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The History of Aldi

Aldi founders Karl and Theo Albrecht were conscripted to fight for the Nazis during World War II. They returned home in 1946 and began running a grocery store that they had inherited from their mother, who had opened it in Essen back in 1913. The store had survived the bombs dropped on the city, so they were able to operate out of the same location. The brothers turned the shop into a discount store and originally sold only non-perishable goods at low prices. They notably refused to spend money on advertising or in-store decorations. Germany was economically devasted after the war and the brothers' affordable grocery store quickly gained popularity with struggling locals. By 1955, the chain had expanded to encompass over 100 stores throughout Germany. In 1961, the brothers adopted the name Aldi, which was short for Albrecht Discount. Around that same time, the brothers had a disagreement over whether to sell cigarettes in their stores. (Karl reportedly thought tobacco products would entice shoplifters.) They amicably decided to split their business in two. Karl led a cigarette-free division called Aldi Sud that was comprised of all the stores located in the southern half of Germany and Theo led Aldi Nord, which encompassed all of the stores located in the northern half of the country. Aldi expanded internationally across Europe and then entered the United States in 1976. The first Aldi store in America opened in Iowa and was run by Karl’s Aldi Sud division, which continued to expand throughout the Midwest and Eastern United States over the next few decades. (In 1979, Theo’s Aldi Nord purchased a small California grocery chain called Trader Joe’s, which it continues to operate today and has notably grown into a massively popular chain, too.) Aldi’s popularity in the United States grew exponentially over the last decade, in large part because the company was able to offer low prices in the aftermath of the 2008 recession. Today, Aldi stores sell fresh produce, meats, and non-perishable items at remarkably low prices. The stores are known for continuing the frugal philosophy of their former helmsman Karl Albrecht, who passed away in 2014 (Theo passed away four years earlier). Food items are offered in cardboard shipping boxes rather than carefully arranged displays. Customers are asked to bring their own bags and the stores even charge a quarter for the use of a cart (although this is refunded to the customer when the cart is returned.) Measures like this allow the chain to offer quality items at very low prices and other major retailers like Walmart and Whole Foods have had to lower their prices in response. Today, Aldi continues to grow and has become an extremely popular grocery store chain in America.

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