I shopped at Save A Lot, a discount grocery store chain, for the first time and believe it should be as popular as Aldi

The exterior of save a lot on the left and the interior on the right
Save a Lot is a discount grocery store. Frank Olito/ Insider
  • Save a Lot is a discount grocery store located in over 30 states, and I shopped at one in Chicago.
  • The store was smaller than most supermarkets, and products were in shipping boxes on shelves.
  • Save a Lot’s delicious brands and intelligent design makes it a strong rival to Aldi.
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

During a recent trip to Chicago, I went to a Save a Lot grocery store and found a very different shopping experience than the one I’m used to.
A sign for save a lot on a road
Save a Lot. Frank Olito/ Insider
These days, it seems there are three grocery store chains everyone talks about: 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, I 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.
The exterior of Save a Lot in Chicago and its parking lot
The exterior of Save a Lot in Chicago. Frank Olito/ Insider
Aldi is Save a Lot’s biggest competitor because they are both known for being discount grocery stores.

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.
The entire Save a Lot store with produce up front and aisles in the background
The entire Save a Lot store. Frank Olito/ Insider
The smaller square footage is a trademark of Save a Lot.

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.
A wide aisle with products on shelves at save a lot
The aisles are wider. Frank Olito/ Insider
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.
Shelves at save a lot filled with boxes and prodcuts
The shelves were stocked with boxes. Frank Olito/ Insider
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 bread sitting on carts at a save a lot
The bread aisle. Frank Olito/ Insider
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.
The produce section with red signs hanging from ceiling at save a lot
The produce section. Frank Olito/ Insider
When I took a closer look, I noticed everything in the produce section was ripe, fresh, and cost less than $US3 ($AU4). 
The meat section was also reasonably priced.
The fresh meat section at save a lot
The fresh meat section. Frank Olito/ Insider
I was surprised to find ground beef that cost only $US3 ($AU4), while it typically costs me $US5 ($AU7) to $US7 ($AU10) 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.
The special buys sections at save a lot
The special buys section. Frank Olito/ Insider
This section sold mustard, ketchup, and off-brand soda for less than $US2 ($AU3) each. 
The frozen-food aisle was one of the smallest sections, which surprised me.
The frozen food section at save a lot
The frozen-food section. Frank Olito/ Insider
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.
Save a lot baking products on a shelf in a box
Ginger Evans is exclusive to Save a Lot. Frank Olito/ Insider
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.
J. Higgs brand chips at save a lot sitting on shelves in boxes
The J. Higgs brand is exclusive to Save a Lot. Frank Olito/ Insider
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 coca cola bottles at save a lot in chicago
The Coca-Cola was cheap. Frank Olito/Insider
A 2-liter bottle of Coca-Cola only costs $US1.78 ($AU2) at Save a Lot. For comparison, the same size soda costs $US2 ($AU3).19 at Target.
I decided to buy three Save a Lot brand products.
Chips, cereal, and cookies laying on a table
The three items I bought. Frank Olito/ Insider
I bought J. Higgs’ barbecue chips, Kiggins’ cinnamon crunch cereal, and Sunny’s chocolate chip cookies. Together, they cost just $US5 ($AU7). 

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.
Cookies and cereal on a table at save a lot
The bagging station. Frank Olito/ Insider
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.
A parking lot at save a lot in chicago
Save a Lot. Frank Olito/ Insider
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 $US200 ($AU271) a month for groceries. At Winn-Dixie, I’d spend probably around $US150 ($AU204). But at Save-A-Lot, I’ll spend $US80 ($AU109) 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.
Holding a save a lot bag with city in the background
Save a Lot can be the next big thing. Frank Olito/ Insider
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.