Lidl checkouts
The checkouts at a Lidl in Limehouse, London.Grace Dean/Insider

Lidl stores are designed to maximize efficiency. This includes bag packing. Rather than packing your bags at the checkouts like at other UK supermarkets, at Lidl shoppers simply put their scanned items back in their baskets to save on time. A table behind the checkouts gives customers space to then sort their purchases into bags.

Lidl checkouts
A table behind the checkouts gives customers space to sort their basket into bags.Grace Dean/Insider

Here's what I bought. It came to £26.55 (around $32.80). For me, the items from Lidl's pick-and-mix bakery probably stood out as the best deals, with the pain au chocolat costing just £0.49 (around $0.60).

Lidl grocery
What I bought from Lidl.Grace Dean/Insider

The prices of some of the other items, like four pints of milk for £1.25 ($1.55) and bananas for £0.78 ($0.96) per kilogram, were exactly the same as at leading UK grocery store chain Tesco.

Lidl shop receipt
What I bought from Lidl.Grace Dean/Insider

The Lidl store I visited was chaotic, and I didn't enjoy shopping there. The store was hard to navigate, the aisles were cluttered, some products were out of stock, and I couldn't find chickpeas anywhere.

Lidl chaos mess
Products in a Lidl store in Limehouse, London.Grace Dean/Insider

And with so many signs touting discounts, it was hard to tell where the real bargains were. Many of the prices seemed comparable to other UK grocery stores. In the past, I've enjoyed shopping at Lidl because of the variety of the produce and the opportunity to buy lower-price versions of big-label brands, but this particular store left me with a sour taste.

Lidl pick of the week
A promotional display in a Lidl store in Limehouse, London.Grace Dean/Insider

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