The Unspoken Connection Between Trader Joe's And Aldi

While Trader Joe's and Aldi each have their uniquely dedicated fans, the two grocery chains have a lot in common. Both stores have a simplistic format and stock shelves with affordable private-label items rather than the name-brand products usually found at major grocery stores.

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Both stores are slow to change — Aldi has only just started to embrace some modern updates like self-checkout, while Trader Joe's has vehemently kept to its low-tech operations. Dedicated Aldi customers keep their eyes locked on the "Aisle of Shame" for random gems that won't be on shelves the following week. Similarly, Trader Joe's fanatics will camp out in the frozen food aisle to ensure they get the last bag of Mandarin Orange Chicken. On top of that, the average Aldi store size is between 17,000 and 18,000 square feet, and Trader Joe's locations are at most 15,000 square feet. (Yet major grocery chains like Safeway stand at 46,000 square feet.)

What many shoppers might not realize is that these commonalities are not by coincidence. Aldi and Trader Joe's share more than just a format; they share a history. A business deal made between Trader Joe himself and one leg of the Aldi empire made it so that the two grocery chains remain under the same ownership today.

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How Aldi and Trader Joe's are connected

The Albrecht family founded the grocery chain eventually known as Aldi and brought the brand to the U.S. in 1976. However, in the midst of their success, brothers and owners Karl and Theo Albrecht chose to split the company in 1960 due to a disagreement over whether or not to sell cigarettes in their stores. The company became two separate entities, Aldi Nord (North) and Aldi Süd (South), which nonetheless continued to work closely together. 

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Meanwhile, in 1967, convenience store owner Joe Coulombe opened a grocery chain aimed at pleasing well-traveled consumers whom Coulombe felt were being overlooked by major supermarkets. Coulombe described the ideal Trader Joe's customer as "overeducated and underpaid." "I have an ideal audience in mind," he told the Los Angeles Times in 1981. "This is a person who got a Fulbright scholarship, went to Europe for a couple of years and developed a taste for something other than Velveeta by way of cheese, something more than ordinary beer by way of alcoholic beverages and something other than Folgers by way of coffee."

In 1979, Aldi Nord purchased Trader Joe's from Coulombe. The founder continued to serve as Trader Joe's CEO after the sale until he retired in 1988. Despite the purchase and parallels in the formats of the two chains, Trader Joe's has continued to operate fairly independently while under the Aldi Nord umbrella. 

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