The ‘middle aisle’ has long been a favourite for millions of shoppers who have time to browse in Aldi and Lidl.
And this week both supermarkets said they were part of the reason why they outperformed all the bigger supermarkets over Christmas.
Lidl posted a 2.6 per cent year-on-year rise in UK sales over the four weeks to December 26 – up 21 per cent when compared with pre-pandemic levels two years earlier. It said its Christmas jumpers were the fastest-selling item in its so-called ‘Middle of Lidl’ aisle, with around one sold every two seconds on its first day of sale.
Aldi hailed its “best ever” Christmas after a jump in December trading, with sales increased by 0.4 per cent compared with the same month last year. Its best sellers included a talking Dobbie and various cut-price power tools.
Much thought goes into the middle aisle. New items come on a Thursday and many shoppers make special trip to see what’s on offer. For others, the aisle literally interrupts the grocery shopping. You go in for milk and bread and arrive home with a lawnmower and matching PJs for your dog.
This week, the options are aplenty in both stores. New offers include an LED Face Mask from Aldi for £49.99, complete with different low-level wavelengths of light: red, green and blue. Lidl is this week pushing house plants, include aloe vera, monstera, ficus or platycerium to choose from at £4.99 each.
Aldi says it plans to recruit more than 100 additional British suppliers as it continues to strengthen its business against supply chain challenges. And that will mean more variety on the middle aisle.
The recruitment drive will include finding more British suppliers for its ‘Specialbuys’, some of which were hit by global shipping delays from China. Lidl also says it will increase variety while maintaining low prices. It claims it had attracted £21m worth of spending from customers who had switched away from other stores in December.
See what happened when we put Aldi and Lidl's middle aisles to the test . . .
Aldi's middle aisle: So much I never know I needed
How far can you go with £15 and the 'Specialbuys' section of Aldi? As it turns out, pretty far.
Walking up and down the middle aisle at the store, you get a sense of how it is trying to be a different option to the likes of Asda, Sainsbury’s and Tesco.
Aldi has laid out a wide selection of items that differ from the usual food and drink items available in store. Some are useful, others weird and wonderful.
At first glance, you see that Aldi has set it out with some thought. Items such as a ball rebounder net and a full collection of Mr Men books are at the start of the aisle, meaning your interest is already drawn to the more unusual items.
Walking along, you can see household items such as a knitted pouffe for the living room, towels and dressing gowns and an air steamer, as well as a make-a-friend dragon and children’s games for less than £10.
It’s easy to see why Aldi puts on these sections and offers price reductions on certain items, such as an Himalayan Salt lamp for £9.99, hand and body sanitisers and a cordless polisher, as it brings in shoppers looking for something new. Other more conventional items are also on sale, such as socks, kitchen scales and gloves, as well as a section of small weights and health gels for people keen to keep fit.
With so much on offer across four aisles, the task for me is to spend £15 on useful and/or unique items for the home.
My interest was initially piqued by the Mr Men collection and the ball returner, but prices above my budget end that quest. However, I then see an angle grinder on sale for £9.99, reduced from £19.99. Who knew I needed one of those?
That leaves me £5 left to play with, which goes on a novelty cat scratching post shaped as a skateboard that my cat might like and a facial scrub for men, which smelt nice.
These items came to £14.97 overall, really good value for items that might cost more elsewhere and a demonstration of the value Aldi places in selling its items.
Lidl's middle aisle: Fancy seeing Mariah Carey here!
You can choose between the wisdom of Eddie Jones and the practicalities of homeware in the Lidl middle aisle.
The store has many similarities to Aldi in providing cheaper versions of household items, food and drink, as well as having a special middle aisle section.
Where it differs, as can be seen in the middle aisle in the Bilston store, is the set-up of the items on offer and the way to access them, as well as the theme of the section.
As you walk up the middle aisle section, you see that there is only one section, with the items on offer going on both sides, but with a three-tier stacked system in front of you. Lidl also puts on themed sales events, with seasonal clothing, kids' fashions, plants and other types of home improvement items available to buy for reduced prices.
My first glance was to the autobiographies and books on sale, with Mariah Carey’s The Meaning of Mariah, England Rugby Union coach Eddie Jones’ autobiography and a book by Formula one drivers Damon Hill and Johnny Herbert on sale for £4.99. Unlike Aldi, there was no set section in the aisles for items, with women’s clothing, including oversized hoodies and leg warmers, set alongside men’s walking boots and a toy angle grinder.
There are also some surprise items on offer in the middle aisle, with my eyes drawn to a Slush Puppy machine, a Friends Trivial Pursuit game, a Harry Potter wand and a full working DIY bench with all the tools for £99.99.
As with Aldi, I was tasked with using £15 to buy something that took my fancy. I found a toilet seat with vivid colour on sale for £12.99, which seemed good value and looked like a quality item. With just more than £3 left to spend, I looked at some of the smaller items, such as small candles, and eventually settled on three toothbrushes, which were part of a deal where you can get that, one big brush or a charcoal toothpaste for £1.99.
Lidl’s middle aisle, like Aldi’s, was full of surprises. And browsing both were a fun way to waste an afternoon.