Discount supermarkets pioneer Karl Albrecht, co-founder of Aldi chain, dies

Karl Albrecht's Aldi supermarkets changed way many families shopped

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 22 July, 2014, 9:56pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 22 July, 2014, 9:56pm

Karl Albrecht, the German businessman who became one the world's wealthiest people after co-founding the Aldi discount supermarket chain in the 1960s, has died. He was 94.

He died on July 16, Sarah Twyman, an Aldi spokeswoman, said.

Albrecht died in Essen, Germany, and was buried in a private ceremony on Sunday, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reported.

He was the second-richest person in Germany and the 35th-wealthiest in the world, with an estimated fortune of US$20.9 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

With his brother, Theo, he built a business that ranked as the world's 11th-biggest retailer last year, according to London-based research company Planet Retail.

"He had a strong belief that everyone should be able to consume high-quality food and beverages at the lowest possible prices," Twyman said. "He devoted his life to making this belief a reality."

The Albrecht brothers split the Essen-based chain into separate companies, Aldi Sued and Aldi Nord, in 1962, following a feud over whether to sell cigarettes.

Karl, who didn't give interviews, withdrew entirely from public life early in his career.

"Karl Albrecht preferred to avoid public attention and rejected any honours awarded to him, always pointing toward the successes achieved by his employees," Twyman said.

He took up management of Aldi Sued, which has outlets in southern Germany as well as the United States, Britain, Australia and eastern Europe. Aldi Sued operates more than 4,860 stores, according to its website. Its revenue last year was about US$51 billion, Planet Retail data shows.

The brothers pioneered the low-cost business strategy that focused on a limited range of goods, cut supply expenses, and offered minimal advertising. The result lacked the refinement of brightly lit supermarket chains, but consumers often paid less.

"The key to success was to stick to that strategy without compromising," Dieter Brandes, a member of the Aldi Nord supervisory board from 1975 to 1985, said in an interview in 2012. ''It's a very simple shopping experience. The Aldi system will, for sure, work for another 10 years successfully."

Karl Hans Albrecht was born in 1920, in Essen. His father was a miner and baker, and his mother ran a grocery store. He served in the German army during the second world war and was wounded on the Russian front.

The brothers took over their mother's store in Essen in 1946 and within seven years had a 30-outlet network of discount supermarkets that served the region. The first Aldi supermarket outside Germany opened in Austria in 1967.