Meet the Albrechts, the highly secretive heirs to the Aldi fortune, who are worth $38.8 billion, own Trader Joe's, and have kept a famously low profile for decades

ALDI Einkauf GmbH & Co. oHG via Getty Images
  • After World War II, brothers Theo and Karl Albrecht found their mother’s corner grocery store in Germany still standing – so they ran with it, transforming Aldi into an international supermarket chain.
  • Throughout the decades, Aldi became one of the most profitable retail chains, with over 5,000 stores across Europe and the US. In 1979, Theo bought Trader Joe’s, the low-cost grocery store.
  • The Albrecht family is historically secretive, and there is a lot left unknown about the family’s personal lives. What is known, however, is their net worth: $US38.8 billion.

Theodor and Karl Albrecht took their mother’s thrifty corner store, still standing in Essen, Germany after World War II, and turned it into a low-cost supermarket chain that today spans over a dozen countries across Europe and the US.

Aldi, short for Albrecht discount, has become such a stakeholder in Europe that other chains like it, including Walmart, have never been able to get a foothold. In 2017, CNBC estimated Aldi made over $US13 billion in the US alone.

Little is known about the Albrechts. They don’t speak to the press, or attend openings of their stores. According to a German newspaper, the family does not own vacation homes, private jets, or yachts, but instead have chosen to live in seclusion, keeping just a couple thousand euros in their bank account.

What is known, however, is their net worth: $US38.8 billion, according to Bloomberg.

Here’s how the Albrecht family got started and what we know about them:


In 1913, the Albrecht family opened a corner grocery store in Essen, Germany. After World War II, brothers Karl and Theo took over the business in 1946, opening dozens of stores and renamed it Aldi — short for Albrecht Discount.

ALDI Einkauf GmbH & Co. oHG via Getty Images

Source: Bloomberg


By 1953, there were over 30 Aldi stores across Germany.

Roland Scheidemann/picture alliance via Getty ImagesAldi administration building in Herten, Germany.

Source: The Chicago Tribune


In 1960, Karl and Theo, after a disagreement about whether to sell cigarettes, split Aldi in half: Aldi Süd and Aldi Nord. Karl would operate stores in southwest Germany, the U.S., U.K., Australia and Eastern Europe, while Theo took the northern part of West Germany, western and southern Europe.

Roland Scheidemann/picture alliance via Getty ImagesTheo Albrecht in 1970.

Source: Bloomberg, The New York Times


Eleven years later, in 1971, Theo was kidnapped and released after being held for 17 days. The Albrecht family paid over $US2 million for his return.

Peter Becker/picture alliance via Getty ImagesTheo Albrecht 24 hours after he got kidnapped.

Source: The Chicago Tribune, The Local, Bloomberg


The kidnapping rattled the family, and afterward, Theo led an increasingly private life. He did, however, apply for tax relief from the ransom payment as a business expense.

A0009/picture alliance via Getty Images

The kidnappers were eventually caught, but half of the ransom was never recovered. Albrecht would travel to work in an armoured car after the incident, using a different route every day.


Source:
The Chicago Tribune,
The Guardian


Little to nothing is known about Theo and his brother, Karl. They never granted interviews or made public statements about their wealth or businesses. Theo, however, was known to collect wild orchids and golf frequently.

John S Lander/LightRocket via Getty Images


Source:
The Guardian


The Albrechts had “fortress-like” homes along the hillsides near the Ruhr Valley in Essen.

Margaret Bourke-White/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty ImagesWheat fields in the Ruhr Valley.


Source:
The New York Times


Karl Albrecht was also a big fan of golf, too. He built Der Öschberghof, an 18-hole golf course in the southwestern region of Germany near the Black Forest in the 1970s.

Google Maps

Today, a night’s stay at the resort will cost at least $US400.


Source:
The New York Times


Aldi only offers a select number of private-label brands, and according to The New York Times, products would often be displayed “on wooden pallets in the cardboard boxes in which they were delivered.”

Jörg Schmitt/DPA Picture-Alliance, via Associated Press


Source:
The New York Times


This type of discounted goods store flourished in West Germany as the country attempted to crawl out of economic ruin following the war.

Klaus Rose/ullstein bild via Getty Images


Source:
The Guardian


Because of its below-average price model, Aldi markets were able to dominate in Germany.

Feddersen/ullstein bild via Getty Images


Source:
The New York Times


As Aldi supermarkets spread across Europe, it became impossible for other would-be competitors like Walmart to even get a foothold in the region.

JOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP/Getty Images


Source:
The New York Times


Today, there are over 10,000 Aldi stores across both branches.


Source:
Business Insider


In 1979, an Albrecht family trust bought specialty store Trader Joe’s. However, the company remains mum on who actually owns it, refusing to comment on the Albrecht family whenever asked.

Getty


Source:
The Chicago Tribune


Albrecht grew Trader Joe’s into a nationwide chain and low-cost grocery staple with nearly 500 stores today in the US and $US13 billion in annual revenue.

Source:The Chicago Tribune,Forbes, Aldi


In 2010, Theo Albrecht died at 88, leaving Aldi Nord to his two sons, Berthold and Theo Jr. Albrecht’s net worth was $US16.7 billion at the time of his death.

Roland Scheidemann/picture alliance via Getty Images

Theo’s biggest contribution to the Aldi empire was his frugality. He was known to use pencils down to their stubs, wore cheap suits, and never allowed the stores to divulge in fancy decor.

Albrecht’s Aldi Nord division did not give a cause of death in a released statement in 2010. He was survived by his two sons, Berthold and Theo Jr.

Berthold died two years after his father.


Source:
Bloomberg,


Forbes,
The Guardian


Karl Albrecht, once the richest man in Germany with a personal net worth of $US26 billion, died on July 16, 2014 at 94.

Aldi Süd/DPA

“Karl Albrecht wanted no public attention and always turned down any honours, leading a secluded life. He was fair and dependable entrepreneur and a man who lived by his Christian values,” the company said in a statement in 2014.

Albrecht himself was last quoted in 1953.

Albrecht was married for 67 years, his wife dying a year before him.

Source: The Local,

The New York Times


Theo Jr. went on to break the Albrechts decade-long silence to call out his sister-in-law Babette, who went against the family rules by spending millions on vintage cars and art after the death of her husband, Berthold.

Britta Pedersen/picture alliance via Getty ImagesBabette Albrecht in February 2019.

Theo Jr. told the press in 2016: “The name Albrecht requires a modest lifestyle.”

Source:The New Daily, Bloomberg


In 2016, Berthold’s will came into the spotlight for excluding Babette and children from control of Aldi Nord — worth over $US22 billion. She fought her late husband’s decision in court, saying he was not competent enough to make a will because of an “alcohol-related illness.”

Rolf Vennenbernd/picture alliance via Getty Images


Source:
The Irish Times


Babette and her children, who have never been publicly named, get over $US36 million a year from the family trust after Theo Jr. offered to end the public dispute.

Tristar Media/WireImage


Source:
Bloomberg


Albrecht’s son and daughter, Karl Jr. and Beate, inherited half of the Aldi fortune after his death and sit on the company’s board. Karl Jr. has no children, while his sister has six. Both continue in their father’s tradition of being notoriously reclusive.

Uli Deck/picture alliance via Getty ImagesKarl Albrecht Jr. in 2016.

Karl Jr., 71, and Beate, 66, have never spoken to the press, and it remains unknown who will take over Aldi Sud once they retire.

Source: Bloomberg

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