By Carrie Havranek
Shopping at Lidl is similar to shopping at Marshalls. It’s the TJ Maxx of supermarkets. You’re assured bargains every time, but the inventory is never guaranteed. Sometimes an item will be there, and then the next time it won’t.
Lidl hits the mark across the board for low prices on its fresh, organic, sustainable options and offers a surprisingly fun grocery experience that rewards the curious, thrifty shopper.
This German-based chain began in Germany in 1973 and operates 11,000 stores in 32 countries. Lidl targeted the East Coast and set up its U.S. headquarters in Arlington Virginia in 2017 and has been slowly creeping its way up to New York and down to Georgia and now runs more than 100 stores in 9 states. Yes, it’s German, but no, it’s not Aldi or Trader Joe’s, yet the model is similar. Lidl (say it like “needle”) is smaller and easier to navigate, full of private label products at crazy, rock-bottom prices, along with organic and conventional items (meats, cheeses, dairy, seafood, pantry staples) that inspire devotion. It’s progressive, as none of their private label foods have trans-fats and full of DIY moves like bringing your own bag (or pay pennies for ones if you forget). Mercifully, you don’t have to pay a quarter during a national coin shortage to unlock a cart, and then do some awkward dance at checkout to scoot out of the way to another packing area, like you do at Aldi.
Shopping Lidl Right Now
Lidl does offer home delivery in more than 80 of its stores, so curbside or delivery are options. However because the foot print is smaller, you can get in and out faster and wait less time in line. There are ample self-checkout options, good, observable social distancing policies, and regular, visible cart cleaning going on. In the height of the stay-at-home order, my Lidl stationed an employee outside to count and monitor the number of people entering and exiting the store. I have felt much more inclined to shop there than at a larger grocery store during the pandemic, with the exception of Wegmans (but my love for them is unabated).
The center section of the store is full of potluck rotating mishmash of seasonal merchandise. Real items spotted in my Lidl store at some point in the past year include: grill covers, pajamas, door mats, Christmas decorations, whiteboards, hedge clippers, and reciprocating saws. When I spotted someone in line with power tools, I found the unexpected nature of the purchase hilarious. I don’t know that even Target can beat the randomness of power tools alongside yogurt, pajamas, and frozen pizza.
Here’s What to Keep An Eye Out For
- Anything bakery oriented, but always everything bagels. Unlike Aldi or TJ’s, Lidl has its own in-house bakery, where you can buy soft pretzels along with rolls and pastries, and put your loaf of bread into a slicer, DIY style. But the four-packs of bagels are $2.99 and one of my kids has developed highly attenuated bagel preferences. Luckily, the everything bagels from Lidl are genius because the seasoning is also IN THE BAGEL, not just ON TOP OF IT. You don’t leave half the toppings behind in the toaster, which then invariably burn. The flavor is always everything, throughout the bagel eating experience. Bonus!
- Organic kombucha (under $3 a bottle): Lidl’s brand offers limited flavors but great taste. Sometimes they have seasonal or random overrun of GT’s booch, usually under $3 a bottle as well.
- Organic tortilla chips: $1.99 (blue, white, yellow corn). They’re just about perfect—not too thick, nor too breakable, or too salty. Lidl also offers an organic sweet potato tortilla chip that is just too dangerously addictive for me to actually buy.
- Block of New York Sharp cheddar, usually around $1.50-$1.80. Sliced organic cheeses are under $4 for a half pound, typically. We’ll go through one each of these in a week, between tacos and nachos for lunch and child-related snack needs.
- Frozen organic fruit for under $3 a bag: Strawberries, blueberries and mango are on regular rotation when they are available.
- Organic produce. I’ve nabbed raspberries for under $3, baby carrots for less than $1 a bag, salad greens of all stripes for $2 or less, and so on. When organic produce goes on sale just be prepared to use it ASAP. It’s good, but it’s not farmers market good. As long as you understand what you are buying—something of good quality but short shelf life—you truly do get what you pay for.
- Organic pantry staples: rice, pasta (gluten free and otherwise), canned beans (everything except cannellini), and peanut butter (crunchy AND creamy, with no sugar added, and easy to stir) are standouts in particular.
- Cultured, salted Irish butter: usually under $3 for 8 ounces. I buy this to use on bread, or to cook with, depending. Or to eat on bread while cooking. Depending.
- Organic, grass fed, sustainable fresh and frozen proteins: multi-pack of frozen sustainable salmon filets usually about $10, and grass-fed ground beef regularly goes on sale for under $4 a pound. All the seafood is certified sustainable or responsibly farmed by MSC, ASC, or BAP.
- Eggs: Some combination of these attributes — organic, cage free, humanely raised, with certification easily displayed on the cartons—can regularly be purchased for under $3 dozen.
- Imported and regional brands. The Lidl branded German chocolate is good. I typically have a 4 ounce bar or two on the door of my fridge for emergencies. You can find Spanish meats and cheeses, too. Lidl leans heavily toward Italian imported foods that change seasonally (I liked the lavender honey) along with smaller regional brands like Baked in Brooklyn Pita chips getting some love, too.
- Earth-friendly dishwasher pods, under $4 for 20. Unheard of!
With Lidl, I can walk out of there spending $50 on what would cost me $100 at Wegmans (I still love you, Wegmans). I can ask employees questions and they can either answer them or find someone who can. Half the time I end up talking to the store manager without even trying—the median age of its employees seems to squarely skew millennial but even part-time employees at Lidl are eligible for medical benefits. This feels incredibly humane, especially now, but the move was made before COVID hit.
I’m sure I’m forgetting something, or haven’t discovered a new favorite yet, because it hasn’t arrived—those new products show up on Wednesdays. We all have to grocery shop, and food prices are going nowhere but up it seems. There’s no reason why it can’t be a little more fun, surprising, and money-saving.
Watch out for Lidl (lee-dle, like needle)—it’s on the rise.
Do you shop at Lidl?
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