Even if Aldi isn't your supermarket of choice for weekly shopping, you may want to put it on your "nice list" when seeking holiday bargains. At this time of year, the German discount grocer stocks an assortment of rotating seasonal items, including imports from Europe, that are ideal for entertaining and gift giving.
We took a spin through an Aldi in Northern Virginia to get a sense of the offerings available to holiday shoppers. We weren't disappointed with Aldi's prices on everything from sweets and snacks to toys and stocking stuffers. When feasible, we compared prices with similar items at a nearby Wegmans. Selection is more limited than at a traditional supermarket - Aldi carries a few name brands and a whole bunch of store brands - so if you see a seasonal item you like, grab it. It might not be around for long.
Take a look at some of the best things we found at Aldi to buy for the holidays.
If you're new to Aldi, the first thing to keep in mind is that it's a discount grocer that sells more than discounted groceries. In particular, pay attention to the center aisle. That's where you'll discover the latest "Aldi Finds," the blink-and-you'll-miss-them mostly non-grocery items that come and go based on the season and availability. Naturally, toys are among Aldi's finds in December.
And we're talking affordable name-brand toys mixed in with the off brands. For example, we saw Marvel large action figures including Spider-Man, Black Panther, Iron Man and Ant-Man selling for $7.99 apiece. Mattel Barbie dolls including Holiday Barbie (2018 Edition) and Barbie Ice Skater were priced at $6.99 each.
Just ahead of Christmas be on the lookout for Merry Moments holiday plush animation figures that dance, sing, spin and play holiday songs. They will be marked at $7.99 apiece, batteries included, according to Aldi's weekly flyer.
Why go to some fancy imported chocolate store at the mall that upcharges you for its expensive rent? Sure, go for the free samples, if you must, but then head to Aldi for the bargain prices on German and Belgian chocolates.
At Aldi, we spotted Schogetten chocolates from Germany, with assorted varieties going for $1.49 for 3.5-ounce bars. Not to be missed, too, were the Specially Selected (an Aldi store brand) Belgian cocoa-dusted truffles, $2.89 for 8.81 ounces.
You can also dive into Winternacht (another Aldi store brand) milk chocolate gingerbread hearts, made in Germany and selling for $1.99 for 10.58 ounces. Winternacht also serves up mini Santa bears or snowmen fine chocolates, also made in Germany and selling for $2.99 for 4.41 ounces.
Need boxed chocolates to give as gifts? Aldi has you covered with Moser Roth Belgian chocolates in a gift-wrapped box, $7.99 for 8.46 ounces. You can also select a Choceur 40-piece European chocolate assortment, $3.99 for a 14-ounce package.
So ordinary, am I right? Cookies for the holidays? But at Aldi, peruse the unusual, the items you won't likely find at other supermarket chains. All of the cookies below are imported from Germany and exclusive to Aldi.
We found a 17.6-ounce tin of assorted Specially Selected Continental Cookies for $3.99. Also in store and in stock, for a limited time, Aldi's Winternacht Spekulatius. These German spiced cookies run $8.99 for a 21.16-ounce package. Winternacht Cinnamon Star Cookies cost $2.99 for 6.17 ounces.
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Cookies are just the start. You'd also expect a German grocer to puff up the season with an array of awesome baked goods. Aldi doesn't let you down.
You can find a hefty 24.69-ounce Specially Selected brioche, either chocolate chip or vanilla flavored, shaped like a Christmas tree for just $7.99. Smaller 14.1-ounce Specially Selected red berries or cream cheese brioche (traditional shape) cost $3.89. Gourmet stollen bites from Deutsche Küche, another Aldi store brand, can go on your holiday table for $4.99 for an 8.11-ounce box. (Stollen is a traditional German holiday loaf made with fruit and nuts, similar to a fruitcake.)
Oh, and since you're in that aisle, check out the Deutsche Küche German breads (whole rye, sunflower seed and whole grain) for $2.29 a loaf. Apple strudel or marbled cinnamon breakfast breads sell for $3.99.
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Germans know how to snack, if Aldi is any indication, so if you're pulling together your own apps for a holiday party, then you're in luck.
Starting on the frozen end, you can't go wrong with Appetitos mini quiches, a seasonal favorite selling for $2.99 for 9-ounce packages. Don't forget those pigs in a blanket because, really, this is the only time of the year you'll even look at them. Aldi offers Appetitos frozen franks in a blanket for $2.99 for a 7.6-ounce package. Wegmans sells a frozen 18.4-ounce package of Hebrew National franks in puff pastry for $13.19 - significantly more expensive than Aldi on a per-ounce basis.
Need something sweet to snack on while the hot apps are in the oven? Try Specially Selected Caramel Waffles, imported from the Netherlands. You'll dish out $1.99 for a 10.94-ounce package. Tins of Specially Selected Indulgent Popcorn (caramel or kettle corn flavors) sell for $7.99 for 24 ounces.
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Cheese and Meat Trays
Building your own party trays to hold down the dining room table? Aldi offers a slew of cheeses, cheese spreads, cheese balls and cheese logs. Pair your real cheese with Specially Selected Emmentaler or Gouda Cheese Bites, puffy cracker-like snacks made from potato. The 4.4-ounce packages are imported from Germany and cost $1.89 apiece.
Aldi's Specially Selected Panino tray is a seasonal favorite. Consisting of thin-sliced meats wrapped around mozzarella sticks, the 18-ounce tray goes for $11.99. Wegmans sells 6-ounce Panino trays for $5.99, so 50% more expensive than Aldi trays on a per-ounce basis.
A Park Street Deli meat and cheese assortment - Park Street is a new Aldi store brand - is available for a limited time for $8.99 for a 21.16-ounce party tray. At Wegmans, a 14-ounce Hormel Gatherings snack tray is $6.99. Aldi is the better bargain.
Spiral-Sliced Hams and Whole Turkeys
Spiral-sliced hams are a must-have for many families at the holidays. Aldi's Appleton Farms spiral-sliced glazed bone-in ham, dubbed a "seasonal favorite," was selling for $1.89 a pound. A spiral-sliced half ham, also from Appleton, was marked down to 95 cents per pound (regular $1.69). Glazed spiral-sliced hams at Wegmans were going for $3.99 a pound.
Turkey isn't just for Thanksgiving. Many families roll it into a holiday season staple, and grocers know that. At Aldi, whole frozen Butterball turkeys, also tagged as a "seasonal favorite," sell for $1.29 a pound for birds between 18 and 22 pounds. Wegmans offers Butterball Premium all natural frozen turkeys for $1.99 a pound.
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We go nuts for nuts during the holiday season, and macadamia nuts are near the top of the list. Ten ounces of Aldi's Specially Selected roasted, salted macadamias sell for $8.49. Wegmans was selling bulk macadamia nuts for $17.99 a pound (16 ounces).
We also found 18.5-ounce holiday tins of Specially Selected savory or spiced nut trios for $9.99.
Seasonal Ice Cream
Ice cream knows no season, but seasonal ice cream does, because, well, it's not available year-round. Aldi's Belmont brand of egg nog ice cream or peppermint bark ice cream, in 48-ounce containers, was $2.89.
Wegmans rolls with the seasonal flavors, too, but you'll usually have to dish out more cash to taste them. The same size carton of Perry's Ice Cream in flavors that include peppermint stick, hot cocoa and white Christmas was selling at Wegmans for $3.49. The one deal that beat Aldi: Wegmans' own brand of egg nog ice cream was priced at $2.79, 10 cents cheaper than Aldi.
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Your typical neighborhood grocery store is likely well stocked with familiar domestic beers as well as the usual suspects of imported beers. Aldi carries some of those domestics, too, but its niche is with less-familiar imported brewskis that are priced like domestic beers.
Don't walk past the display without grabbing a six-pack of Wernesgruner pilsner, imported from Germany, for $6.99. Also rocking it is a six-pack of Bacher German-style lager, imported from Belgium, going for $5.99.
Did one of your millennial kids pilfer a selected swath of those vinyl records you collected over the years? Same here. Thinking about returning to yesteryear and going back to the flip side? Same here.
So as I was wandering the center aisle at Aldi perusing the seasonal finds I was amazed to discover a small collection of vinyl albums. In heavy rotation were Sony Vinyl "hits" records, including "Foo Fighters Greatest Hits," "The Fabulous Johnny Cash," Pearl Jam's "Ten" and Adele's "21." All were $17.99, a buck less in most cases than you'd pay at Barnes & Noble. You may find them for around $17 on Amazon.com, but Aldi has them in front of your face and doesn't charge an annual membership fee.
Oh, and you need a turntable? Aldi has you covered, with a Bauhn Nostalgic Turntable with Bluetooth, for $79.99. It's also in the center aisle of misfit gadgets and cookware, which include an Instant Pot knockoff (Ambiano 9-in-1 programmable pressure cooker for $59.99) or a very-mini Coca-Cola fridge in the shape of a Coke can that holds a few cans of soda or beer.
Living large on New Year's Eve, or at the boss's house, means getting a chance to get your crab legs on. You won't find them fresh at Aldi, just frozen. It's another seasonal favorite, and a pound and a half of Fremont snow crab legs were priced at $17.99. The Aldi flyer also listed Orca Bay king crab legs at $18.99 a pound. Bonus: Frozen lobster tails from Maine, when available, were going for $12.99 per half pound.
At Wegmans, frozen king crab legs and claws were $22.50 a pound, and fresh snow crab clusters were $12.99 a pound.
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Copyright 2018 The Kiplinger Washington Editors