The “Aisle of Shame” is the unofficial name Aldi enthusiasts have given the store’s middle aisle, home to a weekly rotation of curious edible and non-edible products available only while supplies last. We’re talking everything from vegan lasagna made from lentils to a churro maker and apple cinnamon latte-flavored dog biscuits. The recipe for the Aisle of Shame’s surprising cult status combines the joy of a bargain, the thrill of discovery, the allure of the unusual, and the satisfaction of snapping up a limited-time offer.
“It’s something that you can use to express yourself and add fun and joy to your grocery shopping,” says enthusiastic shopper Brenna Bazemore of its odd assortment of products. “I hate grocery shopping, but I love to go to Aldi and shop, because I know I’m at least going to get something that I can use outside of food and that’s always exciting to me.”
Plus, she can share her excitement with a million other AOS fans in the Facebook group where members share more than recipes, reviews, and Insta-worthy pics. With an evolving lingo, hashtag trends, and a propensity for random acts of kindness, the Aisle of Shame community is a unique food culture inspired by a grocery store. The Aisle of Shame’s edible advent calendars contain beer, cheese, and more. “It started as a fan group and it has become so much more,” writes Stefanie Fleming, the creator of the Aisle of Shame website and Facebook group.
While each week’s AOS items can often seem like a compilation of randomness, a method exists. Since Aldi keeps prices low by stocking about 1,400 products (mostly staples) compared to a conventional grocery store’s 40,000, the AOS introduces more excitement and variety for shoppers. The aisle, which each week is split 50-50 between edible and non-edible items, often has a theme, whether seasonal (pumpkin foods in the fall; pool products in the summer) or regional (many AOS enthusiasts plan meals of schnitzel, spätzle, and strudel around the aisle’s German Week). Nils Brandes, a retail consultant who has co-written a book on Aldi’s business strategies, estimates that 20 percent of all yearly sales come from these products.
The Aisle of Shame is also where the grocers test new products to gauge their popularity—the vegetarian and vegan Earth Grown and gluten-free LiveGfree product lines, for instance, advanced from the AOS to the main aisles. “It’s crazy to think this is a grocery-store community,” Bazemore says.
After some thought, McKillip observes that Aldi shoppers might be more down-to-earth, their need to make a dollar stretch giving them both a healthier perspective about the products and more joy when they have room in their carts and budgets for the AOS’s more quirky products. Ultimately, though, she offers a simpler explanation: “It’s fun.”