A lot of shoppers have a vague idea that Aldi and Trader Joe’s are related. We hear it often. Some shoppers claim that Trader Joe’s is basically Aldi, even going so far as to claim that Aldi products are relabeled and placed on Trader Joe’s shelves.
Is that true? Are both companies Aldi?
The answer is yes and no.
Sound a little complicated? Don’t worry: it’s not hard to understand. We’ll explain.
A Brief History of Aldi
The company we know now as “Aldi” was founded in Germany in the early 20th century by a woman named Anna Albrecht. Anna and her husband, Karl Sr., had two sons, Karl Albrecht and Theo Albrecht. After World War II, the two sons took over their mother’s grocery company, and by the 1950s they had expanded it into a chain of a dozen stores under the name Albrecht KG.
The problem was that Karl and Theo had a disagreement. Theo wanted to sell tobacco products, like cigarettes, while Karl believed selling them would attract shoplifters. This proved too big of a sticking point for the two, so in the early 1960s they decided to split up the company over that disagreement.
By then, they had also decided to rename their grocery chain, calling it Aldi. Aldi was short for Albrecht Diskont, or, in a more English-speaking way, Albrecht Discount. (That’s why Aldi is not called Aldi’s.) When they split, both brothers kept the name. Theo’s company became Aldi Nord; Karl’s became Aldi Süd.
That’s right: Aldi isn’t just one, but two separate companies.
Even as separate companies, though, Theo and Karl continued to work together in complex ways, much of it out of the public eye. They stocked the same products, for example. They organized their stores the same way. They worked together on common contracts with suppliers. When the Internet era hit, they joined together to create a common international website.
They even worked together to divide up what countries they expanded into, so they wouldn’t compete with one another. Aldi Nord, which initially operated in northern Germany, now expanded into places like France, Poland, and Spain. Aldi Süd, which initially operated in Southern Germany, opened up stores in many English-speaking countries, including Ireland, the United Kingdom, and Australia.
Aldi Comes to America (And Finds Trader Joe’s)
In 1976, Aldi Süd established the first Aldi stores in the United States and grew rapidly across the country. But America was the largest country Aldi had ever expanded into, and it was clear there was room for both Aldi Süd and Aldi Nord to operate. Aldi Nord owner Theo Albrecht, however, did not appear interested in opening Aldi Nord stores here.
Instead, he found another opportunity. In the late 1970s, Theo took notice of a small but growing chain of stores in California founded by a man named Joe Coulombe. Coulombe had started a chain of convenience stores called Pronto Market, which were (and are) much like 7-Eleven. Coulombe concluded, though, that his stores were too much like 7-Eleven, so he moved into the grocery business. Inspired by a vacation in the Caribbean, where he saw American travelers dressed up in the Tiki fad of the time, he decided to create a grocery store with a relaxed South Pacific vibe. Trader Joe’s was born.
Theo Albrecht, owner of Aldi Nord, decided that Trader Joe’s was his foothold into the United States. He offered to buy Trader Joe’s from Coulombe. Coulombe agreed, selling the company in 1979, although he stayed on as the chief executive of Trader Joe’s until 1988.
That means Aldi Nord owns Trader Joe’s and Aldi Süd owns Aldi US.
Aldi and Trader Joe’s
Keep in mind that Nord and Süd are separate companies that often work together. Does that make Aldi US and Trader Joe’s brothers? The answer is no.
A while back, we reached out to Trader Joe’s and asked about its relationship to Aldi. A Trader Joe’s representative told us, “Trader Joe’s and Aldi Nord operate independently.” This makes sense: Trader Joe’s and Aldi US operate fairly different from each other, with different pricing and different atmospheres. Trader Joe’s uses a Fearless Flyer that is much different than the Aldi Weekly Ad, and Trader Joe’s has a smaller social media presence than Aldi US.
What about the claim that Aldi and Trader Joe’s sell the same products? A careful look at the two stores will tell you that many of their products are quite different from one another. We’ve seen this repeatedly ourselves. If there are any similar products, those may be just about suppliers who stock private labels to multiple companies rather than an agreement between Aldi and Trader Joe’s.
The most telling piece of evidence is this: Trader Joe’s is not listed as part of the Aldi family on the Aldi international website. Neither Aldi Nord nor Aldi Süd consider Trader Joe’s part of the Aldi grocery chain.
How Does Trader Joe’s Fit Into Aldi?
Around here, we’ve taken to calling Trader Joe’s a distant cousin to Aldi. It’s part of the Aldi ownership line, to be sure. But it also operates in its own separate world, with a flavor all of its own.