The man considered one of the fathers of the discount store strategy — a cofounder of the global Aldi supermarket chain and the developer of Trader Joe's in the U.S. — has died. He was 88.
Theo Albrecht died Saturday in his home city of Essen, Germany, his company's Aldi Nord division said in a statement Wednesday. The company did not give a cause of the billionaire's death.
Albrecht was the driving force behind Aldi's internationalization, expanding stores to France, Spain, Portugal, Poland and the United States.
Albrecht and his elder brother Karl both served as German soldiers in World War II then returned home to Essen and took over a small grocery store their parents owned. By 1950 they were already running 13 stores and five years later they had expanded throughout Germany's western industrial Ruhr basin.
The first Aldi stores — an acronym standing for "Albrecht Discount" — opened in the early 1960s under the motto: "concentrating on the basics: a limited selection of goods for daily needs."
Aldi now has more than 4,000 outlets in Germany alone, where it is known for its no-frills shopping environment, streamlined processes and a limited range of discount products.
The two brothers in the 1960s decided to divide up what was then West Germany, with Theo running stores in the north. However, they used their combined bargaining power to lower purchasing prices, enabling them to garner higher profit margins while keeping prices low.
As their concept proved successful, Aldi started to expand around the world. In the U.S. alone, the company says it now has about 1,000 shops, including Trader Joe's.
Alison Mochizuki, director of national public relations at Trader Joe's, was unwilling to comment on Albrecht's passing or on his contributions to the grocery store chain. Trader Joe's website makes no mention of Albrecht's ownership or its affiliation with Aldi, the German ultra-discounter that has been compared to Wal-Mart.
Aldi does not publish sales or profit figures. Aldi Nord says it employs more than 50,000 people worldwide, but will not reveal how many stores the company has around the world.
Albrecht quietly managed Aldi Nord until 1993, when he stepped back from the day-to-day business. But he still wielded huge influence as chairman of a foundation that holds the biggest stake in the company.
The publicity-shy Albrecht — of whom barely any photos exist — kept a very low profile. In 1971, he was kidnapped in Germany and released after 17 days after paying a ransom of 7 million German marks.
The Albrecht brothers have regularly led lists of Germany's richest people.
Forbes magazine's 2010 list of the world's richest people estimated Theo Albrecht's fortune at $16.7 billion, making him one of the wealthiest people in Europe. Karl Albrecht, 90, is said to have an estimated wealth of $23.5 billion, making him number ten worldwide.
Albrecht is survived by his wife Cilli and his two sons, Theo and Berthold.