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Joanita Wibowo

Kidnapping and feuds: Inside the bizarre family history of the ALDI founders

Kidnapping and feuds: Inside the bizarre family history of the ALDI founders

Since opening its first store in Australia in 2001, ALDI has established itself as a beloved brand among shoppers in the country. The German supermarket chain, which has become the nation's third largest grocer, is well-known for its affordable prices, as well as the popular Special Buys range.

However, what many might not be aware of is that there are actually two different ALDI companies operating around the world: Aldi Nord and Aldi Sud, or North and South.

The history went back to post-war Germany, when brothers Theo and Karl Albrecht took over the store in 1945 from their parents.

In the 1960s, the brothers could not agree on whether ALDI – short for Albrecht Diskont – should sell cigarettes and decided to split the company in two. Geographical lines divided the brothers’ respective turfs – Theo ran the stores in Northern Germany under Aldi Nord, while Karl took over the Southern German shops under Aldi Sud.

The territorial division also applies to the rest of the world. Stores in France, Poland and Denmark are from Aldi Nord, while branches in the UK, Ireland and Australia are Aldi Sud. According to Dieter Brandes, former senior executive at Aldi Nord, the two companies had always worked together. “In foreign countries it was a case of ‘who started either first, goes first’,” he told news.com.au.

The branding of the two firms are also different – Aldi Nord sports a white and blue sign, while Aldi Sud has a blue and orange logo.

After the split, the two discount store companies went on to become successful. However, it also brought some unwanted attention to the Albrecht family.

In 1971, Theo was kidnapped at gunpoint and held ransom for 17 days in Dusseldorf. The two kidnappers received £1.5 million – which Theo reportedly attempted to claim as a business expense on his taxes – but were ultimately arrested, serving eight-and-a-half years in prison.

Following the incident, the brothers adopted a reclusive lifestyle. According to paparazzo Franz Ruch, Theo and Karl would drive home in separate cars and change the route every day. Their last public statements were from 1953 and 1971.

Nevertheless, the family business continued to thrive, with the two companies now having more than 10,000 stores across 20 countries. When Theo died in 2010, his estimated worth was US$18.8 billion. Meanwhile, Karl was worth around US$25.9 billion when he died in 2014.

Today, the high-profile family is embroiled in public conflicts over what was claimed to be extravagant spending. In 2016, Theo’s son Theo Jr claimed that his widowed sister-in-law Babette Albrecht of withdrawing funds from one of the company’s trusts to buy vintage cars and art.

Theo’s late wife Cäcilie Albrecht also made waves after her death in November after her will excluded her grandchildren and Babette from future business decisions. In the will, Cäcilie accused Babette and her five adult grandchildren of misusing more than €100m from one of the company’s foundations. Concerns have arisen that the feuds might put the company’s future in question, the Guardian reported.