Kidnapping, wealth and global domination: The history of grocery chain Aldi

Aldi has become a household name in Australia through its chain of discount grocery stores – but the colourful history of the company’s founders is perhaps not so well known.

Founded in 1946 by brothers Theo and Karl Albrecht in Essen, Germany, the empire’s impressive expansion to more than 19 countries over more than 70 years hasn’t been without some drama.

Theo Albrecht had a wealth of roughly $27billion (AUS) when he died in 2010, says the Encyclopaedia Britannica, but in 1971 was kidnapped and held for ransom.

The notoriously fragile entrepreneur was held for 17 days in a wardrobe in the city of Duesseldorf, according to The Guardian.

Theo Albrecht one of the founding brothers from Essen, Germany. Source: Getty

He haggled over his 7 million Deutschmarks – or $5.8million – ransom before eventually being released by his captors. 

He later tried to claim the random payment as a business deduction for tax purposes.

Paul Kron and Heinz Ollenburg were arrested over the kidnapping and served eight-and-a-half years in prison before being released. 

Kron claimed Ollenburg only gave him several thousand deutschmarks after releasing Mr Albrecht, but Ollenburg argued the pair had split the money evenly - leaving 3.5m deutschmarks missing, according to The Guardian. 

Rumours suggest the missing money has been hidden in Switzerland. Both Kron and Ollenburg died in 2017.

It is believed Mr Albrecht struggled immensely after the kidnapping and withdrew from public life, living on a remote island with his older brother until his death at the age of 88.

The general outside view of Karl Albrecht Spiritousen and Lebensmittel shop in Germany in 1930. Source: Getty
Shoppers browse foods in the produce department at an Aldi in Chicago, Illinois. Source: Getty Images

When and how was Aldi founded?

The first foundation of Aldi was laid in 1913 when Theo and Karl’s mum opened a small food store in Essen.

In the 1940s, the brothers took inspiration from their mother and created Aldi, short for “Albrecht-Discount”.

The company celebrated the opening of its 50th store in Germany in 1954.

In 1961, the brothers split the retailer in two - Aldi Süd (south) and Aldi Nord (north) - after reportedly arguing over whether cigarettes should be sold at store counters, according to The Guardian.

Pictured is the inside of the family's store in 1930. Source: Getty

Karl oversaw Aldi Süd, while Theo controlled Aldi Nord with his two sons.

“In 1983, Aldi Süd started chilled distribution depots and sold fresh products such as cheese, yoghurt and sausages. Frozen products came in 1998 and were closely followed by fresh meat,” according to Aldi’s website. 

Today, there are more than 10,000 stores across the two divisions, in three continents.

While Aldi has established an independent operation in Australia, the company is part of the Aldi Sud corporation which also oversees stores in the US, Austria, Slovenia, UK, Ireland and Switzerland.

A shopfront of an Aldi store located in Madrid, Spain. Source: AAP
A woman purchases vegetables at an Aldi supermarket in Shanghai, China. Source: Getty Images

When did Aldi come to Australia?

Aldi Sud landed in Australia in 2001 with two initial stores at Bankstown Airport and Marrickville in Sydney.

In just 18 years, the grocery chain has opened more than 500 stores in NSW, ACT, VIC, QLD, SA and WA - hiring at least 13,000 employees. There are no stores in North Queensland, Tasmania or Northern Territory.

According to reports, Aldi has contributed $23 billion overall to the country’s gross domestic product.

“Aldi’s entry into Australia has also driven significant price deflation, resulting in savings for all grocery buyers,” an Aldi spokesperson told Yahoo News Australia. 

Aldi south landed in Australia in 2001 with two initial stores at Bankstown Airport and Marrickville in Sydney. Source: Getty

Where do Aldi home brands come from in Australia?

The German chain focuses on offering a low-range of 1600 products.

More than 90 precent of products are exclusive brands, with the majority developed in Australia for Australian consumers with the help of Australian companies, according to an Aldi spokesperson.

“We proudly support an Australian first buying policy and some of our local business partners include Jalco, Ferndale Confectionary, Black Bag Roasters, and Turkish Bakeries to name just a few,” the spokesperson said.

Aldi often approaches the companies with ideas for its home brand range, which are then made and sold exclusively in its stores.

Aldi often approaches the companies with ideas for its home brand range, which are then made and sold exclusively in its stores. Source: Getty

Jalco supplies cleaning and personal care items. 

Ferndale Confectionary is a family-owned business in Victoria that produces sweet treats for Aldi. Aldi’s Lazzio Medium Roast, made by Melbourne’s Black Bag Roasters, was named as the best Chain/Franchise Filter Coffee in the Golden Bean Competition last year.

Well-known and favourite brands of Australians such as Tim Tams and Coca-Cola are also stocked at Aldi stores.

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