The gradual greening of two German giants
Since their launch, Aldi and Lidl have slowly adapted to Irish market
Aldi Ireland has hit a record market share of 7 per cent. Photograph: Eric Luke
Aldi’s sales pitch in Germany is that there is no sales pitch. While the Del Monte fruit company advertises its man who says “yes”, Aldi employs a press officer in Germany simply to say “nein”.
No quotes, no interviews, no nothing. The abiding Aldi principle for almost seven decades has been that an Aldi product’s quality – and price – should speak for itself.
Aldi Ireland has hit a record market share of 7 per cent, up more than a quarter in the past 12 months, by tinkering liberally with the retailer’s recipe for success. Together with archrival Lidl, Aldi used its low-cost promise to crack open the Irish food retailing market, winning over growing numbers of cash-strapped customers in the economic downturn.
What is less trumpeted is that, since its launch, Aldi has undergone a radical, if quiet, greening. Compared to today’s stores, the first Aldi outlet on Dublin’s Parnell Street in 1999 was a very different beast.
German visitors were unfazed by the spartan fit-out and strip lighting; for Irish customers the place had a joyless air that recalled the late, unlamented retailer H Williams. Then there were the unfamiliar products: the fat white Bratwurst, mysterious tins in perplexing German.
Times and tastes change and Aldi Süd – the German parent of the Irish operation – has changed with them. But Aldi Ireland’s embrace of television ads and PR remain alien to the German parent company. Then there are the Irish products – from hurleys to premium steak – and copious promotion of the farmers behind the fresh food.
Aldi insists its wider range of local, fresh and premium products in Ireland reflects a willingness of Irish consumers to spend more than their German counterparts for quality – if no longer above the odds.
Shifting Aldi Ireland into an Irish Aldi was evolution, not revolution, the company says, reflecting a tradition of autonomy for local managers to tinker with the recipe for local markets. “Do we need to go to Germany to check something to make sure they are happy with it first?
The answer is no,” said Mr Niall O’Connor, Aldi Ireland’s group buying director. “When we make our decisions we need to apply logic, we base our decisions on having as much information as we can. If we make sound decisions that are good for company, then it will be successful.”
Like Aldi, Lidl has worked since its 2000 Irish launch to “green” its product range by buying from local suppliers.
Less well-known is how the Irish operation has earned a best-practice reputation and caught the eye of its German headquarters. Lidl Ireland was the first country in the group to embrace social media; it also developed training and development programmes that have since been adopted elsewhere.
Their greening has been gradual but Lidl and Aldi say every step in the process has been scrupulously researched. As Aldi’s Niall O’Connor puts it: “We are not into spending money foolishly and expecting consumers to pay for this.”