With over 1900 stores in 35 states, popular food retailer Aldi (sometimes stylized as ALDI) has evolved from a curiosity in the supermarket industry to a heavy hitter. By 2022, it could become the third-largest grocery store behind Walmart and Kroger. Walmart keeps an eye out for new Aldi locations opening nearby; new stores can see lines formed around the block. Even though the chain famously charges a deposit for the use of shopping carts and more for bags, it’s still engendered loyalty from consumers who appreciate the no-frills approach and favorable pricing. Take a look at some things you might not know about this German giant.
1. Aldi led to a sibling rivalry.
The story of Aldi dates back to Essen, Germany, in the 1940s, when brothers Karl and Theo Albrecht returned from prisoner-of-war camps in World War II and began operating their mother’s food store. The business, which was named Aldi for “Albrecht Discount,” grew to over 300 stores in Germany by 1960. The following year, Karl and Theo had a disagreement over whether or not to stock cigarettes, and Aldi was split into two factions—Karl’s Aldi Süd and Theo’s Aldi Nord. Karl expanded into the United States in 1976 as well as other countries, while Theo stuck with Europe before buying the Trader Joe’s franchise in 1979.
2. One of the Aldi owners was kidnapped.
In 1971, Theo Albrecht was kidnapped for ransom and held captive for 17 days. The criminals, Paul Kron and Heinz Joachim Ollenberg, abducted Theo and kept him in a wardrobe in Duesseldorf, demanding 7 million deutschmarks for his safe return. When the ransom was paid, Theo was set free. The two men were later arrested and spent over eight years in prison for the crime. Most of the money went unrecovered. The incident caused both brothers to step out of the public eye. Theo died in 2010 at age 88. Karl passed in 2014 at age 94.
3. Aldi puts customers to work.
Aldi’s approach to rock-bottom pricing is simple. They keep overhead to a bare minimum, reducing the number of employees needed to 15 to 20 per store. Instead of cart runners looking to retrieve carts, the store keeps them locked and charges a 25-cent deposit which is returned only if the customer brings it back. Other grocery chains have tried a similar method, but only Aldi has managed to succeed without annoying patrons.
4. Aldi doesn’t stock many items.
Forget about getting lost in a cavernous warehouse club. At Aldi, each store typically stocks only 1400 items. That’s a fraction of the inventory kept by other major supermarket chains, which can have as many as 40,000 products on shelves. At a Walmart supercenter, that number can climb to 100,000. Fewer selections mean less browsing time, allowing customers to get in and out more quickly. And of those products, most are private label. You won’t find Honey Nut Cheerios, but you will find Honey Nut Crispy Oats. Close enough.
5. Not everything at Aldi is cheaper.
While most food products at Aldi are priced below the competition, there is one aisle that doesn't offer the same type of savings: the toiletry section. Aldi doesn’t stock private-label personal products and therefore can’t acquire them at reduced cost, so you’re likely to pay about as much for deodorant there as anyplace else.
6. Aldi has bigger barcodes.
When you pick up a product sold at Aldi, you might notice that the barcode on the package seems bigger than normal. That’s deliberate. Aldi prints the codes larger or on multiple sides of the product so the cashier can scan it in one pass, speeding up checkout lines.
7. Aldi’s dairy delivery system is incredibly efficient.
Aldi looks to cut costs anywhere it can. Case in point: The retailer spent two years developing a milk bottle and transporting system that uses polystyrene crates instead of metal. Because the delivery trucks weigh less, more milk can be placed on the vehicles at once.
8. Aldi carries a world-renowned wine that’s won an award.
Just because you’re in Aldi doesn’t mean you can’t stock up on some award-winning wine. In 2016, an $8 Aldi rosé was named the Great Value Rosé under 8 pounds, or about $10.33, at the International Wine Challenge in the UK. The Exquisite Collection Côtes de Provence Rosé also won a silver medal in the main competition. The wine is available at select Aldi stores in the United States.
9. Aldi has a system for making sure you have a quarter handy.
You don’t always need to go digging in your pocket or purse to find a quarter to insert into the shopping cart system. In 2018, Aldi offered a keychain quarter holder for 99 cents that kept your change easily accessible. You can still find third-party customized keychain quarter holders on retail sites like Amazon.
10. You might be pronouncing Aldi wrong.
As we previously mentioned, Aldi is short for Albrecht Discount in honor of the Albrecht brothers. You may, however, be confused as to how to pronounce it. According to the company, it’s not “All-di” but “Al-di.”