Meet the Albrechts, the reclusive billionaire heirs to the Aldi and Trader Joe's empire

Florian Ebener/Stringer/Getty ImagesThe Albrechts, owners of the Aldi and Trader Joe’s empire, built a $US53.5 billion fortune from practically nothing.
  • The Albrecht family, who own Aldi and Trader Joe’s, has been historically secretive, and there is a lot that’s unknown about their personal lives. What is known, however, is their net worth: $US53.5 billion, according to Forbes.
  • 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 10,000 stores across Europe and the US.
  • In 1979, a family trust bought Trader Joe’s, the low-cost grocery store native to the US.
  • The Albrecht brothers’ heirs are feuding after one of the founder’s wives tried to cut her grandchildren and daughter-in-law out of the family business because of their “lavish spending,” The Guardian reported.
  • Here’s how the Albrecht family got started and what we know about them today.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Theo 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.

But now, according to a recent report from The Guardian, the family is feuding after one of the founder’s wives tried to cut her daughter-in-law and five grandkids out of the family business.


Aldi is now a global grocery chain with around 10,000 locations worldwide — which includes its 1,900 locations in 36 states across the US.

Andrew Weber/AP PhotoAldi storefront pictured above.

Source: Forbes,Aldi,CNBC, Aldi Nord


But before it gained the worldwide status it has today, the chain started as a family-owned corner grocer in Europe.

ALDI Einkauf GmbH & Co. oHG via Getty ImagesAn original Albrecht store pictured above.

Source: Bloomberg,Aldi


The Albrecht family matriarch, Anna, opened the first storefront in Essen, Germany, in 1913. The New York Times reported that in the 1930s, her husband, Karl Albrecht Sr., got sick and could no longer work, so she had to run the store to support their family.

Google MapsEssen is a city in western Germany.

Source: The New York Times, Aldi


Anna and Karl Sr.’s sons, Karl and Theo, took over the business in 1946 when they returned from serving in World War II — they fought for their native Germany.

ALDI Einkauf GmbH & Co. oHG via Getty ImagesAn original Albrecht storefront pictured above.

Source: The New York Times


During the war, Theo was taken as a prisoner of war by Allied troops, and Karl was wounded and then captured. Both returned home to Essen after the war was over.

A0009/picture alliance via Getty ImagesTheo Albrecht pictured above.

Source: The New York Times, CNBC


In the wake of the war, the brothers decided to sell only non-perishable items that had a proven demand. They reportedly didn’t want to spend money on decorations — which might explain the no-frills look the store still has today — on advertising, or on inventory that wasn’t moving — they cut whatever wasn’t selling.

Lesley H./YelpCanned goods are an example of non-perishables.

Source: CNBC


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 PressAldi advertises its low prices.

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 ImagesThe shelves look almost like those at a warehouse.

Source: The Guardian


The business model continued to prove itself, and over the course of a few years, the brothers opened dozens of stores around Germany.

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

Source: The Chicago Tribune, CNBC


They renamed the chain Aldi, which is short for Albrecht Discount. By 1953, there were more than 30 Aldi stores across the country.

AP PhotoThe Albrecht name used to be on the side of the store.

Source: The Chicago Tribune, CNBC


Because of its below-average price model, Aldi markets were able to dominate in Germany. As the family’s supermarkets spread across Europe, it became impossible for other would-be competitors like Walmart to even get a foothold in the region.

Feddersen/ullstein bild via Getty ImagesBy 1955, there were 100 Albrecht stores.

Source: The New York Times, Aldi


In 1960, Karl and Theo amicably split Aldi in half after a disagreement about whether to sell cigarettes — Theo wanted to sell them, but Karl thought they would attract shoplifters.

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

Source: Bloomberg, The New York Times, CNBC, The Guardian


Karl ran Aldi Süd — Aldi South — operating stores in southwest Germany, the US, UK, Australia and Eastern Europe. And Theo ran Aldi Nord — Aldi North — operating stores in the northern part of West Germany and western and southern Europe.

REUTERS/Michael DalderAn Aldi Süd sign pictured above.

Source: Bloomberg, The New York Times


The line separating the two territories is known to German locals as the “Aldi equator,” according to The Chronicle.

Shayanne Gal/Business InsiderThere is a clear division of retail territories.

Source: The Chronicle, Aldi Nord


While the stores share a name, their logos are slightly different. Aldi Süd has the blue, orange, and yellow colour scheme while Aldi Nord has a blue, red, and white colour scheme.

Peter Nicholls/Reuters and AP Photo/Joerg SarbachAldi Süd (left) and Aldi Nord (right) signs look similar, but they’re not exactly the same.

Source: Business Insider


In 1971, 11 years after their businesses split, Theo was kidnapped — he was released after being held for 17 days. The Albrecht family paid an estimated $US3 million for his ransom. He did, however, apply for tax relief from the ransom payment and listed it as a business expense.

Peter Becker/picture alliance via Getty ImagesOnly half the ransom was returned after the kidnappers were caught.

Source: The Chicago Tribune, The Local, Bloomberg, The Guardian


After that, the family led an increasingly private life. Little to nothing is known about Theo and his brother, Karl. They never granted interviews or made public statements about their wealth or businesses. An obituary for Theo revealed that he was known to collect typewriters and wild orchids and he loved golf.

John S Lander/LightRocket via Getty ImagesWild orchids pictured above.

Source: The Guardian


Theo would travel to work in an armoured car after the incident, using a different route every day. The Albrechts also reportedly had “fortress-like” homes along the hillsides near the Ruhr Valley in Essen.

Margaret Bourke-White/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty ImagesWheatfields in the Ruhr Valley pictured above.

Source: The New York Times


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

Google MapsThere is also a spa inside the resort.

Source: The New York Times


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

Der Öschberghof/YelpThe resort lobby is pictured above.

In 1979, an Albrecht family trust bought specialty store Trader Joe’s.

Roman Tiraspolsky/ShutterstockTrader Joe’s storefront pictured above.

Source: The Chicago Tribune


However, Trader Joe’s remains mum on who actually owns it and has refused to comment on the Albrecht family.

Jessica Tyler/Business InsiderThe inside of a Trader Joe’s store pictured above.

Source: The Chicago Tribune


Albrecht helped turn Trader Joe’s into a chain with stores across the US. It has since become a low-cost grocery staple with nearly 500 stores.

Flickr/AranamiTrader Joe’s makes $US13 billion in annual revenue.

Source: The Chicago Tribune,Forbes, Aldi


In 2010, Theo Albrecht died with a net worth of nearly $US17 billion. He was at 88 years old and survived by his wife, Cäcilie, who died in 2018, and their sons Berthold and Theo Jr.

Roland Scheidemann/picture alliance via Getty ImagesTheo Albrecht pictured above.

Source: Bloomberg,

Forbes,
The Guardian


Theo’s biggest contribution to the Aldi empire was his frugality. He was known to use pencils “down to their stubs” and wear cheap suits. He was also reportedly known for keeping his stores from purchasing fancy decor.

Hayley Peterson/Business InsiderThe inside of this Aldi in the US is pretty bare-bones.

Source: The Guardian


Theo’s left Aldi Nord to his sons — Berthold died two years after his father and was survived by his wife Babette and their children.

Florian Ebener/Getty ImagesBabette Albrecht pictured above.

Source: The Guardian, The Guardian


Karl Albrecht, once the richest man in Germany with a personal net worth of nearly $US26 billion, died in 2014 at 94 years old — he was married for 67 years, and his wife died in 2013. Karl lived away from the spotlight as well — he “wanted no public attention and always turned down any honours,” according to a 2014 company-released statement.

Aldi Süd/DPAKarl Albrecht pictured above.

Source: The Local,

The New York Times


Karl’s son and daughter, Karl Jr. and Beate, inherited half of the Aldi fortune after their father’s death — the two reportedly 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. They have a combined net worth of $US36.1 billion.

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

Source: Bloomberg,Forbes


Karl Jr. and Beate have never spoken to the press — it’s unclear who will take over Aldi Süd once they retire.

JOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP/Getty ImagesAldi Süd and Aldi Nord are still separate companies.

Source: Bloomberg


While the Albrechts have historically stayed away from giving public statements, Theo Jr. broke a decade-long silence when he publicly called out his sister-in-law Babette. She reportedly 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 Images‘The name Albrecht requires a modest lifestyle,’ Theo Jr. reportedly told press in 2016.

Source: The New Daily, Bloomberg


In 2016, Berthold’s last will entered the spotlight for excluding Babette and their children from control of Aldi Nord. 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 ImagesBabette posed for photographers, unlike the rest of her Albrecht family members.

Source: Bloomberg


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

Tristar Media/WireImageBabette attends celebrity functions, something else her Albrecht family members didn’t do.

Source: Bloomberg


In early 2019, The Guardian reported that the family was feuding again — this time after the last will of Cäcilie Albrecht — Babette’s mother-in-law — was made public. The will ordered that Babette and her children have no future roles at the company.

Rolf Vennenbernd/picture alliance via Getty ImagesBabette Albrecht sits in the studio audience of the celebrity dance competition ‘Let’s Dance’ in March 2018.

Source
:

The Guardian

,

Business Insider


Cäcilie died in November 2018 — according to The Guardian, she accused Babette and her children of “siphoning” $US112 million from a company foundation, but the family denied all accusations of wrongdoing. A lawyer for Babette Albrecht’s family did not respond to Business Insider’s request for comment.

Florian Ebener/Stringer/Getty ImagesBabette sits front row at a fashion show in Germany.

Source
:

The Guardian

,

Business Insider

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