Discount Retail Chain Save a Lot (owned by a number of institutional investors) grocery store found a very different shopping experience than the one I'm used to, says Frank Olito reporter at Insider. It seems there are three grocery store chains everyone talks about in the US: Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, and Aldi. But these stores can get very busy, overpriced, or difficult to get to. On a recent trip to the Midwest, however, Frank found an option I hadn't experienced before: Save a Lot.
Like Aldi, Save a Lot is a discount grocery store, but this chain got its start in the Midwest, not Europe. Aldi opened its first store in Germany in 1961. It came to the US in 1976 when it opened a store in Iowa and has gone on to become a juggernaut in the states with over 2,000 locations. Save a Lot opened its first store in Illinois in 1977, eventually expanding throughout the Midwest and then to the East Coast. These days, it's located in over 30 states, and there are more than 1,000 locations.
When I entered the Save a Lot in Chicago, I noticed how small the store was, with just seven aisles. On average, Save a Lot stores are designed to be significantly smaller than a typical grocery store, "making it easy to find the items you're looking for" and to "get in and out of stores quicker than large supermarkets," according to the company's website.
The store was also designed to have wider aisles. Save a Lot's website says this is another design trick to help customers get in and out of the store as quickly as possible. Although the store was mostly empty when I was perusing the aisles, I noted how easy it was to move around and not have to swerve around other customers. The aisles were also great for social distancing while shopping.
As I walked down the aisles, I also noticed the shelves were bare bones. Similar to Aldi stores, many of the items in the Save a Lot were stacked in shipping boxes, so employees don't have to waste time stocking shelves. On the consumer side, I realized this no-frills display made it easier to see and grab each product.
Even the bread aisle was just a row of carts. The chain uses these simple displays to reduce costs.
Signs above the produce section read, "Low prices. Every day," and "Get more. Spend Less," and these rang true. When I took a closer look, I noticed everything in the produce section was ripe, fresh, and cost less than US$3.
The meat section was also reasonably priced. I was surprised to find ground beef that cost only US$3, while it typically costs me US$5 to US$7 at Whole Foods. A few steps down from this section was another wall filled with deli meats.
There was a wall of products called "special buys," which had even bigger discounts. This section sold mustard, ketchup, and off-brand soda for less than US$2 each.
The frozen-food aisle was one of the smallest sections, which surprised me. Typically, the frozen-food sections span for a couple of aisles in grocery stores, but at Save a Lot, there was only one wall. But I realized it had everything other grocery store freezer sections carry, like pizza, vegetables, popsicles, etc. Save a Lot just carried fewer options for each product. The limited options help keep Save a Lot so cheap.
"We carry one size and one variety of each item," Dan Kimack, the former communications manager at Save a Lot, told the Daily Press in 2003. "If it's a can of whole-kernel corn, it's going to be one size and one variety, and it's going to be the most popular size and variety."
The products on the shelves are curated to cut costs, which means you won't find many popular brands at Save a Lot. Aldi is known for its private-label brands, and Save a Lot is no different. The shelves at Save a Lot were filled with brands exclusive to the company.
The shelves were filled with brands like Ginger Evans, Kiggins, and J. Higgs. The Save a Lot brands are named after employees who worked at the company. The McDaniel's brand of coffee, for example, honors David McDaniel, a former Save a Lot employee.
The store does sell some popular brands, like Coca-Cola, albeit at cheaper prices. 2-liter bottle of Coca-Cola only costs US$1.78 at Save a Lot. For comparison, the same size soda costs US$2.19 at Target.
I decided to buy three Save a Lot brand products. I bought J. Higgs' barbecue chips, Kiggins' cinnamon crunch cereal, and Sunny's chocolate chip cookies. Together, they cost just US$5. I later tasted all three and found them to be just as delicious as the more famous brands you'd find at bigger grocery stores.
There were no lines at checkout, that's because I had to bag my own items in a separate area. The cashier handed me a plastic bag and my three items. I was then told to pack my own bags at the table by the windows. Although I could see this becoming a hassle if I did a large grocery haul, it was great for my three items because it made the check-out experience extremely fast.
Save a Lot is not only offering a great shopping experience at low prices, it's also helping underserved communities. Most Save a Lot stores are located in underserved communities that larger grocery chains typically ignore. "I'm on disability and really have to watch how I spend my money," Betty Duffey, a shopper in Tampa, Florida, told the Tampa Bay Times in 2017. "At Publix, I'd spend US$200 a month for groceries. At Winn-Dixie, I'd spend probably around US$150. But at Save-A-Lot, I'll spend US$80 for the same amount of food."
After shopping at Save a Lot, I thought this company has the potential to become the next big grocery craze. At this point, Aldi has a cult following with over 2,000 stores in the US, making it one of the most popular discount grocery stores. Save a Lot only has just over 1,000 stores in the US, but I think it has the potential to catch up with Aldi's popularity because the great deals, spacious aisles, delicious private brands, and focus on speediness is a recipe for success.