By Nancy Huth
Back in 1913, Karl Albrecht and his wife Anna opened a Mom and Pop store in the town of Essen, Germany, in the country’s coal pot. Karl had worked in the mines, but after being diagnosed with emphysema, decided on a change of profession. The Albrechts had two sons, Theo and Karl, both of whom served in the army in WWII. After their return home from prisoner of war camps, they saw how little everyone had in an almost completely destroyed Germany. So, they turned their parents store, which had miraculously survived the bombing, into the Aldi type of store we know today, opening it in 1948. The name Aldi is a combination of the first two letters of their family name and the “di” from discount. Germany has approximately 3,800 stores today.
In 1960 the brothers had a dispute about whether to sell cigarettes and decided to form two branches with one brother forming Aldi North, which sold cigarettes, and the other Aldi South. Aldi South has the orange and blue sign that we are familiar with. The first US store was opened in Iowa in 1976 and the company is now headquartered in Batavia, IL. This year, 2018, there are more than 1800 Aldi stores in the US.
The Aldi brothers were for many years the richest men in Germany. In 1971 Theo was kidnapped for 17 days with the family paying $2 million for his release. Only half of it was ever found, but Theo was able to write it off on his taxes as an expense. After this incident, the family became very reclusive and were seldom seen in public. The brothers loved golf and had their own private course. Theo passed away in 2010 at age 88 and Karl in 2014 at age 94.
The concept behind Aldi is simple and has remained the same over the years. We are familiar with many of the characteristics, such as paying a quarter for the cart and getting the quarter back when we return the cart. The stores don’t stay open past 9 pm. To keep prices stable, only 10-15 employees work at each store with each being able to do all the necessary tasks. Of the approximately 700 items they carry, 90 percent of the products are the Aldi brand, so you may find two brands of ketchup, rather than 20. The limited assortment allows constant turnover and reduces spoilage. The buildings are a uniform size of about 12,000 square feet and are usually built on a corner near other stores. Because Aldi limits its products, its stores don’t need large warehouses.
Since 2015, in an effort to offer more healthy foods, you will find no synthetic colors, no hydrogenated oils and no added MSG in any of their products.
A history of Aldi in the US has to include the story of Trader Joe’s. A man named Joe Coulombe opened the store named after himself in 1967 in Pasadena, CA. It is an American grocery chain owned since 1979 by a German private equity family. Though owned by Aldi North, Trader Joe’s has separate and distinct ownership and operation. The Hawaiian theme you notice at Trader Joe’s was introduced by Joe Coulombe after he visited the Caribbean years ago. Also the ringing of the bells in a series of one to four, takes the place of a loud speaker system.
Many of our business success stories in the US can be traced back to early immigrants or their children who followed the American dream. Welcome to Middlefield, Aldi.
Editors note: To celebrate the opening of its first Middlefield store, ALDI will host a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Thursday, Oct. 4 at 8:45 a.m. Shoppers can sample ALDI-exclusive brand foods and enter a sweepstakes for a chance to win a year’s supply of ALDI produce. The Middlefield store is part of the $3.4 billion ALDI investment to expand to 2,500 stores nationwide by the end of 2022. ALDI currently has more than 1,800 stores in 35 states, serving more than 40 million customers each month. ALDI Official Grand Opening and Ribbon-Cutting Ceremony is on Oct. 4, 8:45 a.m. Ribbon-Cutting Ceremony and official Grand Opening followed by Produce for a Year sweepstakes, product sampling and eco-friendly bag distribution. ALDI is located at 14955 S. Springdale Ave., Middlefield (44062)