A fair number of consumers have some vague awareness 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 no.
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 engage in common ventures, both contractually and strategically, starting with a common name: Aldi, short for Albrecht Diskont. Theo’s company became Aldi Nord; Karl’s became Aldi Süd. That strategic alliance also includes a strategic division of countries — Aldi Nord, for example, runs the Aldi stores in France, while Aldi Süd oversees the Aldi stores in the United Kingdom — as well as a common international website.
That brings us to America. In 1976, Aldi Süd established the first Aldi stores in the United States. But, unlike most other prospective countries, Aldi Nord began looking for a foothold in the U.S., too. (They may have figured America was big enough for the both of them.) In the late 1970s, Aldi Nord’s Theo Albrecht took notice of a small but growing chain of stores in California founded by a certain 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. 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.