By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
ONEONTA – Kara Neer, Otego, will have plenty to brag about on her “ALDI Nerds” Facebook group – she spent Friday morning, Aug. 28, shopping at the newest store in the 80-store Tully region, on Oneonta’s Southside.
“I love it,” she said. “We had been going to Norwich, which is a schlep, but this is bigger and has more of a selection of vegan and vegetarian food, plus junk food for my teens. Pizza and tofu – that’s the ALDI experience!”
Closed since July, ALDI’s Southside redo is one of 25 planned makeovers this year in the region served by the Tully Distribution Center, increasing the store from four aisles to five and re-arranging product locations based on new buying habits from their customers.
“There’s been an increased demand for fresh, healthy and organic products,” said Aaron LeFever, Cortland-based director of operations, who was on site locally for the grand opening.
Vegetables, and meat: “We needed to increase refrigeration space. Now, we have 28 feet of shelving for meat, which we have a very high demand for,” he said, with 90 percent of the products store-brand.
“At 12,000 square feet, it’s much easier to navigate than a big-box store,” added Tully Division Vice President Aaron Sumida.
Founded in 1946 in Essen, Germany, by brothers Karl and Theo Albrecht, there are now 17,000 ALDI stores in the U.S., plus thousands more in Germany, Portugal, Spain, Poland, Ireland, the United Kingdom, Hungary, Switzerland and Australia.
The company also owns Trader Joe’s.
Over the decades, ALDI has developed a fan base. “We bought our house in West Virginia, in part, because it was close to an ALDI,” said Sophie Kurbin, an Oneonta native who had returned for the summer to visit her mother. “We have different products at our store, but I wanted to come here and see what they had that we didn’t.”
The Oneonta store originally opened in June 1996.
“Since we reopened, a lot of our customers have been reuniting in the aisles,” said manager Kylee Hale. “This community loves ALDI.”
New to the Oneonta store is the refrigerated “On-the-Go” section, right next to the entrance, which includes pre-made salads, snack packs and beverages. “We added this for the shopper who wants to duck in on their lunch break and pick up a healthy snack,” said LeFever.
“I love the fresh mango slices,” said Hale. “You can’t always find mango around here.”
Fresh produce and bread was moved to the front of the store, and an expanded selection of dairy products lines the back wall.
“We expanded our cheese offerings at Christmas and people were really excited,” said Hale. “Now we have more, and we’ll be bringing in other new ones for the holidays. I can’t wait to see what we get.”
“There are so many choices, I feel like I’m at Wegmans,” said Brenda Fleming, Oneonta. “I need a map to find everything!”
Also expanded is what ALDI fans call the “Aisle of Shame,” which the company calls ALDI Finds, a two-week rotating assortment of home goods, toys, tools and seasonal items.
“We call it that because there’s always new stuff,” Fleming said. “You go in for eggs, and you come out with a dog bed!”
And although the expanded aisles weren’t planned because of COVID-19, they make shoppers feel much safer.
“The aisles in the old store were so close, you couldn’t help but make contact with people,” said Alsada Wilson, Otego. “But now, two people can easily get through. That’s important these days, with
Though the pandemic meant the store couldn’t host a ribbon-cutting or opening-day events that might draw a crowd, Sumida said the remodeling and expansion was, in part, to help customers stock their pantries with good food at low prices.
ALDI is on track to becoming the third largest U.S. grocery retailer by store count by the end of 2022, and “we’ve actually accelerated some of our growth to better serve customers during the pandemic,” Sumida said. “We are continuing to monitor the COVID-19 situation and are doing everything we can to support as many customers as possible.”