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Inside Aldi/ Channel 5

Last night I watched a fascinating documentary on the German – but now international – supermarket chain Aldi.

In 1946 Frau Albrecht opened a food store in Essen and her two sons Karl and Theo took the basic model of making the food sold as cheap as possible and turned this into a German chain.

Aldi is an abbreviation of Al for Albrecht and Di for discount.

The brothers disagreed over selling cigarettes and divided Aldi territorially into Aldi nord and Aldi sud.

The concept came to the UK in 1990 when they opened their first store in Birmingham. With 3% of the market they were not regarded as any threat to the Big Four, especially Tesco.

Yet the shoppers thought differently attracted to its value and quality. The stores were much smaller than the mega stores which can be intimidating, every item was bar-coded four times for quicker checkout, well known brands like Heinz spaghetti or Diet Cola were produced by Aldi in similar colour designs but cheaper.

The third lane of selling anything and everything known as what is good is going.

Having purchased a scented room infuser for over £65 from Jo Malone, I would be happy to purchase the Aldi equivalent for under £4.

It was soon attracting a middle class Waitrose clientele as Aldi champagne and smoked salmon drew praise.

On the programme a food writer cooked a whole Aldi meal and her guests could not guess the source.

Aldi broke all the rules: little marketing, no internet arm (big warehousing too costly) and relentless drive for value and quality. The final irony is Tesco launched Jacks a copy cat of the Aldi model.

There is a danger of such programmes becoming nakedly promotional. This did not fall into the trap.

The brothers’ obsessive secrecy aired, human rights of Aldi were examined, the copyright issue discussed, whether it has now had its golden age debated.

Aldi now has 20,000 stores worldwide and turnover of €50m.

Supermarkets are ruthless and one can only admire Aldi for taking on the big four and beating them.

About Gerald Ingolby

Formerly a consumer journalist on radio and television, in 2002 Gerald published a thriller novel featuring a campaigning editor who was wrongly accused and jailed for fraud. He now runs a website devoted to consumer news. More Posts