It finally happened! The European grocery chain Lidl opened its first nine stores in the United States yesterday (June 15). I got to go to one in Virginia, and I must say that I was super impressed and plan on returning again — and again.
Here's what I learned on my inaugural visit.
1. It was very (very) busy.
It was shocking how busy it was. I knew us locals were excited about the new store, but I didn't realize how excited we all actually were. It took me about 10 minutes just to get off the highway and into the parking lot. Luckily, there were a bunch of Lidl employees wearing bright yellow shirts and directing traffic. I'm guessing this won't always be the case and am chalking it up to First Day Frenzies.
2. The app is a must-have.
For the grand opening, there was a tent offering the opportunity to sign up to win a free $500 Lidl gift card, and if you downloaded the Lidl app, you got a free reusable shopping bag. Free bag or not, the app is totally worth downloading, as it sends you special coupons. And the more often you shop there, the more personalized the coupons become based on things you often buy. The app will also keep record of all your receipts.
3. There's one thing to know about the advertised sales.
The entrance had a simple stand holding a stack of flyers advertising the store's weekly specials. But be careful: The prices on the front page aren't for the entire week. The top half features the specials that are good Thursday through Sunday, and the bottom half shows the ones for Monday through Wednesday. I had to do a double take when I got to the red peppers, which I thought were 99 cents each — instead they were actually $1.69, which wasn't as good of a deal.
4. But the shelf tags are super helpful.
The items that are on special are earmarked by bright red tags throughout the store, so you don't really have to worry about the flyers too much. (Just 79 cents for a dark chocolate bar? I bought one and regretted not putting more in my cart!)
5. The produce section is full of bargains.
The first thing you see when you walk in is the abundant produce section. The best part? Beautiful pineapples for 89 cents each and large seedless watermelons for $2.49. I got one of each, but will let them sit a few days to ripen up. The tomatoes on the vine — at 89 cents per pound — were also a good deal, but needed a bit more ripening.
6. And the overall selection is legit.
There were plenty of organic options (from produce to pasta sauce), chopped veggie mixes, bulk nuts, giant family packs of chicken breasts (at $1.29 per pound), name-brand options (Cinnamon Toast Crunch!), and private-label options. My point? You could do your full list of grocery shopping here. Shampoo and toiletries might be a little tougher, though (see next item).
7. If they have the toiletries you need, get them.
My kids don't use diapers anymore, but I totally would have bought them here if this store opened when they were younger. That said, the store's personal care items weren't abundant. In terms of shampoo, there was a Lidl brand and one national brand — and Lidl's was significantly less.
8. There is a free sample section.
There is a special spot in the store designated just for free samples, so you don't have to walk around and hunt for them. I sampled brie with a multi-grain cracker, and a pepper jack cheese with three small pretzels. As cool as that was, the cart also has a special little place where you can stack your little paper sample cups. And while I was there, someone came around and collected the trash!
9. Lidl is a little like Epcot.
Every so often, the stores will highlight a different country. This week happens to be Italy, and so a variety of dried pastas, sauces, olive oil, and more were featured. They were all under the Italiamo brand (a Lidl brand) and at decent prices. I bought one of the wood-fired oven pizzas and the cheese and vegetable bruschetta — each for $2.99 — out of the freezer section.
10. It will become your new beer and wine store.
The beer and wine selection was fairly robust. There were a lot of brands I had never seen before, and everything had a very reasonable price tag. I bought three bargain brands (at less than $4 each) to see how they'd compare to Trader Joe's Two Buck Chuck. I was told that, in a few weeks, there will be a sommelier to offer wine tastings.
11. You should go on Mondays and Thursdays.
Every Monday and Thursday, the stores put out a new shipment of seasonal items that only last a short time. This Thursday, there were lawn and garden supplies, a power washer, women's underwear, yoga mats, a grill, and more, It was random, but that's also what made it fun.
12. Lidl has a cool way of reducing food waste.
The company is all sorts of green. One method that stood out to me: As perishable items (think: milk and yogurt) are getting closer to their expiration date, the store will heavily discount them so that people will buy the items before they expire.
13. There is a great return policy.
There is a "Lidl Love it! Guarantee." If you try a Lidl brand item and are not completely happy with it, you can return it for a refund and they will give you another chance to try something else in its place.
What I Bought
- Ravioli = $2.69
- Havarti = $1.89
- Thin-Crust Pizza = $2.99
- Bruschetta = $2.99
- Dried Apricots = $1.99
- Olive Oil = $3.99
- Ground Coffee = $3.99
- Balsamic Spray = $1.99
- Organic Instant Oatmeal = $2.49
- Organic Pasta Sauce = $1.89
- Tortilla Chips = $1.69
- Dark Chocolate Bar = $0.79
- Belgian-Style Wheat Ale = $5.49
- Sierra Pines Cab = $2.89
- Sweet Kabinett = $3.89
- Pink Moscato = $3.99
- Cauliflower = $2.29
- Frosted Wheat = $1.89
- Broccoli = $2.31
- Cucumbers = $1.99
- Peppers = $2.99
- Pineapple = $0.89
- Watermelon = $2.49
Total with tax: $62.58
More on the new store: Lidl's Grand Opening Prices Are Real and They're Spectacular