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How a cheap, brutally efficient chain is upending US supermarkets

how-a-cheap-brutally-efficient-chain-is-upending-us-supermarkets

Running a supermarket in America has never been harder.

Profits are razor thin. Online shopping and home delivery are changing the way people buy their food. Dollar stores and drugstores are selling more groceries. Pressures are so intense that regional chains like Southeastern Grocers, the owner of Winn-Dixie and Bi-Lo, filed for bankruptcy. Large companies increasingly control the industry, which had long operated as a dispersed network of smaller, local grocers. And even Walmart — the largest player of all — faces new competition from Amazon, which bought Whole Foods in 2017 for almost $14 billion.

But when Walmart’s US CEO Greg Foran invokes words like “fierce,” “good” and “clever” in speaking almost admiringly about one of his competitors, he’s not referring to Amazon. He isn’t pointing to large chains like Kroger or Albertsons, dollar stores like Dollar General or online entrants like FreshDirect and Instacart.

Foran is describing Aldi, the no-frills German discount grocery chain that’s growing aggressively in the United States and reshaping the industry along the way.


In recent years, Aldi has expanded its produce and organic offerings to draw in more customers.
In recent years, Aldi has expanded its produce and organic offerings to draw in more customers.

New customers may be jolted at first by the experience of shopping at an Aldi, which expects its customers to endure a number of minor inconveniences not typical at other American grocery stores. Shoppers need a quarter to rent a shopping cart. Plastic and paper bags are available only for a fee. And at checkout, cashiers hurry shoppers away, expecting them to bag their own groceries in a separate location away from the cash register.

But Aldi has built a cult-like following. When it enters a new town, it’s not uncommon for hundreds of people to turn out for the grand opening. The allure is all in the rock-bottom prices, which are so cheap that Aldi often beats Walmart at its own low-price game.

“I am willing to do the extra work because the prices are amazing,” said Diane Youngpeter, who runs a fan blog about the grocer called the Aldi Nerd and an Aldi Facebook group with 50,000 members. “There’s a lot of Aldi nerds out there,” she said. “I didn’t realize that there were so many of us.”

On a recent trip to an Aldi in New Jersey, antibiotic-free chicken was $4.29 a pound. At nearby competitors, Trader Joe’s “All Natural Chicken” and Whole Foods’ “365 Organic Fresh Chicken” were $4.99 and $6.99 a pound, respectively.

Aldi has more than 1,800 stores in 35 states and is focused on growing in the Midwest, the Mid-Atlantic, Florida and California. It’s on track to become America’s third largest supermarket chain behind Walmart and Kroger, with 2,500 stores by the end of 2022. Its close competitor Lidl, another German grocer with a similar low-cost business model, is racing to grow in the United States, too.

Amid their aggressive growth push, the two discount chains have forced the rest of the grocery industry to make big changes to hold onto their customers. Aldi has even encroached on Walmart’s turf— literally. As if throwing down a gauntlet, in October Aldi opened a store in Bentonville, Arkansas, just a mile from Walmart’s corporate headquarters.

“I never underestimate them,” Foran said at an industry conference in March. “I’ve been competing against Aldi for 20-plus years. They are fierce and they are good.”

But as competitors fight back, can the company hold on to its low-cost advantage? Can it stick to what it calls the “Aldi way?”

The Aldi way: How the chain beats Walmart on price

There’s no secret to how Aldi keeps its prices so low: The company strips down the shopping experience in an unapologetically and brutally efficient way.

“They are able to drive out every fractional cent of cost without compromising on quality,” said Katrijn Gielens, professor of marketing at UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School.

Aldi is privately held, and through a spokesperson, the company declined to make its executives available for interviews. But Gielens estimates that its operating costs are about half those of mainstream retailers. The company also operates at a lower profit margin than competitors, she said.

From a customer’s point of view, the distinct experience starts at the shopping carts, which Aldi keeps locked up.

25-cent deposit

Aldi locks up its shopping carts to save on labor costs. Customers deposit a quarter, which they get back when they return the carts.

25-cent deposit

Rather than employ a team of runners to retrieve carts from the parking lot all day, Aldi expects its customers to return carts to the store after each shopping trip. It forces that behavior by charging customers a quarter deposit that they get back when they return their carts.

This is not a novel idea. Several American grocers tried it in the 1980s and 1990s, but abandoned the practice after it annoyed customers who had come to expect more services at  their grocery stores. Aldi, which opened its first US store in Iowa in 1976, has stuck with the model, insisting the deposit system is key to its low-price strategy. The store’s most die-hard fans even celebrate it, heralding when Aldi offers “quarter keeper” keychains from time to time. Some fans even knit their own versions. A search on Etsy for “Aldi quarter keeper” turns up more than 500 results.

“I never underestimate them. I’ve been competing against Aldi for 20-plus years. They are fierce and they are good.”

Greg Foran, CEO of Walmart’s US operations

The quirks don’t stop there.

When customers enter stores, they’ll notice they look almost nothing like traditional supermarkets in the United States. With five or six super-wide aisles, Aldi only stocks around 1,400 items — compared to around 40,000 at traditional supermarkets and more than 100,000 at Walmart supercenters.


Aldi displays products in their original cardboard shipping boxes, rather than stacking them individually, to save employees time stocking shelves.
Aldi displays products in their original cardboard shipping boxes, rather than stacking them individually, to save employees time stocking shelves.

For time-strapped shoppers like Youngpeter, Aldi’s simple layouts and limited selection save her time. “I’m a busy mom. I don’t have time to navigate a huge grocery store with kids begging to get out and go home,” she said. “I can get in and out of an Aldi in no time. I’m not sifting through 50 different varieties of salsa.”

And good luck trying to find major name brands. More than 90% of the brands Aldi sells are its own private labels like Simply Nature organic products, Millville cereals, Burman’s ketchup and Specially Selected bread. (If this sounds like Trader Joe’s, that’s not a coincidence. The two companies share a common history.)

The packaging on these items sometimes looks so similar to  brand-name alternatives that customers find themselves doing a double-take. Aldi’s Honey Nut Crispy Oats, for example, come in a box nearly the same shades of orange, yellow and brown as General Mills’ Honey Nut Cheerios, and with a similar font, too. Aldi sells its Tandil laundry detergent in an orange plastic jug with blue and yellow graphics reminiscent of Tide. The Millville Toaster Tarts, an Aldi house brand, look strikingly similar to Pop-Tarts — but a 12-pack of the Millville version is $1.85 while a 12-pack of Pop-Tarts costs $2.75.


More than 90% of the products Aldi sells are its own private labels. In many cases, the packaging closely resembles familiar brands.
More than 90% of the products Aldi sells are its own private labels. In many cases, the packaging closely resembles familiar brands.

“I’m like, ‘these corn flakes are just as good, if not better, than the ones that have a chicken on the box! They’re the same exact ones,’” said Allison Robicelli, a food writer in Baltimore who describes herself as an Aldi loyalist.

Although it may not be obvious at first glance, Aldi employs several key design details that maximize efficiency at checkout, too. On many of its products, barcodes are either supersized or printed on multiple sides to speed up the scanning process. After groceries are rung up, there’s nowhere for them to linger. The cashier drops them directly into a shopping cart below. Aldi doesn’t waste time bagging groceries. Customers must wheel away their shopping carts to bag their own groceries in a separate section at the front. Since stores don’t offer free bags, customers often scour the store for empty cardboard boxes to use instead.

“Those lines fly. You’re not waiting for people to bag. They’re not messing around there,” said Robicelli. “Once you see that kind of efficiency, it makes going to other supermarkets really annoying and really tedious.”

Speedy cashiers

Another labor-saving trick: Cashiers don’t bag groceries. Instead, they drop items directly into customers’ carts.

Speedy cashiers

Aldi has other tactics to keep real estate and labor costs down. Size is one factor. A Walmart supercenter averages around 178,000 square feet. Costco warehouses average around 145,000 square feet. Aldi’s small box stores, however, take up just a fraction of that space, at 12,000 square feet on average.

Aldi only stocks about 1,400 items compared to 40,000 at traditional supermarkets.

1,400 VS 40,000

Aldi only stocks about 1,400 items compared to 40,000 at traditional supermarkets.

And unlike other stores, where there’s a clear division of labor — runners retrieve carts, cashiers ring up customers and clerks stock shelves — Aldi employees are cross-trained to perform every function. Their duties are also streamlined. Aldi displays products in their original cardboard shipping boxes, rather than stacking them individually, to save employees time stocking shelves. Most stores don’t list their phone numbers publicly because Aldi doesn’t want its workers to spend time answering calls.

The result: A single Aldi might have only three to five employees in the store at any given time, and only 15 to 20 on the entire payroll. The company claims to pay its workers above the industry average, but still saves on overall labor costs simply by having fewer people.

All of these cost savings add up and are passed on to customers. Aldi claims its prices are up to 50% cheaper than traditional supermarkets, and independent analysis by Wolfe Research shows its prices are around 15% cheaper than Walmart in markets like Houston and Chicago.


Aldi is investing $1.9 billion in remodeling 1,300 US stores, including expanded frozen and refrigerated sections.
Aldi is investing $1.9 billion in remodeling 1,300 US stores, including expanded frozen and refrigerated sections.

“They’ve driven prices down, cleverly,” Walmart’s Foran said. Last year, he noted that when he visited Aldi, a gallon of milk and a dozen eggs each cost 99 cents. Foran said he and his team could not risk losing on those popular items.

Despite the stripped-down store experience, Aldi scores higher on customer satisfaction surveys and benefits far more from word-of-mouth marketing than Walmart and other supermarkets. It has one of the highest Net Promoter Scores — a key measure of how likely customers are to recommend the brand to their friends and family — in the grocery industry, according to Bain & Company.

Cheap kombucha on the shelves, BMWs in the parking lots

After Aldi first entered the United States, it took two decades for the company to expand to 500 stores.

Now, in its rapid growth phase, Aldi is on track to open more than 130 new stores just this year alone.


It’s not uncommon to see luxury cars in Aldi’s parking lots — a detail even a top Walmart executive has noted.
It’s not uncommon to see luxury cars in Aldi’s parking lots — a detail even a top Walmart executive has noted.

The Great Recession and its slow recovery helped the discount grocer gain popularity among budget-conscious shoppers in the United States. Aldi’s latest expansion builds on that momentum. “Over the last 10 years, they’ve really flourished in the US,” said Mikey Vu, partner at Bain. “There’s instability in the economy. People are worried. They’re paying much closer attention to pennies on their grocery purchases than ever before.”

85% of US shoppers say they're open to trying store brands.

85%85% of US shoppers say they’re open to trying store brands.

Source: Bain & Company survey

Of course, Aldi is not the only discount store growing in retail. TJMaxx, Ross and Burlington are all opening new doors, and their cheap prices have put pressure on department stores. Ollie’s Bargain Outlet and Five Below are growing rapidly. Dollar General has opened up thousands of stores in recent years.

For Aldi, part of its success lies in appealing not only to low or mid-income shoppers, but to wealthier ones as well. Aldi’s core shopper tends to make more money and have a slightly higher education level than the overall grocery shopper, according to Bain. On a recent trip to an Aldi in Hackensack, New Jersey, luxury vehicles, including a $50,000 Jaguar and an $80,000 Tesla Model X, dotted the small parking lot alongside Toyotas, Fords and Hondas. Walmart’s Foran has marveled that when he visited an Aldi in Australia, BMWs and Mercedes were in the parking lot there, too.

“People love saving money on staples. And it would apply to every single person in this room,” he said to an audience of investors and retail executives at a Four Seasons Hotel in Boston. “You feel pretty good if you can save $10 on your grocery bill because it makes you feel better when you go out for dinner on Saturday night and spend $200 at a restaurant.”

In recent years, Aldi has ramped up its efforts to appeal to high-income shoppers by offering more fresh, organic produce as well as imported items like Irish cheese, brioche from France and pastas from Italy. The stores now offer private-label versions of kombucha, cold-pressed juices, an array of gluten-free products and peanut butter powder.

“It used to be the white label knock-off stuff that you were a little bit embarrassed to buy, but it was cheap. Now, people don’t care anymore about the big brands the way they used to. That plays right into the Aldi playbook.”

Mikey Vu, partner at Bain & Company

Aldi is investing $1.9 billion to remodel 1,300 stores with natural lighting and refreshed produce, diary and meat sections. Since 2017, its new stores have been concentrated in more populous, upper middle-class suburbs, according to Bain. Aldi’s new stores are in zip codes with a $65,822 household income on average — about $4,500 above the national average. “They’re clearly trying to go after a more upmarket customer,” Vu said.

As part of its plan to attract a broader range of US shoppers, Aldi is offering more specialty products at low prices, including its own peanut butter powder and kombucha.

Part of Aldi’s appeal is not in a lower grocery bill alone, but in the way Aldi cleverly markets its discounts, UNC’s Gielens said. Bargain hunters across the income ladder end up feeling like they’re outsmarting other, higher-priced supermarkets and big brands when they see their grocery receipts. Aiming to be the “smart shopping alternative,” Aldi wants to “spread the message that traditional grocers and brands simply rip off consumers,” she said.

Aldi hammers home that message on its signs in stores. “The same is always better when it costs less.” “New deals every week. Find them here. Brag like crazy.” Aldi encourages customers to ditch their grocery stores: “Switch and save.”

Americans are listening. Last year, 19% of shoppers who switched retailers started buying at Aldi, according to a Morgan Stanley survey. That was second only to Walmart.

More Barcodes

On many products, barcodes are either super large or they’re printed on multiple sides to speed up the scanning process at the cash register.

More Barcodes

Aldi’s reliance on private-label brands is also helping it win Millennials, who are increasingly brand-agnostic and are instead drawn to lower prices and convenience, according to Bain data. Private-label products have undergone a renaissance in recent years and are now growing faster at supermarkets than the top 20 national brands, Nielsen data shows.

Stores like Trader Joe’s and Costco have built empires selling their own brands. Costco’s Kirkland Signature, for example, raked in nearly $40 billion last year, an 11% increase from 2017. Kirkland’s sales last year beat out Campbell Soup, Kellogg and Hershey put together. Retailers’ brands challenge these consumer goods heavyweights, which spend billions marketing their products.

“It used to be the white label knock-off stuff that you were a little bit embarrassed to buy, but it was cheap,” Vu said of store brands. Now, Bain customer surveys show that 85% of US shoppers say they’re open to trying private label products. “People don’t care anymore about the big brands the way they used to,” he said. “That plays right into the Aldi playbook.”


The “Aldi Finds” aisle, which includes seasonal and quirky items, is popular among regular shoppers.
The “Aldi Finds” aisle, which includes seasonal and quirky items, is popular among regular shoppers.

It all began with a thrifty family

Aldi’s obsession with frugality comes from its early owners: brothers Theo and Karl Albrecht, who took over the family grocery business in Essen, Germany after World War II. Out of necessity, early stores initially stocked only a handful of items, but the brothers planned to expand the selection as the business grew. Over time, however, they recognized that they could be successful selling a narrow range of basics. “If we did not want to offer customers a wide range of products, then we had at least to offer them some other advantage. From that point on, we sold our products for decisively less,” Karl said in 1953, according to a book by former Aldi manager Dieter Brandes.

Theo was so insistent on keeping costs low that he was known to take notes on both sides of a piece of paper and to turn off the lights at stores during the daytime. The brothers purposefully kept store aesthetics to a Spartan minimum. “There are no decorations in stores,” Karl said in 1953. “All of our promotional efforts are put into discount prices.”

In 1961, the brothers split the business in two, reportedly over a dispute over whether to sell cigarettes in stores. Karl took southern Germany, and Theo ran the North. To this day, Aldi Süd and Aldi Nord remain separate companies, with the dividing line between the two in Germany known as the “Aldi Equator.”


Aldi’s stores are smaller than traditional supermarkets and feature wide aisles.
Aldi’s stores are smaller than traditional supermarkets and feature wide aisles.

Aldi Süd is the company that’s expanding rapidly now in the United States, as well as throughout Europe. Aldi Nord also has an American presence through Trader Joe’s, which it acquired in 1979 — but its growth is less ambitious than that of its cousin company. Trader Joe’s had 484 stores in United States at the end of 2018.

The Albrecht brothers both passed away within the last decade. Now, the two chains operate in 18 countries, bringing in an estimated $98 billion in combined sales last year, according to Deloitte. That revenue makes the Aldi companies not only one of the largest grocers, but also the eighth biggest retailer in the world. The two Aldis combined are now larger than CVS or Tesco, and just a few rungs down from Amazon, Home Depot and Walgreens Boots Alliance.

Competitors react

Aldi Süd’s rapid growth in the United States mimics its broader international expansion in places like Ireland, Hungary, Switzerland, Australia and even China. The company has also grown quickly in the United Kingdom, where many local grocers ignored Aldi until it was too late.

But as Aldi scales in the United States, there are real concerns about whether it can maintain its low-cost advantage. American competitors have learned to respond faster when Aldi lowers prices, which could blunt its impact.


Customers bag their own groceries at Aldi. It’s yet another way the store saves on labor costs.
Customers bag their own groceries at Aldi. It’s yet another way the store saves on labor costs.

“They’ve taken Aldi as a much more credible threat,” Vu said.

Walmart has narrowed its price gap with Aldi since July 2017, according to a study conducted by Wolfe Research analyst Scott Mushkin, who recorded prices of 40 top-selling items at a Houston Walmart and an Aldi across the street from one another. Walmart also narrowed that gap with Aldi in Chicago-area stores, he found.

To counter Walmart and other grocers’ moves, Aldi has started compromising its bare-bones approach. In September, it launched a national advertising campaign, including television commercials, to drive the message that it sells high-quality products. Aldi also recently pledged to cut plastic and transition to 100% sustainable packaging by 2025 — not a cheap endeavor. Aldi increased its fresh food offerings by 40% in 2018 by expanding its produce selection and adding new vegan and vegetarian options. And it started offering more alternative milks, including soy and almond.

Those changes are expensive and could eat away at Aldi’s margins. “The model only works if they are the actual cheapest,” said Simon Johnstone, analyst at Kantar.


“Those lines fly. You’re not waiting for people to bag. They’re not messing around there,” said Allison Robicelli, a frequent Aldi shopper.
“Those lines fly. You’re not waiting for people to bag. They’re not messing around there,” said Allison Robicelli, a frequent Aldi shopper.

Customers also say they’re starting to notice a few more brand-name goods on the shelves, such as Coca-Cola, Tide and Old Spice deodorant. “I honestly don’t like it when they bring in national brands. I like the sanctity of Aldi,” Robicelli said, adding that she worries prices might go up.

At the same time, Aldi faces heightened competition from its closest rival, Lidl. Lidl cut the ribbon on its first US stores in Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina in 2017 and recently opened three stores outside of Atlanta. It’s expanding in upper income communities, too. Now, Lidl operates more than 60 stores in the country.

Aldi is closely monitoring Lidl’s growth. In a federal lawsuit filed in March, Aldi alleged that two of its former US employees illegally shared confidential information about its sales, future store locations and real estate strategy with Lidl.

A spokesperson for Lidl said the company “believes in fair competition and the allegations in the lawsuit are not consistent with our business practices and values. We are looking into the claims, which we take seriously.”


Other American grocers have tried shopping cart deposits but abandoned the practice after it irritated shoppers. Aldi has stuck with the model, insisting it’s core to the store’s low-cost strategy.
Other American grocers have tried shopping cart deposits but abandoned the practice after it irritated shoppers. Aldi has stuck with the model, insisting it’s core to the store’s low-cost strategy.

Aldi’s lasting impact: Lower prices and fewer grocers

Although huge competitors can reduce prices to compete with Aldi, regional supermarkets are getting squeezed by the grocery price war.

Tops Markets and Southeastern Grocers, the owner of Winn-Dixie and Bi-Lo, have recently filed for bankruptcy. Save-A-Lot, the second-largest discount grocery chain in the United States after Aldi, is deep in debt and can’t afford to continue lowering prices without sacrificing profit.

“Aldi and Lidl will be a significant disrupting force in the US, threatening smaller regional supermarket chains and forcing larger players to cut prices,” Fitch Solutions said in a research report in March.

More bankruptcies are on the way for America’s grocery stores, analysts predict. “The US has a much bigger tranche of second and third tier grocery retailers,” said Vu from Bain. “Those are the ones that are dying off.”

With smaller grocers disappearing, there’s probably room for both Walmart and Aldi to pick up the pieces, Vu added. In the meantime, Aldi will keep leading the price wars, putting pressure on the bigger players, too.

“They’re incredibly successful,” he said. “We haven’t seen a disrupter in the grocery space like this in a long time.”

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A cheap, brutally efficient chain is reshaping the US grocery industry

a-cheap-brutally-efficient-chain-is-reshaping-the-us-grocery-industry

Running a supermarket in America has never been harder.

Profits are razor thin. Online shopping and home delivery are changing the way people buy their food. Dollar stores and drugstores are selling more groceries. Pressures are so intense that regional chains like Southeastern Grocers, the owner of Winn-Dixie and Bi-Lo, filed for bankruptcy. Large companies increasingly control the industry, which had long operated as a dispersed network of smaller, local grocers. And even Walmart — the largest player of all — faces new competition from Amazon, which bought Whole Foods in 2017 for almost $14 billion.

But when Walmart’s US CEO Greg Foran invokes words like “fierce,” “good” and “clever” in speaking almost admiringly about one of his competitors, he’s not referring to Amazon. He isn’t pointing to large chains like Kroger or Albertsons, dollar stores like Dollar General or online entrants like FreshDirect and Instacart.

Foran is describing Aldi, the no-frills German discount grocery chain that’s growing aggressively in the United States and reshaping the industry along the way.


In recent years, Aldi has expanded its produce and organic offerings to draw in more customers.
In recent years, Aldi has expanded its produce and organic offerings to draw in more customers.

New customers may be jolted at first by the experience of shopping at an Aldi, which expects its customers to endure a number of minor inconveniences not typical at other American grocery stores. Shoppers need a quarter to rent a shopping cart. Plastic and paper bags are available only for a fee. And at checkout, cashiers hurry shoppers away, expecting them to bag their own groceries in a separate location away from the cash register.

But Aldi has built a cult-like following. When it enters a new town, it’s not uncommon for hundreds of people to turn out for the grand opening. The allure is all in the rock-bottom prices, which are so cheap that Aldi often beats Walmart at its own low-price game.

“I am willing to do the extra work because the prices are amazing,” said Diane Youngpeter, who runs a fan blog about the grocer called the Aldi Nerd and an Aldi Facebook group with 50,000 members. “There’s a lot of Aldi nerds out there,” she said. “I didn’t realize that there were so many of us.”

On a recent trip to an Aldi in New Jersey, antibiotic-free chicken was $4.29 a pound. At nearby competitors, Trader Joe’s “All Natural Chicken” and Whole Foods’ “365 Organic Fresh Chicken” were $4.99 and $6.99 a pound, respectively.

Aldi has more than 1,800 stores in 35 states and is focused on growing in the Midwest, the Mid-Atlantic, Florida and California. It’s on track to become America’s third largest supermarket chain behind Walmart and Kroger, with 2,500 stores by the end of 2022. Its close competitor Lidl, another German grocer with a similar low-cost business model, is racing to grow in the United States, too.

Amid their aggressive growth push, the two discount chains have forced the rest of the grocery industry to make big changes to hold onto their customers. Aldi has even encroached on Walmart’s turf— literally. As if throwing down a gauntlet, in October Aldi opened a store in Bentonville, Arkansas, just a mile from Walmart’s corporate headquarters.

“I never underestimate them,” Foran said at an industry conference in March. “I’ve been competing against Aldi for 20-plus years. They are fierce and they are good.”

But as competitors fight back, can the company hold on to its low-cost advantage? Can it stick to what it calls the “Aldi way?”

The Aldi way: How the chain beats Walmart on price

There’s no secret to how Aldi keeps its prices so low: The company strips down the shopping experience in an unapologetically and brutally efficient way.

“They are able to drive out every fractional cent of cost without compromising on quality,” said Katrijn Gielens, professor of marketing at UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School.

Aldi is privately held, and through a spokesperson, the company declined to make its executives available for interviews. But Gielens estimates that its operating costs are about half those of mainstream retailers. The company also operates at a lower profit margin than competitors, she said.

From a customer’s point of view, the distinct experience starts at the shopping carts, which Aldi keeps locked up.

25-cent deposit

Aldi locks up its shopping carts to save on labor costs. Customers deposit a quarter, which they get back when they return the carts.

25-cent deposit

Rather than employ a team of runners to retrieve carts from the parking lot all day, Aldi expects its customers to return carts to the store after each shopping trip. It forces that behavior by charging customers a quarter deposit that they get back when they return their carts.

This is not a novel idea. Several American grocers tried it in the 1980s and 1990s, but abandoned the practice after it annoyed customers who had come to expect more services at  their grocery stores. Aldi, which opened its first US store in Iowa in 1976, has stuck with the model, insisting the deposit system is key to its low-price strategy. The store’s most die-hard fans even celebrate it, heralding when Aldi offers “quarter keeper” keychains from time to time. Some fans even knit their own versions. A search on Etsy for “Aldi quarter keeper” turns up more than 500 results.

“I never underestimate them. I’ve been competing against Aldi for 20-plus years. They are fierce and they are good.”

Greg Foran, CEO of Walmart’s US operations

The quirks don’t stop there.

When customers enter stores, they’ll notice they look almost nothing like traditional supermarkets in the United States. With five or six super-wide aisles, Aldi only stocks around 1,400 items — compared to around 40,000 at traditional supermarkets and more than 100,000 at Walmart supercenters.


Aldi displays products in their original cardboard shipping boxes, rather than stacking them individually, to save employees time stocking shelves.
Aldi displays products in their original cardboard shipping boxes, rather than stacking them individually, to save employees time stocking shelves.

For time-strapped shoppers like Youngpeter, Aldi’s simple layouts and limited selection save her time. “I’m a busy mom. I don’t have time to navigate a huge grocery store with kids begging to get out and go home,” she said. “I can get in and out of an Aldi in no time. I’m not sifting through 50 different varieties of salsa.”

And good luck trying to find major name brands. More than 90% of the brands Aldi sells are its own private labels like Simply Nature organic products, Millville cereals, Burman’s ketchup and Specially Selected bread. (If this sounds like Trader Joe’s, that’s not a coincidence. The two companies share a common history.)

The packaging on these items sometimes looks so similar to  brand-name alternatives that customers find themselves doing a double-take. Aldi’s Honey Nut Crispy Oats, for example, come in a box nearly the same shades of orange, yellow and brown as General Mills’ Honey Nut Cheerios, and with a similar font, too. Aldi sells its Tandil laundry detergent in an orange plastic jug with blue and yellow graphics reminiscent of Tide. The Millville Toaster Tarts, an Aldi house brand, look strikingly similar to Pop-Tarts — but a 12-pack of the Millville version is $1.85 while a 12-pack of Pop-Tarts costs $2.75.


More than 90% of the products Aldi sells are its own private labels. In many cases, the packaging closely resembles familiar brands.
More than 90% of the products Aldi sells are its own private labels. In many cases, the packaging closely resembles familiar brands.

“I’m like, ‘these corn flakes are just as good, if not better, than the ones that have a chicken on the box! They’re the same exact ones,’” said Allison Robicelli, a food writer in Baltimore who describes herself as an Aldi loyalist.

Although it may not be obvious at first glance, Aldi employs several key design details that maximize efficiency at checkout, too. On many of its products, barcodes are either supersized or printed on multiple sides to speed up the scanning process. After groceries are rung up, there’s nowhere for them to linger. The cashier drops them directly into a shopping cart below. Aldi doesn’t waste time bagging groceries. Customers must wheel away their shopping carts to bag their own groceries in a separate section at the front. Since stores don’t offer free bags, customers often scour the store for empty cardboard boxes to use instead.

“Those lines fly. You’re not waiting for people to bag. They’re not messing around there,” said Robicelli. “Once you see that kind of efficiency, it makes going to other supermarkets really annoying and really tedious.”

Speedy cashiers

Another labor-saving trick: Cashiers don’t bag groceries. Instead, they drop items directly into customers’ carts.

Speedy cashiers

Aldi has other tactics to keep real estate and labor costs down. Size is one factor. A Walmart supercenter averages around 178,000 square feet. Costco warehouses average around 145,000 square feet. Aldi’s small box stores, however, take up just a fraction of that space, at 12,000 square feet on average.

Aldi only stocks about 1,400 items compared to 40,000 at traditional supermarkets.

1,400 VS 40,000

Aldi only stocks about 1,400 items compared to 40,000 at traditional supermarkets.

And unlike other stores, where there’s a clear division of labor — runners retrieve carts, cashiers ring up customers and clerks stock shelves — Aldi employees are cross-trained to perform every function. Their duties are also streamlined. Aldi displays products in their original cardboard shipping boxes, rather than stacking them individually, to save employees time stocking shelves. Most stores don’t list their phone numbers publicly because Aldi doesn’t want its workers to spend time answering calls.

The result: A single Aldi might have only three to five employees in the store at any given time, and only 15 to 20 on the entire payroll. The company claims to pay its workers above the industry average, but still saves on overall labor costs simply by having fewer people.

All of these cost savings add up and are passed on to customers. Aldi claims its prices are up to 50% cheaper than traditional supermarkets, and independent analysis by Wolfe Research shows its prices are around 15% cheaper than Walmart in markets like Houston and Chicago.


Aldi is investing $1.9 billion in remodeling 1,300 US stores, including expanded frozen and refrigerated sections.
Aldi is investing $1.9 billion in remodeling 1,300 US stores, including expanded frozen and refrigerated sections.

“They’ve driven prices down, cleverly,” Walmart’s Foran said. Last year, he noted that when he visited Aldi, a gallon of milk and a dozen eggs each cost 99 cents. Foran said he and his team could not risk losing on those popular items.

Despite the stripped-down store experience, Aldi scores higher on customer satisfaction surveys and benefits far more from word-of-mouth marketing than Walmart and other supermarkets. It has one of the highest Net Promoter Scores — a key measure of how likely customers are to recommend the brand to their friends and family — in the grocery industry, according to Bain & Company.

Cheap kombucha on the shelves, BMWs in the parking lots

After Aldi first entered the United States, it took two decades for the company to expand to 500 stores.

Now, in its rapid growth phase, Aldi is on track to open more than 130 new stores just this year alone.


It’s not uncommon to see luxury cars in Aldi’s parking lots — a detail even a top Walmart executive has noted.
It’s not uncommon to see luxury cars in Aldi’s parking lots — a detail even a top Walmart executive has noted.

The Great Recession and its slow recovery helped the discount grocer gain popularity among budget-conscious shoppers in the United States. Aldi’s latest expansion builds on that momentum. “Over the last 10 years, they’ve really flourished in the US,” said Mikey Vu, partner at Bain. “There’s instability in the economy. People are worried. They’re paying much closer attention to pennies on their grocery purchases than ever before.”

85% of US shoppers say they're open to trying store brands.

85%85% of US shoppers say they’re open to trying store brands.

Source: Bain & Company survey

Of course, Aldi is not the only discount store growing in retail. TJMaxx, Ross and Burlington are all opening new doors, and their cheap prices have put pressure on department stores. Ollie’s Bargain Outlet and Five Below are growing rapidly. Dollar General has opened up thousands of stores in recent years.

For Aldi, part of its success lies in appealing not only to low or mid-income shoppers, but to wealthier ones as well. Aldi’s core shopper tends to make more money and have a slightly higher education level than the overall grocery shopper, according to Bain. On a recent trip to an Aldi in Hackensack, New Jersey, luxury vehicles, including a $50,000 Jaguar and an $80,000 Tesla Model X, dotted the small parking lot alongside Toyotas, Fords and Hondas. Walmart’s Foran has marveled that when he visited an Aldi in Australia, BMWs and Mercedes were in the parking lot there, too.

“People love saving money on staples. And it would apply to every single person in this room,” he said to an audience of investors and retail executives at a Four Seasons Hotel in Boston. “You feel pretty good if you can save $10 on your grocery bill because it makes you feel better when you go out for dinner on Saturday night and spend $200 at a restaurant.”

In recent years, Aldi has ramped up its efforts to appeal to high-income shoppers by offering more fresh, organic produce as well as imported items like Irish cheese, brioche from France and pastas from Italy. The stores now offer private-label versions of kombucha, cold-pressed juices, an array of gluten-free products and peanut butter powder.

“It used to be the white label knock-off stuff that you were a little bit embarrassed to buy, but it was cheap. Now, people don’t care anymore about the big brands the way they used to. That plays right into the Aldi playbook.”

Mikey Vu, partner at Bain & Company

Aldi is investing $1.9 billion to remodel 1,300 stores with natural lighting and refreshed produce, diary and meat sections. Since 2017, its new stores have been concentrated in more populous, upper middle-class suburbs, according to Bain. Aldi’s new stores are in zip codes with a $65,822 household income on average — about $4,500 above the national average. “They’re clearly trying to go after a more upmarket customer,” Vu said.

As part of its plan to attract a broader range of US shoppers, Aldi is offering more specialty products at low prices, including its own peanut butter powder and kombucha.

Part of Aldi’s appeal is not in a lower grocery bill alone, but in the way Aldi cleverly markets its discounts, UNC’s Gielens said. Bargain hunters across the income ladder end up feeling like they’re outsmarting other, higher-priced supermarkets and big brands when they see their grocery receipts. Aiming to be the “smart shopping alternative,” Aldi wants to “spread the message that traditional grocers and brands simply rip off consumers,” she said.

Aldi hammers home that message on its signs in stores. “The same is always better when it costs less.” “New deals every week. Find them here. Brag like crazy.” Aldi encourages customers to ditch their grocery stores: “Switch and save.”

Americans are listening. Last year, 19% of shoppers who switched retailers started buying at Aldi, according to a Morgan Stanley survey. That was second only to Walmart.

More Barcodes

On many products, barcodes are either super large or they’re printed on multiple sides to speed up the scanning process at the cash register.

More Barcodes

Aldi’s reliance on private-label brands is also helping it win Millennials, who are increasingly brand-agnostic and are instead drawn to lower prices and convenience, according to Bain data. Private-label products have undergone a renaissance in recent years and are now growing faster at supermarkets than the top 20 national brands, Nielsen data shows.

Stores like Trader Joe’s and Costco have built empires selling their own brands. Costco’s Kirkland Signature, for example, raked in nearly $40 billion last year, an 11% increase from 2017. Kirkland’s sales last year beat out Campbell Soup, Kellogg and Hershey put together. Retailers’ brands challenge these consumer goods heavyweights, which spend billions marketing their products.

“It used to be the white label knock-off stuff that you were a little bit embarrassed to buy, but it was cheap,” Vu said of store brands. Now, Bain customer surveys show that 85% of US shoppers say they’re open to trying private label products. “People don’t care anymore about the big brands the way they used to,” he said. “That plays right into the Aldi playbook.”


The “Aldi Finds” aisle, which includes seasonal and quirky items, is popular among regular shoppers.
The “Aldi Finds” aisle, which includes seasonal and quirky items, is popular among regular shoppers.

It all began with a thrifty family

Aldi’s obsession with frugality comes from its early owners: brothers Theo and Karl Albrecht, who took over the family grocery business in Essen, Germany after World War II. Out of necessity, early stores initially stocked only a handful of items, but the brothers planned to expand the selection as the business grew. Over time, however, they recognized that they could be successful selling a narrow range of basics. “If we did not want to offer customers a wide range of products, then we had at least to offer them some other advantage. From that point on, we sold our products for decisively less,” Karl said in 1953, according to a book by former Aldi manager Dieter Brandes.

Theo was so insistent on keeping costs low that he was known to take notes on both sides of a piece of paper and to turn off the lights at stores during the daytime. The brothers purposefully kept store aesthetics to a Spartan minimum. “There are no decorations in stores,” Karl said in 1953. “All of our promotional efforts are put into discount prices.”

In 1961, the brothers split the business in two, reportedly over a dispute over whether to sell cigarettes in stores. Karl took southern Germany, and Theo ran the North. To this day, Aldi Süd and Aldi Nord remain separate companies, with the dividing line between the two in Germany known as the “Aldi Equator.”


Aldi’s stores are smaller than traditional supermarkets and feature wide aisles.
Aldi’s stores are smaller than traditional supermarkets and feature wide aisles.

Aldi Süd is the company that’s expanding rapidly now in the United States, as well as throughout Europe. Aldi Nord also has an American presence through Trader Joe’s, which it acquired in 1979 — but its growth is less ambitious than that of its cousin company. Trader Joe’s had 484 stores in United States at the end of 2018.

The Albrecht brothers both passed away within the last decade. Now, the two chains operate in 18 countries, bringing in an estimated $98 billion in combined sales last year, according to Deloitte. That revenue makes the Aldi companies not only one of the largest grocers, but also the eighth biggest retailer in the world. The two Aldis combined are now larger than CVS or Tesco, and just a few rungs down from Amazon, Home Depot and Walgreens Boots Alliance.

Competitors react

Aldi Süd’s rapid growth in the United States mimics its broader international expansion in places like Ireland, Hungary, Switzerland, Australia and even China. The company has also grown quickly in the United Kingdom, where many local grocers ignored Aldi until it was too late.

But as Aldi scales in the United States, there are real concerns about whether it can maintain its low-cost advantage. American competitors have learned to respond faster when Aldi lowers prices, which could blunt its impact.


Customers bag their own groceries at Aldi. It’s yet another way the store saves on labor costs.
Customers bag their own groceries at Aldi. It’s yet another way the store saves on labor costs.

“They’ve taken Aldi as a much more credible threat,” Vu said.

Walmart has narrowed its price gap with Aldi since July 2017, according to a study conducted by Wolfe Research analyst Scott Mushkin, who recorded prices of 40 top-selling items at a Houston Walmart and an Aldi across the street from one another. Walmart also narrowed that gap with Aldi in Chicago-area stores, he found.

To counter Walmart and other grocers’ moves, Aldi has started compromising its bare-bones approach. In September, it launched a national advertising campaign, including television commercials, to drive the message that it sells high-quality products. Aldi also recently pledged to cut plastic and transition to 100% sustainable packaging by 2025 — not a cheap endeavor. Aldi increased its fresh food offerings by 40% in 2018 by expanding its produce selection and adding new vegan and vegetarian options. And it started offering more alternative milks, including soy and almond.

Those changes are expensive and could eat away at Aldi’s margins. “The model only works if they are the actual cheapest,” said Simon Johnstone, analyst at Kantar.


“Those lines fly. You’re not waiting for people to bag. They’re not messing around there,” said Allison Robicelli, a frequent Aldi shopper.
“Those lines fly. You’re not waiting for people to bag. They’re not messing around there,” said Allison Robicelli, a frequent Aldi shopper.

Customers also say they’re starting to notice a few more brand-name goods on the shelves, such as Coca-Cola, Tide and Old Spice deodorant. “I honestly don’t like it when they bring in national brands. I like the sanctity of Aldi,” Robicelli said, adding that she worries prices might go up.

At the same time, Aldi faces heightened competition from its closest rival, Lidl. Lidl cut the ribbon on its first US stores in Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina in 2017 and recently opened three stores outside of Atlanta. It’s expanding in upper income communities, too. Now, Lidl operates more than 60 stores in the country.

Aldi is closely monitoring Lidl’s growth. In a federal lawsuit filed in March, Aldi alleged that two of its former US employees illegally shared confidential information about its sales, future store locations and real estate strategy with Lidl.

A spokesperson for Lidl said the company “believes in fair competition and the allegations in the lawsuit are not consistent with our business practices and values. We are looking into the claims, which we take seriously.”


Other American grocers have tried shopping cart deposits but abandoned the practice after it irritated shoppers. Aldi has stuck with the model, insisting it’s core to the store’s low-cost strategy.
Other American grocers have tried shopping cart deposits but abandoned the practice after it irritated shoppers. Aldi has stuck with the model, insisting it’s core to the store’s low-cost strategy.

Aldi’s lasting impact: Lower prices and fewer grocers

Although huge competitors can reduce prices to compete with Aldi, regional supermarkets are getting squeezed by the grocery price war.

Tops Markets and Southeastern Grocers, the owner of Winn-Dixie and Bi-Lo, have recently filed for bankruptcy. Save-A-Lot, the second-largest discount grocery chain in the United States after Aldi, is deep in debt and can’t afford to continue lowering prices without sacrificing profit.

“Aldi and Lidl will be a significant disrupting force in the US, threatening smaller regional supermarket chains and forcing larger players to cut prices,” Fitch Solutions said in a research report in March.

More bankruptcies are on the way for America’s grocery stores, analysts predict. “The US has a much bigger tranche of second and third tier grocery retailers,” said Vu from Bain. “Those are the ones that are dying off.”

With smaller grocers disappearing, there’s probably room for both Walmart and Aldi to pick up the pieces, Vu added. In the meantime, Aldi will keep leading the price wars, putting pressure on the bigger players, too.

“They’re incredibly successful,” he said. “We haven’t seen a disrupter in the grocery space like this in a long time.”

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Federer and Osaka pull out of Italian Open

federer-and-osaka-pull-out-of-italian-open

(CNN)Naomi Osaka and Roger Federer have pulled out of their quarterfinal singles matches at the Italian Open after succumbing to injury.

It comes after both players completed two rounds Thursday following Wednesday’s rain-affected washout in Rome.

Federer, who came from behind to defeat Borna Coric of Croatia to reach the quarterfinals in his second match of the day, has withdrawn because of an injury to his right leg.

    The Swiss, seeded third in the draw, was set to play No. 8 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece. Earlier Thursday, Federer had defeated Portugal’s Joao Sousa 6-4, 6-3 in the round of 32.

    In total, Federer, a four-time runner-up in Rome, spent nearly four hours on court.

    “I am disappointed that I will not be able to compete today,” Federer said, according to the

    ATP

    . “I am not 100% physically and after consultation with my team, it was determined that I not play. Rome has always been one of my favorite cities to visit, and I hope to be back next year.”

    This was Federer’s first appearance in this event since skipping the clay court season in 2017 and 2018.

    In the semifinals, Tsitsipas will face No. 2 seed Rafael Nadal, who defeated fellow Spaniard Fernando Verdasco 6-4, 6-0 on Friday.

    Osaka: ‘Couldn’t really move my thumb’

    With Osaka’s withdrawal, Kiki Bertens, who won the title in Madrid last week, advances to the semifinals where she will face either Johanna Konta or Marketa Vondrousova.

    Osaka told reporters that she woke up Friday with pain and swelling in her right hand. She said she was kind of confused about the development because she didn’t feel anything wrong in her wins Thursday against Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia in the round of 32 and Romania’s Mihaela Buzarnescu in the round of 16. Both of those scorelines were 6-3, 6-3.

    “I woke up this morning and couldn’t really move my thumb,” Osaka told reporters Friday. “I tried to practice and grip my racquet but I couldn’t, and I kept feeling this pain when I tried to move my hand in different directions.

    “Right now I’m really, not mad, but I’m kind of in between sad and disappointed because I really wanted to play my match today. For me, it was sort of a test to play against Kiki because she’s playing really well, and I wanted to see how well I could do today. Right now, I’m feeling kind of sad.”

    Naomi Osaka splits with coach Sascha Bajin weeks after Australian Open win

    This is the second time during the clay season that Osaka has withdrawn during a tournament. Last month, she pulled out in Stuttgart, Germany, because of an abdominal injury after reaching the semifinals.

    “I would describe (this clay season) as ‘rocky,'” Osaka said. “But I mean, I can’t necessarily say it’s been ups and downs because if I think about it, it’s definitely been going up. Every match that I’ve played I’ve learned a lot. I’ve tried to take what I’ve learned into the next match, and I think I’ve done that well.

      “But the injury part is definitely very annoying,” she continued. “For me, I feel like the ab thing could have been helped, but this one I don’t think I could have helped it because I don’t know what caused it. I don’t know why I have it. I feel there are preventable injuries and then there are ones where you kind of have to take it how it is.”

      Osaka will retain the world No. 1 ranking heading into the French Open.

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      Sugary drinks linked to risk of early death

      sugary-drinks-linked-to-risk-of-early-death

      (CNN)Many sugar-sweetened beverages have little to no nutritional value and lots of calories, and their harmful health effects have been well-documented. Now, a study links drinking too many sugary beverages — and even 100% natural fruit juices — to an increased risk of early death.

      Specifically, drinking an excessive amount of fruit juice led to an increased risk of premature death ranging from 9% to 42%, depending on the amount consumed and personal risk factors such as obesity, according to the study, published Friday in the journal JAMA Network Open.

      Sugary drink sales plummeted in Philadelphia after soda tax

      Overall, the sugars found in orange juice, although naturally occurring, are pretty similar to the sugars added to soda and other sweetened beverages, the study suggests.

      “Sugary beverages, whether soft drinks or fruit juices, should be limited,” Jean A. Welsh, a co-author of the study and an assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics at Emory University in Atlanta, wrote in an email.

        Cardiovascular disease link

        Seven US cities,

        including New York and most recently Philadelphia, have levied taxes on sweetened drinks with added sugar

        in an effort to reduce consumption. These laws often highlight how soda and other sugary beverages contribute to the obesity epidemic among kids and high rates of diabetes among adults.

        The new study defined “sugary beverages” as both sugar-sweetened thirst-quenchers, like soda and fruit-flavored infusions, and 100% natural fruit juices that have no added sugar. So how does fruit juice stack up against soda?

        “Previous research has shown that high consumption of sugars like those in soft drink and fruit juices is linked to several cardiovascular disease risk factors,” Welsh explained. Obesity, diabetes and elevated triglycerides (a type of fat found in the blood) are among the risk factors linked to excessive sugar intake. “Few studies have been able to look at how this consumption might impact mortality risk,” she said.

        Does sugar make kids hyper? That's largely a myth

        To address this issue, she and her colleagues repurposed data from the Reasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke study, which seeks to understand why more African-Americans die from strokes than other races and why people in the Southeast have more strokes than those in other areas of the United States.

        Drawing from this multiethnic study, Welsh and her coauthors analyzed data from 13,440 adults 45 and older, nearly 60% men and almost 71% of them overweight or obese.

        People who consumed 10% or more of their daily calories as sugary beverages had a 44% greater risk of dying due to coronary heart disease and a 14% greater risk of an early death from any cause compared with people who consumed less than 5% of their daily calories as sugary beverages, the study showed.

        Each additional 12-ounce serving of fruit juice per day was associated with a 24% higher risk of death from any cause, and each additional 12-ounce serving of sugary beverages per day was associated with an 11% higher risk. A similar relationship between sugary beverages and death due to coronary heart disease was not found.

        “In looking at our results for sugar-sweetened beverages and juices independently, we need to be clear that the risk presented is relative to that present in the lowest consumers of each,” Welsh explained.

        What we aren't eating is killing us, global study finds

        She was not surprised by the the findings. She and her co-authors said “a number of possible biological mechanisms” explain the elevated risk of death. For example, research suggests that sugary beverages increase insulin resistance, which is known to raise the risk of cardiovascular disease, while fructose consumption may stimulate hormones that promote weight gain around the waist — another cardiovascular disease risk factor.

        Recommended amounts of fruit juice

        This is one of the first studies to examine the relationship between sugary drinks, including 100% fruit juices, and early death, wrote

        Marta Guasch-Ferré

        , a research scientist in the Department of Nutrition at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and

        Dr. Frank B. Hu

        , a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, in an editorial published alongside the new study.

        However, the study is limited in what it can tell us, noted Guasch-Ferré and Hu, who were not involved in the research. Because so few coronary heart disease-related deaths occurred, the analysis here is considered weak; more time and a higher number of participants would probably give a stronger signal either way. Also, each participant’s sugary drink consumption was recorded at the start of the study only, based entirely on self-reporting, which is not considered reliable.

        Physician groups call for taxes and regulations on kids' access to sugary drinks

        “Although fruit juices may not be as deleterious as sugar-sweetened beverages, their consumption should be moderated in children and adults, especially for individuals who wish to control their body weight,” Guasch-Ferré and Hu wrote.

        The recommendations for kids between 1 and 6 years old are to limit fruit juice consumption to 6 ounces per day, while children 7 years and older, teens and adults should limit fruit juice to 8 ounces per day, according to the

        American Academy of Pediatrics

        and the

        Dietary Guidelines for Americans

        .

          “Further research is needed to examine the health risks and potential benefits of specific fruit juices,” Guasch-Ferré and Hu said.

          Welsh said we need to consider both fruit juices and sugar-sweetened beverages when we think about how much sugar we consume each day. Between the two, she tipped the scales in favor of fruit juice: “Given its vitamin and mineral content, fruit juice in small amounts may have a beneficial effect that isn’t seen with sodas and other sugar-sweetened beverages.”

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          Suicide rates in girls are rising

          suicide-rates-in-girls-are-rising

          (CNN)Suicide rates for young girls are rising at a pace faster than that of boys, changing the established patterns that boys are more likely to die by suicide and that girls are more likely to consider it and attempt it, according to a new study.

          Researchers at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in in Columbus, Ohio analyzed suicide rates of US kids and teens ages 10 to 19 between 1975 and 2016 using the Wide-ranging Online Data for Epidemiologic Research database, run by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

          In that period, there were more than 85,000 suicides in kids and teens, with 80% in boys and 20% in girls. The rates of suicide peaked in 1993 and had been on the decline until 2007, when they again started to climb, according to the findings, published Friday in

          JAMA

          .

          Although boys were 3.8 times more likely than girls to kill themselves over the 40-year study period, the gap is rapidly narrowing. Starting in 2007, the rates of suicide for girls 10 to 14 increased 12.7% per year, compared with 7.1% for boys the same age. A similar trend was seen for teens 15 to 19, with rates of suicide going up 7.9% for girls and 3.5% for boys.

            Boys 15 to 19 continued to take their own lives using firearms at far greater rates than girls, but the rates of hanging and suffocation in girls approached those of boys.

            More young people, especially girls, are attempting suicide by poisoning, study says

            Suicide is the second leading cause of death in kids and teens ages 10 to 19 in the United States after accidents and unintentional injuries, according to the CDC. Rates of suicide have historically been higher in boys than in girls across all age groups.

            Girls turning to more lethal means is cause for “great concern,” explained lead author Donna Ruch, research scientist at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, adding that girls continue to attempt suicide at higher rates and the shift toward more lethal methods could have dire consequences for the rates of completed suicide in this group.

            The study was not designed to determine the reasons behind the troubling trends, explained Dr. Joan Luby, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at the Washington University School of Medicine, and Sarah Kertz, a clinical psychologist at Southern Illinois University, in a commentary published alongside the study in

            JAMA

            .

            But given the short period of time over which the rates of suicide have spiked for young girls, Luby and Kertz point to social media as a likely contributor.

            Girls may be more vulnerable to the negative effects of social media

            “Compared with boys, girls use social media more frequently and are more likely to experience cyberbullying,” Luby and Kertz wrote.

            Girls who are depressed also elicit more negative responses from their friends on social media than boys, they added.

            Teen suicide rates spiked after debut of Netflix show '13 Reasons Why,' study says

            Combined, they say, these findings suggest that the negative effects of social media may be stronger on girls and may provide one explanation for why young girls are more vulnerable to suicidal thoughts and behaviors.

            Yet social media may be just one piece of the puzzle.

            The role of societal rules and expectations

            “We know that certain societal rules and expectations for women can be associated with higher rates of mental health issues and suicide rates,” said Dr. Barbara Robles-Ramamurthy, child and adolescent psychiatrist at the Long School of Medicine at UT Health San Antonio, who was not involved in the study. “Then you add a possible biological component — hormones — and a genetic predisposition.”

            Number of children going to ER with suicidal thoughts, attempts doubles, study finds

            Another reason for the rise in depression and suicidal behaviors for both boys and girls may be more stress and pressure being placed on kids, said Dr. Gene Beresin, executive director of the Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds at Massachusetts General Hospital and professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, who also was not involved in the study.

            “Kids are feeling more pressure to achieve, more pressure in school, and are more worried about making a living than in previous years,” he said.

            In isolation, none of these factors has been proven to lead to an increase in suicidal behaviors and ultimately suicide, but taken together, a pattern begins to emerge, Beresin said.

            Recognizing warning signs in children and teens

            Mental illness — especially when it comes to depression and anxiety — can be silent or manifest in ways parents would not expect, Robles-Ramamurthy said. In addition to sadness, depression in kids and teens can manifest as anger and irritability.

              “It’s very normal for your child to start getting a little more moody and defiant,” she said of the teenage years. “But if you start seeing drastic changes, their academic performance is declining, they’re not spending as much time with family or isolating themselves, those are big red flags.”

              If those behaviors are present, Robles-Ramamurthy recommends asking teens clearly whether they feel depressed or have considered hurting themselves or ending their lives. Asking these questions directly does not increase the risk of suicide, she added.

              How to get help: In the United States, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. The International Association for Suicide Prevention and Befrienders Worldwide also provide contact information for crisis centers around the world.

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              Island will refund your hotel room if it rains

              island-will-refund-your-hotel-room-if-it-rains

              (CNN) — We’ve all seen it: an otherwise exceptional hotel gets a one-star Yelp or TripAdvisor rating from a grumpy guest because of bad weather.

              Even though there’s nothing a destination can do to guarantee perfect weather during vacation season, the Italian island of Elba — best known for being where Napoleon was exiled toward the end of his life — has a new program called “Elba No Rain,” where guests on the island during May can get their night’s hotel fee refunded if it rains.
              According to Elba’s official tourism site, “the overnight stay is free for days when there is rainfall for more than two hours between 10 a.m. and 8 p.m.”

              To qualify for the deal, guests must be staying at one of an approved list of local inns and guesthouses that are participating in the program.

              “Tour operators tell us that weather forecasts of a rainy weekend can lead to a drop in bookings and attendance of over 20%,” Claudio Della Lucia, tourism coordinator for the island, told CNN via email.

              “The #ElbaNoRain initiative wants to be a concrete assurance to guests that, in the very rare case of a day with steady rain, they can still enjoy everything that the island has to offer without paying a euro for accommodation.

              “It’s a pilot project for the month of May, but considering the numerous subscriptions, we’re considering to apply it also for the autumn.”

              May tends to be shoulder season, so it’s generally cooler and less crowded than during peak summertime. Elba — sadly, no connection to the actor Idris — is popular with citizens of Italy, who flock there in August.

              Elba is located off of the coast of Tuscany, one of Italy’s most popular tourist regions, in the Ligurian Sea, just east of Corsica.

              Most visitors arrive there via ferry from the coastal town of Piombino, but there’s also an island airport that can take in small planes from Milan, Florence, Pisa and other Italian cities.

              So, what is there to do while you enjoy that guaranteed gorgeous weather?

              The island is beloved for its beaches, but it’s also worth visiting the Napoleonic Residences where the emperor lived in exile and exploring the island’s mining history and ancient ruins, some of which date to the Etruscan era.

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              Baby Archie was born at private hospital

              baby-archie-was-born-at-private-hospital

              (CNN)The Duchess of Sussex gave birth to baby Archie at a private hospital in London, Buckingham Palace has confirmed to CNN.

              A royal source added: “In keeping with the Sussexes’ wish for the details around the birth to remain private — we registered the birth in the usual way, but opted not to release the document to the public ourselves.”

              Earlier Friday, the Press Association news agency reported that Archie had been born at the Portland Hospital, citing information on the baby’s birth certificate.

              Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor, the first child of Britain’s Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan, was born on May 6.

                Meghan and Harry's baby Archie won't cure racism in UK -- but marks progress

                Harry and Meghan made it clear during the pregnancy that it was their personal decision to keep details around the birth of their first child private.

                A spokeswoman for the Portland Hospital said in a statement: “Huge congratulations to the Duke and Duchess of Sussex on the birth of baby Archie.”

                “For reasons of patient confidentiality, we are unable to provide any comment or information.”

                Meghan’s occupation is listed as “Princess of the United Kingdom” on the birth certificate. Her other title is HRH Princess Henry of Wales but she has chosen not to use it.

                The Portland Hospital is a highly regarded private hospital favored by wealthy patients.

                According to its website, normal delivery with a consultant costs £6,100 ($7,800), while choosing a Caesarean section will set you back £7,950 ($10,200).

                Harry and Meghan introduced Archie to the world on May 8, posing for pictures at Windsor Castle.

                Meghan said her son has the “sweetest temperament.”

                  And Prince Harry said becoming a parent was “amazing” as he held his son in his arms. “We’re just so thrilled to have our bundle of joy,” he said. “We’re looking forward to spending some precious time with him as he slowly starts to grow up.”

                  Archie is seventh in line to the throne, just behind his father.

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                  Jay Parini: Alabama’s ‘pro-life’ governor is a hypocrite

                  jay-parini-alabama8217s-8216pro-life8217-governor-is-a-hypocrite

                  Jay Parini, who teaches at Middlebury College, has just recorded “Jesus, Paul and the Early Christians” and published “The Damascus Road: A Novel of Saint Paul.” The views expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion articles on CNN.

                  (CNN)Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey on Wednesday signed into law an extreme abortion ban, citing “Alabamians’ deeply held belief that every life is precious and that every life is a sacred gift from God.”

                  Jay Parini

                  She has also

                  presided over the state sanctioned killings of six people

                  under Alabama’s death penalty law since she assumed office in 2017. That year, she signed the ironically named “Fair Justice Act,” an Orwellian edict that cuts short the appeals process for those who have been condemned to die by the state.

                  The anti-abortion movement raises a question about capital punishment that must be answered. If the

                  25 white men who voted in the Alabama senate

                  for a near-total ban on abortion were really serious about the “right to life,” would they not have simultaneously banned capital punishment? The death penalty is a clear violation of this right, as Pope Francis himself

                  has recently argued

                  .

                    Only last year the pontiff confirmed that the “death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person.” The new

                    Catechism of the church says

                    that “in the light of the Gospel” all Catholics must work “with determination for its abolition worldwide.”

                    Are you listening, Brett Kavanaugh, Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas? Each of you is a Catholic. What about you, Neil Gorsuch?

                    You were

                    raised a Catholic and now attend the Episcopal Church, which has opposed the death penalty for half a century.

                    If it’s time to tighten the ban on abortions, it’s also time to get rid of capital punishment once and for all. It’s a genuine abomination that flies in the face of human dignity.

                    Is it not deeply ironic that the

                    seven states that have passed

                    tighter abortion laws are also actively open to killing live human beings by lethal injection or electrocution? Among these, in addition to Alabama, are

                    Mississippi, Georgia

                    ,

                    Kentucky

                    ,

                    Kansas

                    ,

                    Arkansas

                    and

                    Ohio

                    . And laws restricting abortions have passed one legislative chamber in Louisiana, Missouri, South Carolina and Tennessee — all death penalty states .

                    Texas is one of the worst offenders when it comes to executions, killing 560 people since 1982. When Rick Perry was governor,

                    279 people were executed by the state

                    .

                    Only last year,

                    13 prisoners were put to death in Texas.

                    And yet the Texas Senate earlier this month

                    passed a “pro-life” bill

                    that severely restricts abortions — even a fetus with “severe and irreversible” abnormalities is not exempted. And doctors who perform abortions would risk criminal prosecution (the proposed law is headed to a House committee now). Even worse, a recently introduced bill in Texas would have opened up the

                    possibility of putting women to death

                    for having an abortion! (It failed in the House.)

                    And Alabama’s Ivey? It’s safe to say that those on death row in Alabama (

                    a very long row

                    , with 177 seats at present) will not find compassion from this so-called “pro-life” governor. Witness that on Thursday, only a day after Ivey signed the abortion ban,

                    she declined Michael Brandon Samra, a man convicted of killing four people, a reprieve

                    from execution by lethal injection.

                    Ivey still has an opportunity to grant an appeal for clemency to Rocky Myers, a 53-year old man with a severe intellectual disability who was,

                    according the American Civil Liberties Union

                    , served by an incompetent lawyer and convicted on the evidence of one eyewitness who has since recanted. The judge in this case imposed the death penalty against the wishes of the jury.

                    This is justice in Alabama.

                    Have we lost all sense of reason in this country?

                    The new abortion laws in Alabama and Georgia, and those being considered elsewhere, if enacted, will of course

                    disproportionately affect poor and minority women

                    , who will either be compelled to have babies irrespective of the circumstances of their conception, their ability to carry a live birth to term, or — most importantly — their desire to control their own reproductive lives. Alternatively, they will seek abortions, putting their medical providers at risk of incarceration. Or they may seek other methods of terminating their unwanted pregnancies, perhaps under unsafe conditions.

                    Similarly, the death penalty especially affects the poorest of the poor,

                    particularly in the United States

                    . “If you are poor, the chances of being sentenced to death are immensely higher than if you are rich,” says a

                    report by the United Nations.

                    “There could be no greater indictment of the death penalty than the fact that in practice it is really a penalty reserved for people from lower socio-economic groups. This turns it into a class-based form of discrimination in most countries, thus making it the equivalent of an arbitrary killing.”

                    As a Christian, I value life in the deepest sense. In an ideal world, we would take care of human beings from the womb to the tomb. There is, needless to say, a complex debate about when life actually begins. And there is much to say for the quality of life after birth — and our society’s willingness to ensure it to all as a matter of policy — as being just as important as the ticking heartbeat.

                      The death penalty is another matter. It’s not up for debate, in my view, and those who do not see the connection between preserving the lives of fetuses and preserving the lives of adults should take a clear-eyed look at their consciences.

                      We don’t get to kill people. Period. It’s barbarous, inhumane, cruel, and — thank goodness — rare in most civilized countries.

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                      Moscow courier service campaign creates a stir online

                      moscow-courier-service-campaign-creates-a-stir-online

                      Ad campaign for Delivery Club featuring Natalia Andreeva, who used to be a TV reporter.Image copyright
                      Delivery Club

                      Image caption

                      Natalia Andreeva quit her TV career for her well-being, and to earn more money

                      Do you pay attention to the person who delivers your food, and would it make a difference if you knew them?

                      In Moscow, a company called Delivery Club has launched an advertising campaign around the city, and across Russian-language Twitter, filled with photos and personal details of some of their workers.

                      One example says food will be delivered by “a literature teacher, Abdisattar, who’s interested in mountain hiking and is raising three children.”

                      Other workers include a member of a writers’ union who has five daughters, a woman who hopes to climb Mount Everest and a man who speaks nine languages.

                      There has been mixed reaction on social media.

                      As one Russian news outlet points out, a former news reporter has switched to working for the courier service and is now earning more than she did on television.

                      According to the article, state controlled Channel One have asked Natalia Andreeva to come back to them, but she has said no. Instead, she is happy to set her own hours of work.

                      One Twitter user laments that this has become “commonplace”.

                      “This is not an idea worth criticising, but a reality surrounding us”, the tweet reads.

                      Another criticises the company for inciting pity, shame and bitterness, referring to a “distinguished Russian artist in his old age forced to deliver food to drunk teenagers.”

                      Some appreciate the personal touch to the adverts, but one user said the adverts could be seen as demonstrating “only outcasts work in delivery”, when the reality is the couriers are “working to survive.”

                      A spokesperson for Mail.ru, which owns Delivery Club, has explained the thinking behind the campaign in a Facebook post saying: “We wanted to show the workers as real people, not models or actors.”

                      Image copyright
                      Delivery Club

                      Image caption

                      This poster says “Your order will be delivered by a football fan. He loves Bollywood movies and Russian music”

                      Not everyone has criticised the adverts. Some say people should be happy delivery workers earn more than reporters and teachers.

                      One Facebook user was pleased the campaign “destroys snobbish stereotypes and exposes social problems.”

                      Some people have seen the funny side, and created their own adverts featuring potential couriers, like this Game of Thrones fan who writes: “Daenarys is interested in fire and raising one child”.