Aldi may need to re-think its Wednesday fresh meat specials if it wants to attract and keep the middle income customer it is pursuing. Spending $34 million in MN to remodel 28 of 35 stores, Aldi is transitioning from a lower-income customer model to a more mainstream one. To attract bigger spenders, it has adopted larger, more colorful stores, doubled the size of the refrigerated produce area, and added trendier items.
Those trendier, spendier 'limited quantities specials' that start on Wednesdays can be very attractively priced--rack of lamb for $9.99 a pound, organic grass fed ground beef family pack for $4.49 a pound and ribeye or T-bone steaks for $6.99 a pound.
But Jane Bryant of rural Minnesota near Monticello discovered that walking away with one of the specials isn't always easy. In early June she went to the Monticello store on a Wednesday for ribeye steaks for $6.99/lb. She was told the shipment had not yet arrived and to check back the next day. The following week the discount chain advertised T-bone steaks for the same price. Bryant went in on Thursday, figuring that the same delayed shipment problem may have occurred.
This time the entire allotment was already out of stock. "One person came in and bought the entire shipment,." she said. Bryant complained to the manager that the store should put up a sign "We reserve the right to limit quantities." Apparently, Aldi thinks it's covering the bases by putting in its ads that the meat items are "available while quantities last."
In fact, Aldi does clearly state that quantities are limited and no rain checks are given for weekly meat specials. But Aldi division vice-president Matt Lilla said in an email, "The goal is to have all the fresh meat special items in stock through Sunday before selling out and our regular special buys at least a week."
I wondered about Bryant's disappointing experience, so I tried it myself with rack of lamb on sale last week for $9.99/lb. That's an exceptional value--Costco sells it for $10.99/lb and the higher-end supermarkets in town are $35/lb.
My experience was as bad as Bryant's. I went in search of the lamb on the first day of the sale, July 5. Both Minneapolis stores were sold out, but the manager of the Lake St. store said to come back Thursday morning when the store opened. I did. No lamb. I finally got the last rack in the newly remodeled, re-opened Richfield store.(BTW, the lamb was delicious with an easy recipe from Weber.)
Bryant said that she is even more irritated by the out-of-stocks because consumers can't call the store to verify stock. The no-frills stores do not have public telephone numbers. The experience soured Bryant on Aldi. "It's not worth the trouble to play their game," she said.
Lilla regretted the incidents and said that out-of-stocks are a serious issue. Aldi orders its weekly meat specials up to a year in advance, making sales forecasting difficult. For the lamb, a store may only receive 24 packages, he said, because they don't want to have to discount them further.
Admittedly, Aldi's prices are often unbeatable on special buys, but it is doing its customers no favors when shipments are late or an entire special allotment is sold to one customer. Bryant suggested that Aldi start limiting the specials to two per customer. That's a good suggestion for popular items such as steaks, kabobs and lamb.
On the other hand, Aldi continues to impress with low prices. One of the advertised "Aldi Finds" last week was a handheld lemon or lime juicer for $3.99. Similar models are sold in department and specialty stores for $17 to $30. Aldi's prices on most days can beat nearly anyone's, but as Target has learned, consumers frustrated by empty shelves start going elsewhere.
Aldi's meat specials starting Wed., July 12 are grass-fed strip steak for $9.99/lb. and Alaskan Sockeye salmon, wild caught, for $11.99/lb. Who knows if the strip steak or salmon will sell as strongly as the steaks or lamb. What's your experience at Aldi lately? Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 612-673-7633.