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Karl Albrecht

Co-founder of the Aldi discount supermarket chain

Co-founder of the Aldi discount supermarket chain

Born: February 20, 1920 Died: July 16, 2014

KARL Albrecht, who has died aged 94, was co-founder of the Aldi grocery store chain and one of the world's richest people. He and his brother Theo, who died in 2010, worked in their parents' grocery store as they were growing up and went on to build a retail empire that has challenged the domination of the traditional big supermarket chains in the UK.

Since 1989, it has built 300 stores in the UK, plus hundreds of others across France, Spain, Portugal, Poland, America and elsewhere.

Albrecht was brought up in Essen, in the industrial Ruhr region of western Germany, where his mother set up a small grocery shop after their father, a miner, had to give up work. Determined not to follow their classmates into the mines and factories, Karl trained at a delicatessen, while Theo learned the grocery business from their mother.

At the outbreak of the Second World War, the brothers were called up to the German army. Karl was wounded on the Eastern front, while Theo served in the desert with Rommel's Afrika Korps before being taken prisoner by the Americans in Tunisia.

At the end of the war, the brothers took over their parents' shop and, with memories of a tough childhood still fresh and rationing still in place, they introduced a radical, cut-price way of selling groceries. By 1950, they were running 13 stores and, five years later, they had expanded throughout the Ruhr basin.

The first Aldi stores - an acronym standing for Albrecht Discount - opened in the early 1960s under the motto: "Concentrating on the basics: a limited selection of goods for daily needs."

After a disagreement in the 1960s over whether to stock cigarettes or not (Karl was said to have been worried that the tobacco products would attract shoplifters) the brothers decided to divide up their areas in what was then West Germany, with Theo running stores in the north and Karl those in the south.

However, they continued to use their combined bargaining power to lower purchasing prices, enabling them to garner higher profit margins while keeping prices low. As their concept proved successful, Aldi started to expand around the world.

The Albrecht brothers regularly led lists of Germany's richest people. Forbes magazine's 2010 list of the world's richest people estimated Theo's fortune at £12 billion, making him one of the wealthiest people in Europe. Karl, then 90, had estimated wealth of £17bn, making him the 10th richest person in the world.

"He created a corporate culture of mutual respect, he trusted his employees and their talents, and he gave them a chance to use them," said Aldi spokeswoman Kirsten Gess in a statement.

He is survived by wife Maria, their son Karl and daughter Beata.

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