Aldi’s ever-popular product-aligned advent calendars—which took the industry by viral storm with a wine introduction in 2018 and has since inspired a rash of competitors and a seeming new holiday retail tradition in and of itself—is on its way back.
This year, the Batavia, Ill.-based hard discounter is expanding the effort behind more than 20 different offerings including its signature wine, along with beer, cheeses, candles, licensed brands for children, hard seltzers, crafts and chocolates. All but a sparkling wine collection (due in stores Dec. 2) are scheduled to hit Aldi stores on Nov. 4, which the retailer has dubbed “National Advent Calendar Day.”
In an exclusive interview with WGB, Joan Kavanaugh, VP of national buying for Aldi, discusses the origins and implications of the event, which plays on, and plays up, the retailer’s strengths in private brands, pricing and limited-time offers. The Q&A took place in late September over email, and has been lightly edited for style.
Jon Springer: Aldi’s annual Advent calendar has become a real retail phenomenon, influencing retailers around the country to try similar things and led to the creation of National Advent Calendar Day. Was this something you might have ever envisioned when this program got started in the U.S.?
Joan Kavanaugh:We’ve sold a version of the classic chocolate Advent calendar for many years, but I don’t think any of us expected the level of success we saw with our specialty Advent calendars when we first launched the wine Advent calendar in 2018. We were truly blown away by our customers’ response, which is why we’ve continued to expand the offering each year since then, to now offer more than 20 varieties.
This year’s lineup includes a variety for every member of the family, from toys, crafts and pet treats to specialty cheeses, coffee, chocolates, wine, hard seltzers, beer, flavored liqueurs, sparkling wine, and more. We know our shoppers look forward to the return of Advent calendars each year, so we designated an official moment to mark when our collection goes on sale each year, the first Wednesday of November has officially been dubbed National Advent Calendar Day.
What can you share about the origins of this event? Is it a worldwide Aldi event? Just a U.S. thing? How did it all get started? When did it really take off?
Our Advent calendars, including our wine Advent calendar, are some of the most highly sought after and talked about items we offer each year. These calendars unite our loyal fans across the U.S. and give them something to bond over at the start of the holiday season. For us, National Advent Calendar Day is a playful nod to the excitement of our shoppers while also demonstrating our leadership on this trend. For years to come, shoppers can look forward to the first Wednesday of November as the day that kicks off the Advent Calendar season at Aldi with some of our most popular items.
This event has been a great vehicle to highlight Aldi private brands, and by definition is seasonal in nature. But it probably has lasting effects. How if it all is it influencing other ways to market the company and its brands?
We surprise our shoppers each week with new Aldi Finds, which are limited-time products released weekly. Our Advent calendars are the ultimate Aldi Find and a unique twist on a classic holiday tradition. From a business perspective, it’s a way for customers to try out a variety of products and flavors, some of which are available year-round, and gives new shoppers a great reason to check us out for the first time.
Can you share something of the magnitude of this event in terms of things like store visits or sales? I’m guessing this release date would be close to if not the biggest-selling day of the year for Aldi. Is that so?
I think the social media buzz and lines at the stores (which will be socially distanced this year!) speak for themselves. These items draw a crowd and that certainly boosts sales and traffic. While our shoppers stop in for their Advent calendar, if they are new to Aldi, they will see our beautiful selection of fresh produce and meat, or any number of the other unique Aldi Finds we have on sale that week. What’s so special about these products is that they draw in new customers and help us create loyal fans for a lifetime.
Not to get too goopy here but there’s an admirable underlying wholesomeness to an event like this, kicking off anticipation of the holiday season. Can you discuss how that plays a role in this event’s success?
I absolutely agree that there is a wholesomeness to the joy that happens at the start of the holiday season. While Advent has a religious tie, the spirit of counting down to something you’re looking forward to is universal, which is why we made sure there is a calendar for everyone – adults, kids and pets. People are always looking for ways to find that joy, and it’s wonderful to think we can be part of that experience for them.
One of the ways word seems to have traveled on this is customer excitement around the limited quantities of these offers. How do you decide on what’s the “right” level of availability? It’s a balance between driving the traffic and not disappointing too many, isn’t it?
It’s not always easy to predict how shoppers are going to react to new items, and we never could have predicted the response we got from customers when we put our first wine Advent calendar on sale in 2018. With any Aldi Find it is a delicate balance of wanting to have enough inventory to meet shopper demand, but not so much that we don’t have space for the items coming the following week. Advent calendars are a highly anticipated product and it’s important to us that we preserve the excitement of release day, which is why we made major quantity adjustments in 2019 and we’ve based our 2020 estimates on last year’s demand.
This year is shaping up to the biggest event yet with different calendars highlighting a wider variety of items than ever. What’s most exciting for you personally?
For me, I’m most excited about the way the calendars have evolved – we’ve enhanced our offering and added more. What’s new with the wine Advent calendar this year is that all 24 bottles represent Aldi wine brands that are available year-round, like Burlwood and Intermingle. We heard from shoppers that when they open a wine they love in their Advent calendar, they want to be able to buy more.
In 2020, many of the wines from the wine Advent calendar will be available in full-size bottles in Aldi stores. For the ultimate holiday countdown experience, the 2020 collection wine Advent calendar also pairs perfectly with the Emporium Selection cheese calendar, which has more varieties than ever, and the Moser Roth Nutcracker chocolate calendar. What started as a limited offering has grown to a collection of more than 20 so that there is something for everyone.
On a personal level, I’m most excited about the Vista Bay hard seltzer calendar. This is the newest addition to our alcohol advent calendar lineup. As hard seltzer continues to be one of the hottest trends in alcohol, I’m looking forward to enjoying a Vista Bay each night leading up to Christmas.
What’s your holiday wish for Aldi and its people this year?
It’s hard to believe we’re already approaching the end of 2020. To think back on all that has happened this year, my biggest wish for our employees, customers, partners and the communities we serve, is for a healthy, peaceful and restful holiday season. The holidays may look different this year, but our entire Aldi family hopes that when you gather together with those you love, you are safe, healthy and enjoy the spirit of the season.