Trader Joe’s, with its decidedly Californian, laid-back feel, cheap prices, and unique goods, has achieved cult status among the masses, with Facebook groups and entire websites devoted to the chain of 500-plus stores in 43 states.
But you might have heard that this paragon among grocery stores is actually affiliated with Aldi. So, does Aldi own Trader Joe’s? Read on and find out the truth!
Does Aldi Own Trader Joe’s?
Aldi does own Trader Joe’s, but it is not the Aldi chain familiar to North American shoppers. Trader Joe’s is owned by Aldi Nord, which was formed when the two brothers who founded the Albrecht Discount chain in Germany parted ways. Aldi Sud oversees Aldi US operations.
You’re not alone if you need a little bit more explaining on that matter, so stick around for the fascinating history lesson and some comparisons between Trader Joe’s and the Aldi we know and love in the US!
Are There Two Aldi’s?
There are two Aldi entities, and before we can get into the details of how one of those Aldi companies took over Trader Joe’s, it’s important to understand a little bit about the history of the Albrecht family.
You see, the Albrecht matriarch opened the family’s first grocery store in the early 1900s in the city of Essen, but after two World Wars, Germany was not in great shape. The Albrecht brothers, Theo and Karl, returned from the latter war and took over the running of the store.
No doubt seeing the bad state of things around them, the brothers wisely opted to carve out a niche in pantry basics for ultra-low prices. The company grew, and they were able to open multiple stores throughout Germany.
They were getting on quite well until the 1960s when the brothers couldn’t agree on whether or not to sell cigarettes. Theo was in favor, but Karl didn’t like the idea, believing it would attract shoplifters.
So they split, with Theo assuming control over Aldi Nord and Karl at the helm of Aldi Sud.
When Did Aldi Nord Take Over Trader Joe’s?
Aldi Sud ended up expanding to the US in 1976, which is significant to note because, within three years, Aldi Nord acquired Trader Joe’s.
If we had to guess, they were looking for an entry point into the States that wasn’t going to confuse shoppers by sharing a name with a chain already in existence.
So in 1979, the founder of Trader Joe’s, Joe Coulombe (there really is a Joe!), sold his business to Theo Albrecht, CEO of Aldi Nord.
A writer at AldiReviewer.com actually reached out to Trader Joe’s to learn how closely Aldi Nord and Trader Joe’s are operated, and the TJ rep responded that the two entities do operate independently of each other.
Trader Joe’s is a subsidiary of Aldi Nord but operates under its own jurisdiction.
What Is Trader Joe’s?
A little back story on Trader Joe’s highlights why Theo Albrecht considered buying the California chain a good investment.
Trader Joe’s was founded by Joe Coulombe, a Stanford University grad who got his start in drugstores and convenience stores. When six of the Pronto Markets he had been managing were up for liquidation, Coulombe purchased them.
That was in the late 1950s. In the intervening years, Coulombe had changed up his business model, making his stores stand out amidst the plague of 7-Elevens with unique and eclectic finds.
Then in the late 1960s, the chain was renamed Trader Joe’s, a nod to a popular tiki restaurant in the Los Angeles area (“Trader Vic’s”). Shortly after that, Aldi Nord made their offer.
And it’s easy to see why. Coulombe’s business model went beyond just finding random items and throwing them together.
No, he rather curated high-end goods out of items that had been discontinued or constituted overstocks, and because he was able to obtain them so cheaply, he could pass the savings to the customer. Sound familiar?
Whether or not that type of product (high-end/gourmet foods at low prices) made the Aldi Nord purchase of Trader Joe’s intentional, today it’s one of the biggest draws for both Aldi Sud and Trader Joe’s stores, and part of the reason middle-to-upper-class shoppers flock to both.
Do Trader Joe’s And Aldi Sell The Same Things?
While some claim that Trader Joe’s and Aldi US source their store label products from some of the same wholesalers (so far we haven’t found any direct evidence of that), the two stores do carry some similar items, and in one instance, it appears that Aldi might have copied.
The biggest example would be Trader Joe’s cult favorite Everything But the Bagel seasoning, which they debuted in 2017. Two years later, Aldi released their own version, under their Stonemill seasonings label, simply called Everything Bagel Seasoning.
There are other similar products, though, like cheap wine (Trader Joe’s sells Two-Buck Chuck, while Aldi has their Winking Owl brand for about $2.50/bottle), fancy-looking cheeses, naan bread, and almond butter.
However, it appears Trader Joe’s stores carry a wider variety of these similar items, as Aldi’s stock is limited by space (and by design). Picture elevated versions of fruit spreads, pickles, and granola.
Trader Joe’s is lighter on the pantry staples, though – a quick look at Trader Joe’s “For the Pantry” page online reveals a few practical basics. Their 5-lb bag of all-purpose flour sells for $3.99, while the same item sells for $1.15 at Aldi.
Yes, there is some overlap in product offerings between the two; they both compete for those disposable income dollars, and they have both made it their mission to sell at surprisingly low price points.
But it could be said that Trader Joe’s and Aldi occupy two very different niches while veering over into each other’s lanes once in a while.
At Aldi, you can get all the grocery basics you need (plus some fun extras) for a great low price; Trader Joe’s is more like an entire store of “fun extras.”
Is Trader Joe’s Better Than Aldi?
Store label goods make up 90 percent of Aldi’s stock, while 80 percent make up Trader Joe’s. That leaves a lot of people wondering how the two match up in terms of quality.
In one glaring area, Aldi comes out on top almost by default. The reason? Trader Joe’s has a reputation for bad produce.
A writer at thekitchn.com even wrote an entire article about the dismal quality of TJ’s fresh fruits and veggies, commenting on the over-packaging of fresh foods and how things are bagged in bulk (potentially leading to waste at home).
While Aldi has its share of detractors, the chain has upped its game in recent years, sourcing locally and receiving shipments daily.
Besides the produce, though, we’d say Aldi and TJ’s are about equal in terms of quality! Both stores deliver, especially in the fun, unique food categories. Shoppers love Trader Joe’s black truffle cashew pesto, vegan Bolognese, and French onion mac & cheese.
On the Aldi side, shoppers can’t get enough of the Girl Scout cookie dupes, super affordable center-cut bacon (only $4/package!), and pineapple mimosa bottles.
Trader Joe’s is owned by Aldi Nord, a separate entity from Aldi Sud, which operates Aldi US and all its stores here in the United States.
While the distinction is a little confusing (and misleading!) at first, ultimately the differences have led to some fierce competition, and the resulting innovation on both sides has made grocery shopping a lot of fun.