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Palm Coast Aldi Draws Hundreds Before Doors Open in Grocery Wars’ First Local Salvo

| July 13, 2017

About 150 people had lined up in a snaking line around the Aldi parking lot before the Palm Coast store's opening this morning, with more coming in every minute. (© FlaglerLive)

About 150 people had lined up in a snaking line around the Aldi parking lot before the Palm Coast store’s opening this morning, with more coming in every minute. (© FlaglerLive)

In the long-ago sickly days of the Soviet Union, long lines would spontaneously form outside of stores—grocery stores, department stores, shoe stores—even as most of those in line had no idea what the line was for. All they knew was the line itself was proof of something inside worth lining up for, whatever it was.

If memory serves, no such line was ever seen outside a Palm Coast grocery store before. Until this morning, and for far less desperate and more informed reasons.

Around 8 a.m., a line began forming outside Aldi’s new store on State Road 100, across from the Target shopping center. The line grew by the minute, from tens to dozens to scores to hundreds of people, so that by 8:30, when the store’s small staff cut an Aldi ribbon in one of the least pretentious ribbon-cutting ceremony in recent memory—no “dignitaries” jostling to be in the picture, no florid speeches, no patronizing flatteries—vehicles in the parking lot had spilled well beyond Aldi’s paved section onto swaths of the developing land to the west, where the next epicurean event will be the opening of a Starbucks.

If not for the time of day, the whiter hair and just slightly more wizened faces, the cue had all the joviality of a crowd entering a boy-band concert: “This is a teeny bopper band for the older generation I guess,” said Judy Barger of Flagler Beach. “We get excited about the great prices on groceries.” She and Pat Ferraro were among the first five or six people in line. They’ve long loved Aldi. Ferraro and Barger travel around in an RV. “We’ve been shopping at Aldis all over the country and it’s exciting to have one here,” Ferraro said. They’ve been to about a dozen across the country.  

They had their first introduction to Aldi’s in Ohio, by friends—that’s how Aldi’s faithfuls talk about the experience: the way others might speak of being introduced to Buddhism, Freemasonry or German beer (Aldi is a German company).  Now Barger talks about the chain better than its PR flackers.

It was the talk of the town. Click on the image for larger view. (© FlaglerLive)

It was the talk of the town. Click on the image for larger view. (© FlaglerLive)

“I’ve just been waiting for Aldi’s to finally get to Flagler County so that I don’t have to travel to Daytona to go to Aldi’s,” Barger said. “It’s a great chain, they have great products, even though it’s their own name brand. They’re wonderful. The prices are the best of any grocery store around, and I’m just excited to have another option for people in Flagler County.”

There was agreement in line beyond Ferraro and Barger that the English muffins inside are something else.

Inside, moments before the opening, a staff of no more than a dozen huddled for a quick pep talk. “Today we need to crush it,” Toby Delevieleuse, the store manager, told the staff. “We need to take care of customers, we need to make this happen.” That’s one of the ways the company keeps its prices low: it runs its stores with just a fraction of the number of employees at other grocery stores. The Palm Coast Aldi will employ a total of 20 people, with only three to five in the store at any one time. The company also makes part-time employment one of its specialties—not necessarily good for employees, but it’s another way to keep prices down, and employees know the deal going in.

There’s no such thing as baggers at Aldi stores, no such thing as stockers for that matter: the stuff comes in boxes that are simply stocked on the shelves and busted open right there. The stuff inside is pre-packaged and pre-weighed. The choices are reduced in line with prices and square footage. The lower prices are not a gimmick. You’ll notice the difference the first time you’re rung up by the turbocharged check-out staff.

Aldi’s American operation has 26 divisions, two of them in Florida. Both are barely 10 years old. The Palm Coast Aldi is part of the Haines City division, Haines City being a stone’s throw from Lakeland, Lakeland being the headquarters for Publix, and Publix being the company in Aldi’s eye sights to take on, on its own turf: Aldi plans to open 900 more stores in the United States by 2021 on top of its 1,600. There are about 110 stores in Florida so far, with one in Daytona Beach. The next to open are in South Daytona and Jacksonville.

“Our goal in Florida between the two divisions is to open 20 additional stores a year, in just the state of Florida,” said Jamie McFadden, director of operations in the Haines City division. “In Central Florida that would vary between 10 to 12 stores. Our major markets in Florida are Tampa, Orlando and Jacksonville. But yes, our growth plan is very aggressive.”

aldi palm coast

Cleared for take-off. Click on the image for larger view. (© FlaglerLive)

Might we see more stores in Flagler County? “Potentially, yes,” McFadden said, though she could not be more precise. “I do know that along the east coast we’re definitely looking at additional sites. I don’t know specifically.” She would not say how many people are generally served every week in a typical store, but allowed that it would be in the tens of thousands.

McFadden was not surprised by the line outside: it’s what usually happens at Aldi openings, just as the company is savvy to the sort of free advertising it generates through media exposure—like this story—and organic buzz.

“As you can tell, our parking lot is full. We know there are people here in palm Coast that are excited about shopping at Aldi and becoming loyal customers of ours,” McFadden said. She demurred when asked what sort of subversive effect Aldi’s arrival will have on the grocery-store landscape in Flagler and Palm Coast, though with the company’s aggressive growth, it is almost certain that the region will eventually experience a contraction of sorts in the industry, as it is impossible for markets to sustain as many stores in the same area: remember how Food Lions, including the Food Lion in Flagler Beach, fell victim to the combined effects of the 2007 recession and the expansion of Publix into Flagler Beach. Aldi’s arrival, and the next recession, may generate their own disruptive effects.

“We don’t really spend a lot of time focusing on our competition necessarily,” McFadden said. “We focus on what we do inside here and giving our customers the best experience.” She added: “Have we seen people go out of business? I wouldn’t say that across the board, I mean as with any retail chain or industry, sometimes people have to close location and reopen or they may decide to remodel or things like that. But across the board I don’t think we’re causing other retailers across Florida to close. I do think we’re capturing customers though. People are very excited about Aldi, and our sales are growing, our store count continues to grow, so we’re very pleased with our growth in Florida.”

Aldi’s arrival may already be having an effect: Publix reported its first same-store sales drop in seven years in the first quarter of 2017, with sales dropping 2.1 percent, according to Supermarket News. The company blamed the drop on a shift in the Easter holiday even as it attempts its own expansion in the Carolinas and Virginia, currently a hot front in the grocery wars.

Aldi is not the only German grocery chain cascading all over the American market: it is closely followed by Lidl, which has started opening stores at the same regional clip in the Carolinas and Virginia, with plans to expand across the eastern seaboard. That’s causing Walmart, the nation’s leading grocer, to re-calibrate its strategy, which means that for Palm Coast, the chances of a Walmart opening that already ephemeral superstore on Old Kings Road near State Road 100 is becoming more ephemeral still.

Here’s another tasty kibble to keep in mind: Aldi operates Trader Joe’s markets in the United States. So its next forays in the area may bear either name.

And so the day began as customers began streaming in, picking up their one free recyclable bag (you don’t get your own free bags at Aldi, you either bring your own or buy them, as has been the case in Europe and other more environmentally conscious zones for years). People wheeled their carts in, stopped, took pictures or video with their smart phones, stopped at the first of five aisles, and started taking in the stacks, the prices, the germanification of grocery shopping. The only mystery was how the store would fit the number of people who’d snaked around the parking lot in a very long line, and the people still driving in in such numbers that cars were lining up on State Road 100 to make it into the parking lot. And it was not yet 9 a.m.

The store is open 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily except Sundays, when the store closes at 8 p.m.

aldi palm coast opening grocery wars

(© FlaglerLive)

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19 Responses for “Palm Coast Aldi Draws Hundreds Before Doors Open in Grocery Wars’ First Local Salvo”

  1. Robert says:

    Waiting in line for an Aldi’s? Whatever floats your boat.

  2. Joe says:

    They have scallops that are out of this world!

  3. Dave says:

    Sad, so sad, imagine this much participation for something that actually mattered, people should be shopping their local farmers market for groceries, not some big chain that screws the workers and keeps employment to a minimum. So do you even realize your saving money at the cost of our local economy? SAD

  4. The Truth says:

    I love Aldi’s, but I can’t understand people who want to line up to be one of the first in the store. I could think of about 20,000 other things I’d rather be doing.

  5. Same ole says:

    This is true blue Flagler county through and through. Every time something new opens up everybody flocks to it like its a long lost keepsake. Give it a month it will all die down, they’ll be crying about rudeness and ghetto this and “back where I come from everything was perfect.” Yeah, yeah!

  6. Resident says:

    So great to have another option – too often our choices are pay big, wait too long in line, or travel to all of the stores for the best options – Aldi’s allows all three at one location – perhaps the other chains will catch on and catch up and do what is best for the consumers? Just a thought …..

  7. Flagler Native says:

    I used to shop at my LOCAL Farmer’s Market but if you check labels abd origins you’ll see that VERY FEW of the produce is grown locally

  8. wishful thinking says:

    I had so much fun and saved lots of money attending the grand opening of the new Aldis which a lot closer than 20 miles from home than the one on Nova and Mason where we have been shopping for several years…so many enchanting food items not even found anywhere else.
    Better for us Aldi lover’s if the naysayers don’t shop there – shorter check out lines for the rest of us…

  9. Local says:

    Did you know that Aldi actually pays their employees rather well, offers great health benfits to every employee and a 401k plan? Not to mention they have shorter hours than most major chains and are closed on major holidays. Aldi also does not carry a huge variety in produce or other products, so you’d still need to get some items from other stores. I do not believe this one store is going to hurt our local businesses. Yes, it would be nice to see people line up for things that are more important than a store opening, but you must also take into account why some people lined up as they did. Aldi was doing a giveaway for free food items and some families may have been waiting for this day because groceries are expensive and this store will be helping them to keep afloat.

  10. fredrick says:

    What??? there was not trampling of people at the door or fights inside like a Walmart on Black Friday?

  11. Pam says:

    Wow…so glad we went yesterday for the soft opening. The store was not crowded and absolutely pristine and organized. No more weekly trips to St Augustine Aldi’s! Yay!!

  12. Jitters says:

    Dave you go to broke farmers market
    Aldi’s is where it’s at .
    Don’t hate we need this here. Don’t shop
    There if your upset. BOO HOO.
    maybe this will open many doors

  13. Damien says:

    That was a Blast! I wasn’t sure what to expect, as Ive never been inside an Aldi’s but I didn’t need groceries, just kinda cruised around on way home from work, enjoying the fun,, everyone was so Jazzed! I bought a brick of Sharp Wisconsin cheddar for $1.50,(usually $4) a can of Italian wedding soup for less (my favorite) and a bag of off brand chips for .89 for my kid, as test samples. Kid loved the chips, The cheese was really surprisingly good (And I go to Wisconsin every year for work, and always bring home the signature cheese) and the soup was OK but is not going to have the Italian pizza joints Joes and Sammis on PC Pkwy sweating, but for the paltry sum I paid for 3 random items, I must say I am impressed. And to get the local community all jazzed up on more affordable groceries? I agree, Aldi’s opening was a TOTAL success.

  14. Joe says:

    From my house in the L section it would take a good 20-25 minutes to get to the new Aldi. I went to Aldi today in ST Augustine and there were no lines : ) . I’ll stick to shopping at Aldi in St Augustine. Luckily I work in St Augustine so its very convenient.

  15. Local 1953 says:

    If you want local produce go to Harris grocery store in downtown Bunnell

  16. Old Lady says:

    Love Aldi, have shopped in Daytona and Valrico, hope Sunday will be a little slower. I know it will be worth it.

  17. david says:

    Love Aldi ..local farmers market in flagler beach…lol what a joke….. look at labels closely… garlic China or Spain, carrots New Mexico, green onions,all peppers and onions New Mexico, Romain,head lettuce, spinach,90 %are from Mexico…Fact!!! Shop Aldies

  18. Chris says:

    Great! Another shitty employer with a high profit margin and a low employment percentage. Exactly what we need! And people lined up for this?!?

    Maybe we’ll get lucky and they’ll line up for a brand new lobotomy clinic, next.

  19. Peaches McGee says:

    @Chris – Aldi’s philosophy is to source out local suppliers. Eggs, dairy, most produce, and bread are all local to us. They are more efficient which leads to lower prices for us and better pay & benefits to their employees.

    Please feel free to save your quarter and shop somewhere else.

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