With aisles filled with British chocolates, German breads and French pastries, Aldi is a must-visit destination for me during the holidays.
Growing up in the UK, my family would make a three-hour trek to Wales at Christmastime to visit family. During the trip, my grandma would often take my sister and me to Aldi. Climbing into her tiny car, we'd roll down the steep hill to the grocery store, which was nestled into the side of the mountain. Because Wales in the winter is particularly rainy, we'd stomp across a moss-covered parking lot to reach the shopping carts.
One thick golden pound coin had to be inserted into the handle to release the Aldi shopping carts. Deciding whether my sister or I would be in charge of the pound coin, and the all-important task of remembering to get it back at the end, often caused mild arguments. All worries washed away, however, once inside the store. We were shopping with grandma, and that meant we could pick sweets and treats that usually weren't allowed.
Creamy individual trifles packaged in clear yogurt cups generally made it into the cart. We picked multiple flavors of sugar-filled bottles of fruit concentrate, which, when watered-down, resembled real juice. Chocolate was a given. And sometimes, we'd take a stroll down the gift aisle to pick out bright plastic toys that would magically reappear under the tree on Christmas morning.
When Aldi came to metro Phoenix just before the holidays in 2020, I was delighted to resume this childhood tradition here in Arizona.
Why Aldi is the perfect holiday grocery store
Whether squelching through the rain in Wales or soaking up the sun in Arizona, Aldi is the perfect grocery store for the holiday season. You can come with a shopping list, get all of your groceries in the fresh produce and frozen foods aisles and then turn your attention to wandering through rows of holiday goodies.
In recent years, Aldi's non-traditional advent calendars have become extremely popular, with options that allow customers to count down to Christmas with a different cheese, wine or chocolate every day. But the popular calendars are hard to come by. They typically sell out soon after going on sale in early November.
Despite the slim chances of landing an advent calendar, the discount grocer carries a consistently great selection of European treats.
What to expect at Aldi in metro Phoenix
Aldi first opened in Germany in 1961. The chain then expanded to the U.S. in 1976 and now has locations in 37 states. Currently, Phoenix has four stores, located in Chandler, Gilbert, Peoria and Goodyear. Two more stores, one in South Phoenix and another in Queen Creek, are scheduled to open on Dec. 10.
This week, I headed to the Goodyear store. In the U.S., the carts require a quarter deposit for use. So, I popped a coin into the cart and started surfing the aisles.
On a weekday morning, the store was refreshingly empty, allowing me to weave through with ease. Store employees worked diligently, disinfecting baskets and display cases as customers shopped.
Here's what ended up in my cart.
ALDI HOLIDAY SHOPPING LIST
Winter Classics Chocolates
The chocolate options at Aldi include Hershey's Kisses and Reese's Cups, but stick to the international selections, like the box of colorful chocolates called Winter Classics ($4.99) which includes British desserts reimagined in chocolate form, including a rhubarb and custard white chocolate and a Jaffa Cake chocolate and orange truffle.
German chocolate snowmen and bears
I also picked two tiny containers of German chocolate snowmen and little bears ($3.29) labeled Mini Schneemaenner and Mini Baerchen, respectively. These small chocolates are simple, but the quality of the chocolate is what you're going for here. If you happen to be filling your own advent calendar, these would make the perfect daily treat.
Make-your-own gingerbread kits
Cookie options include Butter Spekulatius ($3.29) and iced gingerbread called Pfeffernusse ($2.45). But if you're looking for a fun family activity this holiday season, Aldi also sells make-your-own gingerbread kits ($4.49) in the shapes of ugly sweaters and "ninjabread," karate-kicking cookies.
Gifts and festive decor
Aldi's festive non-food selections include holiday scented candles ($4.75), Tupperware with red trucks and green trees printed on the side ($2.15) and an array of toys and pet accessories. These items rotate throughout the season and change week to week, so make sure to stop in and see what's on offer.
The best goodie from my recent trip was a brioche star ($5.99) made of twisted brioche bread filled with creme patissiere. The package boasts an "Imported from France" and it is also available in a larger tree shape perfect for bigger families. This soft, sweet bread didn't last long at my house and we'll definitely be back for more before the holidays are over.
Details: Aldi, aldi.us.
Goodyear: 845 N Estrella Pkwy, Goodyear.
Peoria: 24665 N Lake Pleasant Pkwy, Peoria.
Chandler: 2844 S Alma School Rd, Chandler
Gilbert: 1801 E Pecos Rd, Gilbert
South Phoenix (Open Dec. 10): 5775 W. Baseline Road, Phoenix.
Queen Creek (Open Dec. 10): 20229 S. Ellsworth Road, Queen Creek.
Support local journalism and subscribe to azcentral.com today.
This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Aldi Christmas shopping traditions travel from the Europe to Arizona