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.
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.
Though the store wasn't huge, it had its own large parking lot.
The outside area of the store was dedicated to gardening products.
You had to go through separate doors to get in and out that reminded me a bit of airport security ...
... 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.
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.
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.
These included garlic, eggplant, and oranges, with differences of between 28% and 46%, though the eggplants were notably small.
Rather than unpacking products in rows on its shelves, Lidl displays them in the crates and boxes they're delivered in.
But this meant the store was littered with empty crates.
In some cases, these took over the aisles.
Cages that staff used to stock shelves and remove empty packaging were littered around the store, too.
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.
I can imagine it would be quite different to walk around the store with a shopping cart, buggy, or mobility aid.
Some of the aisles were neater, though.
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."
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.
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.
You could, for example, buy chocolate windmills. The products were all labeled with the brands "Dutch Style," "Belgian Style," or "Original Belgian Specialities."
In this section, there was also a box filled with a very random assortment of items with 30%-off stickers.
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.
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 ...
... from electronics, kitchenware, and grooming products ...
... to "Frozen" pyjamas ...
... and leaf blowers. The aisles were designated as either "Thursday" or "Sunday," which I presumed was when the stock was being replaced.
Elsewhere in the store, there were also two boxes full of assorted 99p cleaning items.
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.
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.
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."
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.
The store had some organic produce, too.
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).
But when I visited the store at around 4:15 p.m. on a Monday, many of the products had sold out.
Supplies of some other products were low, too.
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.
Throughout the store, Lidl also highlighted how a lot of its meat and dairy produce was British with big patriotic displays across the store.
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.
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.
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 ...
... as well as the checkout behind me, which was closed and was full of miscellaneous shopping and crates.
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 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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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