Bright, clean and humming with workers furiously stocking, re-stocking and primping the shelves, I stopped into the Jing'an ALDI, in the same building as Cages, for a look-see. In its home country, as well as across the many other European countries it's in, ALDI is a no-frills place to buy a case of sparkling water or 12 boxes of Toffiffee. It wasn't long ago that they didn't have fresh produce or anyone to stock the shelves. It was take it or leave it but people love a bargain, so they took it.
But Shanghai is not going to take that, are they? So the new ALDI went upscale. Not to the point of a City'super but, let's say, maybe somewhere in between Carrefour and City Shop. The automatic glass doors open right up on a brightly lit produce display with all the usuals plus the local stuff like jiaobai, tofu products and chrysanthemum greens. Nice but it's no competition for the wet market.
The deals started to reveal themselves after a few aisle browses with the cart (complete with mobile phone holder so you can check Moments while you shop): a liter of imported UHT milk for 8rmb; a shelf of wines with the majority under 100rmb; a bottle of entry-level Maotai (!) for 108rmb.
The rest of the shelves held a lot of Aldi private label goods, from chips to bathroom products, and a few iconic German brands (Toffiffee!), and nothing was too outrageously priced or niche in its use. It was safe, mass-market shopping as far as I was concerned.
I still ended up spending 469.15rmb at the cash register next to the baozi cabinet (a little weird). So what was in my shopping bag on the way out? A bottle of Corte Carista sparkling wine for my colleagues (49rmb, because they just built this). A bottle of McLaren Vale Shiraz (99rmb). 1.73kg of vacuum-packed fresh Australian beef brisket (161.15rmb) that I plan to turn into salt beef and Tsui Wah-style curry. Two bags of mild sauerkraut (10rmb each) because the place is German and I couldn't find any pretzels ("out of stock" said the manager in a suit). 80 grams of spicy beef jerky (13rmb) for the photographer's daily rations. 300 grams of peeled, fresh, head-off shrimp (45rmb) because I know the wet market prices and you can't get peeled, fresh shrimp there. Two sachets of Mae Ploy Red Curry (7rmb each), which should be in any pantry. And a box of Toffiffee (59rmb) for my German boss.
These two stores are obviously the test balloons for a planned expansion into China (rumors say 20 more in the near future), and so they don't need to get everything perfect; they only need to learn how consumers respond to their product mix and attempt at localization. As a case study in China market entry theory, it's fascinating. As a place for a homesick German to shop, it's probably underwhelming. For me? I'll be back when I finish my brisket.
See our listings for ALDI here.