A lot of people have some vague idea that Aldi and Trader Joe’s are related. “They’re both Aldi,” they say. Is that right? Is it indeed true that both companies are Aldi?
The answer is: yes, but not in the way most people think.
To explain, let’s step back and review some history.
The company we know as “Aldi” was founded in Germany in the early 20th century. Karl and Theo Albrecht — the founder’s sons — took over the company after World War II, but in 1960 decided to split up the company after they couldn’t agree on whether or not to sell cigarettes in their stores.
Even as separate companies, though, they continued to work together, stocking the same products and organizing their stores the same way. They even agreed on a common name: Aldi, short for Albrecht Diskont. Theo’s company became Aldi Nord; Karl’s became Aldi Süd.
Aldi Nord and Aldi Süd also agreed to divide up which countries they expanded into. Aldi Nord, for example, runs the Aldi stores in France, while Aldi Süd oversees the Aldi stores in the United Kingdom. When the Internet era hit, they also joined together to create a common international website.
That brings us to America.
In 1976, Aldi Süd established the first Aldi stores in the United States. But America was (and is) a big country, so Aldi Nord also began looking for a foothold in the U.S. In the late 1970s, Aldi Nord’s Theo Albrecht took notice of a small but growing chain of stores in California founded by a man named Joe Coulombe, and in 1979 Theo bought Columbe’s store — Trader Joe’s — outright.
So Aldi Nord owns Trader Joe’s and Aldi Süd owns Aldi US.
On paper, that would make the two stores cousins. However, in practice, Trader Joe’s and Aldi US operate fairly different from each other, with different pricing and different atmospheres. Some shoppers claim that the two stores stock identical products under different labels and that may be true, but we’ve also found that some of Trader Joe’s products are very different than Aldi’s, too, so that part may be a matter of debate.
Also notable: Trader Joe’s is not listed as part of the Aldi family on the Aldi international website, unlike most other Aldi Nord stores, and unlike Aldi Süd’s Aldi US. (In fact, at the time of this post, Trader Joe’s doesn’t have a single official social media page, unlike Aldi and practically all of its country-specific divisions.) That means that the only hub for Trader Joe’s information is the Trader Joe’s website and its associated mailing list.
It’s as if Trader Joe’s is part of the Aldi portfolio but sort of operates outside it.
For those reasons, we think it might be fair to say that Trader Joe’s is a bit of an adopted cousin: part of the family line, but with a distinctive DNA all its own.