For decades, discretion has been as much a part of Aldi’s DNA as its discount prices. No more. A vicious feud for control of the family-owned German retail empire now endangers one pillar of the €21.8 billion low-cost retailer.
The battle concerns the family of Berthold Albrecht, one of Aldi co-founder Theo Albrecht's two sons, who died four years ago aged 58. After his death Mr Albrecht's widow Babette and their four children discovered he had changed his will to exclude them from control of Aldi Nord, one of two Aldi companies operating in Germany.
Now Mrs Albrecht and her children have launched a multibillion euro legal action, claiming in court documents that the late Mr Albrecht was a “serious alcoholic” who died of “multiple organ failure through alcohol-related illness”.
Mrs Albrecht argues that, given his alcohol problems, liver cirrhosis and “personality change”, her late husband was not contractually capable when he signed documents in 2010 excluding his family from two of three foundations that control Aldi Nord operations.
Lawyers for the surviving brother, Theo Albrecht jnr, have dismissed the claims. In court documents, former Aldi Nord head Hartmuth Weisemann said the late Mr Albrecht made the decision because he doubted his children had the necessary "experience and competence" to help manage the multibillion euro empire.
Sensing that decision could lead to a dirty court battle, Theo Albrecht offered to his nieces and nephews multimillion annual payments to stay out of active business.
"Please decide for a peaceful alternative . . . Forcing further disagreement serves no one," he wrote, in a letter leaked to the Bild tabloid. "On the other hand we are not afraid of this. Then we simply have to fight on in court to carry out your father's wishes."
Having the Albrecht dirty linen washed in public is an extraordinary shift from the days of the founder Albrecht brothers, so secretive that only a handful of photos of them existed.
The Aldi Nord feud does not have a direct effect on the company's Irish operations, operated by Aldi Süd – the southern German company owned by successors to the other founding brother, Karl Albrecht.
Nevertheless the Süd Albrechts are watching the Nord Albrecht feud with dismay because it betrays the discretion prized by the Aldi founders and because, though the companies are separate, the legal battle brings uncertainty into joint production and logistics operations.