US election: What a shopping trip to Aldi told me about American society

US election: What a shopping trip to Aldi told me about American society

High inflation is a major issue in the US election campaign. The best place to talk to voters? A German discount store.

I came across the Aldi on the outskirts of Detroit more by chance. I was looking for a souvenir for an interview when I saw the inconspicuous, ash-grey discount store on a main road. I hoped to find German chocolate there, and as I soon found out, they not only had “German Chocolate”, but also: “Bavarian Bratwurst”, “Cheese Spaetzle”, “Fruits of the Forest Strudel”, “German Style Sauerkraut”.

A lot of Germany in Detroit.

The sight in the store was quite impressive: many shelves were empty. The boxes were lying on the floor, the shopping carts were full to the brim, the lines were long. It felt like the summer sales.

“It looks like this almost every day,” said Heather, a single mother who was there with two children and filled her shopping cart to the brim with milk, eggs, vegetables and her favorite dessert: “Bienenstich Almond Cake.” She explained that she came at certain times of the day to get the best selection. She added that Aldi was her salvation in times of increased prices and that she paid almost twice as much in every other supermarket. She didn’t know that Aldi was German. No one I asked did. A customer named Frank said: “Oh, sure, like the German car brand.”

It turns out that Aldi is a good place to talk about the number one campaign issue, inflation. So I kept going, in the suburbs of Michigan as well as in Pennsylvania and in Caribbean-influenced Flatbush, Brooklyn.

Even the US Federal Reserve Chairman understands the frustration

The conversations with Heather, Frank and Lakeesha in Detroit gave a better insight into the worries of average Americans than any statistics: food is inexplicably expensive, the enormous price increases are annoying, wage increases have no effect. “It doesn’t help me if wages go up, but a dozen eggs cost five dollars, milk costs three dollars and gasoline is 50 cents more expensive again,” said Lakeesha, a saleswoman (favorite product: “Bavarian Soft Pretzels”). “On the contrary: It is more psychologically frustrating when wage increases are eaten up by price increases than when everything stays the same.”

Jerome Powell, head of the US Federal Reserve, also recently had to admit this: “We tell people that inflation is falling and they reply: ‘I don’t understand. The prices of the things I buy are not going down.’ And they are not wrong. Inflation has hit poorer people particularly hard from the start.”

The mood in America (and at Aldi) is worse than it has been for years, most recently during the Covid pandemic and the Great Recession of 2009. Not even a quarter of Americans see the country on a good course at the moment. And that is not because they are victims of right-wing doomsday propaganda, as Democrats often claim. It is, as you can find out at Aldi, due to the high prices of food, high rents, mortgage rates, insurance costs, and gasoline prices.

No matter how good the unemployment rate and growth rate are, if Joe Biden loses in November, it will be less due to his advanced age than to high prices (which he has only limited influence over).

“Do I like Bavarian Bratwurst? Yes! Will I vote for Biden again? No!”

Aldi turned out to be a stroke of luck. As a German reporter in a German supermarket, you get into conversation more quickly. The customers said that in this election year, they are not concerned with Ukraine, not with Gaza, not even with Trump’s criminal trials. They are concerned with coping with everyday life. Most of them were Democrats from the lower middle class, whom the Biden administration is helping with various programs. And yet they were so dissatisfied that they can hardly imagine voting for Biden again.

Greg, a mechanic who was shopping at an Aldi in North Philadelphia with his wife, Maggie, put it this way: “Do I like coming here? No! Do I have a choice? No! Am I grateful for cheap food? Yes! Do I like the Bavarian bratwurst? Yes! Do I vote for Biden again? No! Do I vote for Trump instead? No!”

In a way, they see Aldi as a neighborhood helpline. The discount store may not be as neat and appetizing as most other supermarkets, with their polished apples, waxed oranges and 500 types of potato chips. There is hardly any service at Aldi, few employees, and sparse information. And yet the German discounter helps its customers to make ends meet.

Can Aldi get Biden re-elected?

Aldi recently announced that it plans to open hundreds more stores in the US every year, and 800 more by 2028. There are already 2,400, most of them in Florida. Globaldata expert Neil Saunders analyzed that Aldi is making it difficult for its competitors to lower their prices. The first signs are already emerging at WalMart, Kroger and Target, which are increasingly relying on cheap private labels – to the benefit of consumers.

And Joe Biden? Can a company from Mühlheim an der Ruhr help reduce inflation and increase Biden’s chances of being elected?

Yvonne Gerard, born in Haiti, grew up in Brooklyn, Aldi customer in Caribbean-influenced Flatbush, favorite product: “Cheese Spaetzle”, sees only one chance for Biden: “Wages up, prices down, a better life.”

Maybe not a bad campaign slogan.

Source: Stern

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