Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Small-Format Food Retailing Special Report: Brookfield, Wisconsin USA Town Planners Ask: 'What's it All About...Aldi?' Local Columnist Answers Loudly

Should Aldi acquaintance be for naught?
June 10, 2008
By Laurel Walker
Special to Natural~Specialty Foods Memo
From: Milwaukee Journal Sentinal, JS Online

I bought a 12-ounce bag of unsalted almonds at the Waukesha Aldi on Les Paul Parkway and Arcadian Ave. for a mere $3.48 - 29 cents an ounce - Monday.

Had I been inclined to spend $3.99 a gallon of gas driving to a high-end Sendik's or Fresh Market in Brookfield, I'd probably have paid more. At Pick 'n Save, just a stone's throw from the Aldi, the almond price per ounce was nearly double for a pound bag and more than triple for a half-cup-size serving.

I wasn't in the market for one, but I noticed Aldi was offering a big special on cantaloupe - 69 cents apiece. At Pick 'n Save, the deal was two-for-$5.

Maybe Brookfield-area residents don't like almonds or cantaloupe. Or savings on their grocery bills.

Or, to listen to some Brookfield Town Plan Commissioners in turning up their noses to the discount grocer's request to locate in the vacant former Gander Mountain store at Blue Mound and Janacek Roads, it's really the bargain hunters that Brookfield-area residents don't want in the neighborhood.

The Plan Commission recommended denial of Aldi, 3-1. This, even though some plan commissioners had toured Aldi stores elsewhere and, they said, found well-dressed customers, clean stores and enthusiastic shoppers.

Town Chairman Keith Henderson brazenly warned Aldi officials at the meeting that when they come before the Town Board next Tuesday, supervisors' concern would be about clientele drawn to the store. He made that leap by comparing grocery shoppers trying to stretch their food dollars to the recent spate of police calls at the nearby Chuck E. Cheese, where miscreants can guzzle beer while trying to forget that their kids are going wild.


The kind of savings I saw Monday are what brings retirees like Lee Eickstaedt of Waukesha or Jerry and Angie Butalla of Big Bend or couples like Jesse and Shannon Medina of Waukesha, with three small kids to feed, back repeatedly. Nice clients, all of them, it seemed to me.

"I shop here because of value," said Eickstaedt, an Aldi customer for 12 years. "You don't just save pennies. You save dollars."

The Butallas like the quality of products, often off-brands, that are available in small quantities, unlike Sam's Club.

"They always try to please," Angie Butalla said. Besides, you don't end up with shopping carts smashing into your car, she said. Among other cost-saving measures, Aldi saves on labor by refunding a 25-cent cart deposit when you return your cart to the entry.

The Medinas combine Aldi shopping with other stores. With five mouths to feed, they look for food savings anywhere.

"It doesn't make sense for any community to turn down a store that would save residents money," Jesse Medina said.

Aldi already operates in Oconomowoc, Muskego, Waukesha and 14 locations in Milwaukee County.

Zoning Administrator Gary Lake said officials can't legitimately use "clientele" as a basis for rejecting the store, which fits existing zoning. Architectural objections, though, might qualify, he said.

Chris Hewitt, an Aldi vice president in the Oak Creek Division, said store officials will offer pedestrian improvements, like landscaping, as suggested, to satisfy the Town Board.

I'll bet even Aldi clientele appreciate bushes and benches.

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