There might be no surer confirmation of Britain’s cost of living drama than the supermarket price war.
But money aside, for many Aldi is number one; the German discounter was named the country’s ‘Supermarket of the Year’ at the 2022 Retail Industry Awards – the self-proclaimed “Oscars of the retail world” – seeing off even the likes of M&S and Waitrose. It also had a terrific Christmas.
Aldi’s win checks out. For years, it has been taking market share from traditional grocers in Britain, and since January 2015 has expanded its market share from 4.9 to 9.3 percent, drawing in shoppers with its accessible wines and cut-price hummus. Last year, Aldi even overtook Morrisons to become the UK’s fourth largest grocer, cementing itself not as a disruptive outlier but as one of the nation’s go-to supermarkets. Fraser McKevitt, head of retail and consumer insight at market analysts Kantar, which produced the data, pointed out that “shoppers are taking steps to manage their budgets…broadening the range of stores they visit”.
Lidl, Aldi’s sprightly German cousin, has benefited too: there, sales soared by 20.9 per cent as autumn began, when the cost-of-living crisis really began to hum, and its market share increased to 7.1 per cent.
“Back at the start of the 2010s, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda and Morrisons together accounted for over three quarters of the sector but that traditional big four is no more,” added McKevitt.
“The discounters have seen dramatic sales increases in recent months, bringing more and more customers through their doors. Aldi has done well to expand its shopper base, supported by consistent store openings, and with 14.2 million consumers visiting the grocer in the past three months.”
What’s clear, though, is that Aldi’s win – and Lidl’s increasing popularity – is about more than just the price. The retailers seem to have found a place even on chef’s shopping lists. Mark Hix, newly appointed as top culinary brass at the Groucho club, knows both well enough to have a favourite (Lidl, as it happens). For some, the allure is strictly seasonal – Bocca di Lupo’s Jacob Kennedy has “a Christmas tradition from God knows where of eating Lidl stollen”, while Adam Handling is come Decemeber for “soft gingerbread biscuits called Lebkuchen Mix, because I used to live in Germany as a kid that they’re my favourite – I eat so many of them!”. But others, below, treat the retailer almost as a specialist spot, popping in for certain things but leaving others for elsewhere.
And while neither Lidl not Aldi is unlikely to be a haven for the finest ingredients, or offer the most sustainable practices when it comes to meat and fish, these are ungodly times – and who doesn’t want a four-pack of fake Magnum ice creams for 99p? Many will be all too aware of Aldi’s feted duplicate products – Leo the Lion, a riff on Percy Pigs, is arguably the funniest – and they are not alone. The supermarket was is on – and the Germans show no sign of backing down. Here’s what chefs, restaurateurs and the Standard’s food-lovers pick up on their shops there.
What the chefs buy
I love the whole concept of Aldi – it feels like a supermarket made for thrifty blaggers. There’s something entirely unethical about its offering, but I want a part of it. I really do. Their wine selection is really bonkers. I’d kill for Barolo wine, but it’s stupidly expensive. Not at Aldi. It’s £10 and brilliant!
And in a time of austerity, when I have my neighbours asking if I can get discounts on Lurpak butter, Aldi makes sense (Spreadable Nordpak, 500g, £2.29).
Richard Corrigan, Bentley’s
It’s not quite Easter yet but I love Aldi’s chocolate selection. I get it because they use European chocolate. I like the yoghurt too (Brooklea Green-style, 1kg, £1.45) and the vegetables. The odd bottle of wine too; Aldi buys well.
Alex Price, Bar Crispin
Lidl always feels like you are on holiday in a European supermarket – the croissants particularly are tasty (35p each), and in general the fruit and vegetables are good. Thinking as a sommelier, I’d rather go to Lidl than Sainsbury’s or Tesco. They always have affordable Champagne at Christmas (bottles from £13.99), and while the wine changes seasonally, what’s there is always more interesting than you’d expect – I once found this super cheap Altesse from the Savoie for about a fiver!
Russell Norman, Brutto
I used to be a terrible snob about Aldi and Lidl (I’ve always found Waitrose to be habit-forming) but my daughters converted me to Aldi. Their cheese selection is really rather good if you ignore the dubious flavoured Cheddar. I buy the Comté, Gruyère, Gouda, Manchego, Ricotta and Brie de Meaux and they’re all excellent. They even have a Camembert (250g, £2.49) especially for baking.
Max Halley, Max’s Sandwich Shop
Whenever they’re in stock, I get Aldi’s Argentinian red prawns (Specially Selected whole red shrimps, 300g, price dependant on availability) – they are fantastic! I get the coffee pods for my Nespresso machine, they’re great and very cheap (Ristretto coffee pods, 10, £1.65). I buy olive oil at Aldi too (from £3.59 per litre).
Tom Griffiths, Flank
My nan introduced me to the supermarket 20 something years ago, because my town didn’t have much by way of choice. I think there’s a misconception that all Aldi produce is from abroad, but they buy so much from Britain. I buy butter there, the seasonal veg always seems decent, and I like the Barolo (Specially Selected Denominazione Di Origine Controllata E Garantita 2017, price dependant on availability).
Henry Omereye, Riding House Cafe
I’m a big fan. I always gravitate to ingredients which allow me to make an easy dinner for my wife and kids. I make sure I grab a protein – this depends on what the family fancies, but I love the meatballs (Nature’s Glen Scotch meatballs, 340g, £2.19), or chicken thighs (Specially Selected free range corn fed chicken thigh, 375g, £2.99). I always add vegetables - aubergine, spinach or carrots - and then I’ll pick up one of the apple strudels (Dessert Menu Apple Strudel 600g £1.19) and custard or vanilla ice cream.
James Cochran, founder, Restaurant 12:51
I’m an avid shopper at Aldi and it’s great for lots of regular items, particularly fruit and veg, but also the random foreign goods, which are bargains and also help you get creative. At the moment, with the weather being cold, I love a good vegetable root veg stew, which you can just bung into a pan with some stock and mop up with bread. Proper hearty, maybe finished with some chorizo (Specially Selected mild Spanish chorizo ring, 200g, £1.89).
The ES Team’s top picks
Jimi Famurewa, Chief restaurant critic
Lots of people’s Aldi finds tend to be about unexpected sophistication; incredible wines or underrated cheeses that lurk on the shelves like obscure Oscar fare hidden amid a sea of Razzie-winners. And, yes, I do quite rate their chorizo (24 slices for 89p), and also love that it’s one of the few places you can find Scottish brewery Harviestoun’s genuinely excellent craft lager (500ml, £1.79). But my true Aldi cult favourite is absolute trash. It is, specifically, multipack boxes of Mini Delights – essentially ersatz Kinder chocolate bars – in ‘cookies and milk’ flavour (200g, £1.69). Utterly childish knock-off confectionary that it’s physically impossible to stop eating.
David Ellis, Reveller editor
At the end of my street is an Aldi Local, so I’m in often. For the unversed, an Aldi Local is much the same as its bigger brothers, without the mad baskets of random buys dividing the aisles, which means I can pick up the usual groceries but am unlikely to also leave with, say, a set of tire irons or a new welding mask. Instead, I particularly like the sugar rush that follows a slice of their moist, rich and fruity Irish whisky cake (490g, £1.99) and their packets of six crumpets (35p). They’re as good as any other and by far the cheapest I’ve found anywhere; the same principle is true of their excellent oatcakes (250g, 65p). Otherwise, they do tubs of coarse Ardennes pâté for 69p; on toast, it’s ideal for a quick WFH lunch or post-pub snack, and the tub means it keeps well. Though I’m perhaps less enamoured with the wine than everyone else seems to be, but they do decent Speyside and Highland 12-year-old single-malt Scotch for £16.99 a bottle — about a tenner less than you’d expect to pay.
Given my Aldi is staffed exclusively by failed drill sergeants, it’s not the place for a therapeutic shopping experience. Instead, I think Aldi comes down to reliable basics; all perfectly serviceable and very affordable. Serviceable is the word; Aldi is solid, even if it doesn’t do things that’ll light the world on fire. Literally, in the case of my place — bafflingly, the one thing they never stock is matches.
Jo Taylor, Food and drink editor, ES Magazine
Ah Aldi, you’re a trusty pal. Non-judgemental, you’re always there with open arms when I’m feeling particularly productive or when bankruptcy beckons. Throwing a soiree? You can pick up a bottle of English ‘Bowler and Brolly’ bubbles for twenty quid, make 14 Aperol - sorry, I mean Aperini - Spritzes for less than £8, and decorate toothpicks with cubes of Cornish 18-month Extra Mature Cheddar for £2.99.
Open my kitchen cupboards and you’ll find two things: jars of honey (not Aldi’s, don’t ask) and enough ingredients to make around 35 hearty pans of puttanesca, which, in my opinion, doesn’t care whether you’re using tinned, responsibly sourced anchovies priced at £7.99 or 53p and capers at £2.99 or 99p – both of the latter prices from Aldi, of course. Moreover, Laurence Llewelyn Bowen has chosen the supermarché to stock his very own (admittedly rather gaudy) home decoration range, and anywhere approved by him is approved by me, darling.