Aldi is a familiar presence in parts of Alabama, but the coastal regions are just getting used to the concept, with the fourth of many new stores in the Mobile-Baldwin area to open Friday.
In early 2021 the German supermarket chain broke ground on a Loxley distribution center meant to support explosive growth plans along the central Gulf Coast. Since then, stores have opened up in Tillman’s Corner, Foley and west Mobile. The newest opens its doors in Daphne on July 28. (The ribbon-cutting ceremony is at 9 a.m. at 27060 U.S. 98; there will be gift bags and other perks for early birds.) More stores are coming, including one under construction at Airport and I-65 in Mobile.
Aldi is known for some distinctive practices, such as having patrons put down a quarter to unlock a shopping cart. (The deposit provides gentle motivation for folks to put carts back where they belong when finished.) Newcomers in Daphne are also going to find an array of unfamiliar house brands and some slightly unusual wares that may or may not reflect the company’s European roots.
Here’s a sampling of strangeness found on an exploratory visit to the Tillman’s Corner store. Brace yourselves, Daphne shoppers.
Are you ready to party like it’s 1979? They’ve got fondue cheese ready to go. It’s from Switzerland. As someone who is the proud owner of an heirloom-quality avocado green electric fondue pot, I’m pretty pleased by this. Product of Switzerland.
In general, Aldi hews to a simpler dynamic than the typical American supermarket. You don’t get 18 kind of ketchup. You get one, maybe two, and they’re good. But its cheese section is expansive. Maybe a little too expansive. Goat cheese is fine and can be part of some intriguing pairings: Just recently I had some amazing baked oysters topped with herbed goat cheese and pepper jelly at the new restaurant Margaux in west Mobile. But cranberry cinnamon goat cheese? Blueberry vanilla? Double cream amarena cherry? I tried the mango chili version. Tons of creamy, cheesy texture up front followed by sweetness and heat that linger … and linger … and linger. Not necessarily bad, but most definitely strange. Product of Canada.
Do you have a husband who can go to the store for eggs and milk and come back with $200 worth of cereal and popsicles? Do not, under any circumstance, send him to Aldi. He might come back with an inflatable stand-up paddleboard. See, we need to talk about “Aldi Finds.” There’s a section of the store where you’ll feel like you’d wandered out of a high-quality micro-Costco and into a micro-Big Lots. You never know what’s going to be there – kitchen wares, games, furniture, appliances, pickleball sets – but on a good day a creative college student might find everything needed to furnish a dorm room.
Llama acuática inflatable
Okay, one more from Aldi Finds. Lots of stores might have pool toys among their seasonal items, but who else is going to give you an inflatable llama? Be the envy of all the other kids down at the pool. (Want more unexpected special offers? Check out Aldi of the Week on Twitter, an Australian account that’s been documenting this stuff for years.)
Neapolitan trail mix
For years, the big problem with backpacking has been the difficulty of bringing along enough ice cream. Millions of people have decided not to through-hike the Appalachian Trail for this sole reason. Now some clever mind has found a way to put the holy strawberry-chocolate-vanilla trinity in gorp form. “A blend of strawberry flavored confectionary cones, almost, semi-sweet chocolate chips, cashews, white chocolate chips and dried sweetened strawberries.” You know what’s funny? When those little strawberry-cone morsels hit your tongue they’re really salty, and you only get the strawberry flavor after the salt fades away. There’s also a S’mores version. Product of – and I am not making this up – “USA, Brazil, Vietnam, India, Kenya, Tanzania, Ivory Coast, China.” Even the people who map out Airbus supply chains think that’s a little over-the-top.
Funnel cake kit
Oh, Lord, I am going to get into so much trouble with this. There’s not really much more to say, except that I can’t believe I haven’t already seen this in a Walmart or a Dollar Tree. But it’s from Baker’s Corner, a house brand distributed and sold exclusively by Aldi. “Contains bioengineered food ingredients.” Who cares? I’m going to fry the DNA out of it anyway.
Shrimp taco mix
This seems like a genuine misstep, at least on the Gulf Coast. Big juicy fresh shrimp are easy to come by. What you get here is a 10-ounce packet of shrimp, red and green bell pepper, sweet corn, pinto beans and seasoning, all sealed up in plastic shrink wrap. If you were in, say, Utah, it might be a winning proposition. But why would anyone within a day’s drive of Bayou La Batre do this to themselves? Also, it doesn’t appear to include tortillas, which is why it isn’t a shrimp taco kit. Product of Spain, using Argentinian shrimp.
We weren’t getting out of here without at least one reference to Germany’ strange embrace of hazelnut as a popular candy flavor. Try the Knoppers. They’re a lot like those unnaturally colored sugar wafer cookies you sometimes got as a kid, except that you know what’s in them. Well, you know one of the things that’s in them. Unfortunately it’s hazelnuts.