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Today I Grocery Shopped

Today I grocery shopped. 

I shopped the big grocery run. 

If you’re the primary shopper in your family, you’ll know there can be multiple runs to the grocery store each week. You have the big run, where you stock up on all the regular necessities for the week. Then, there’s the maintenance run – a quick in-and-out run in which you know exactly where in the store to go and nothing else tempts you. Finally, there’s the whoops run. This only occurs when your produce goes bad, the meat spoils, you burn dinner, or someone in the house ate the last of something you desperately needed. 

In my house, I do the big grocery run about every two weeks, stopping at both Aldi and Costco. Today I realized how vastly different the cultures at each store were. 

Every grocery store has its own appeal – the experience you have at Trader Joe’s differs from Whole Foods, which differs from Target or Publix or Aldi, and so on. Costco is not really a maintenance run store. You leave there with everything you need to survive a hurricane. Aldi is not made for the whoops run. It may or may not be in stock of the one specific item you need. 

But even with the unpredictability of Aldi, it’s my favorite store to shop in because of the culture. I’ve experienced more community in an Aldi than what is expected in a grocery store, simply because of the cart system! You put a quarter in the cart to release it from the stock. Then, when you’re done shopping, you put the cart away and get your quarter back. I’m sure this was done to save costs – less carts stolen, lower labor costs, etc. But what began as a savvy business move has become a community development tool. 

This cart system shows a culture of community, inviting shoppers to embrace the words of High School Musical, “we’re all in this together.” When I walk up to the store, if someone is returning their cart, we make eye contact, exchange a smile, and without saying a word I hand them a quarter and they push me their cart. Simple, efficient solidarity. We don’t know each other, we won’t shop together, but we have this moment of understanding where our responsibilities align. We have a moment of connection to help each other out. We’re all in this together.

But if you head to Costco, you have to get your own cart. Even if someone is returning it to the front of the store, they will not acknowledge your eye contact. Trust me, I’ve tried more than once! It’s not a problem there, it’s just normal. But Aldi requiring a fully refundable buy-in of 25 cents to shop there, is enough to give us the push into a communal shopping experience. If we are committed enough to rent a cart, we have ownership. If we have ownership, we care more about the experience and want others to have that same experience. Community is found here. 

All because of a quarter. It’s effective. And it has created a unique culture in an otherwise routine grocery shopping trip.

Today I grocery shopped. And I experienced community. 

Thanks for making this a part of your day!
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