August 27, 2010

Aldi set to exit Greece as sales boom

Lidl store facade in Greece (photo: Theresa Gruss)
The winner takes it all: When Aldi quits Greece at the end of this year, Lidl will have a very level playing-field
The gods of ancient Greece loved to play with mortal men. 

Particular amusement was afforded to them by making a positive character trait the downfall of the tragic hero. 

His decline was then mapped with bitter irony which mocked him until his inexorable end.          

It is known to our newspaper whether the powers that be at Aldi Süd's headquarters in Mülheim read Sophocles at night. 

But, if they do, they will find their recent fate foretold by the dramatist's malevolent panoply of gods who have for ever frustrated and scorned the best endeavours of man.          

Hardly had the decision been taken to withdraw from the Isles of Greece, when sales at Aldi and its arch-rival Lidl began to show double-digit growth on the Ionian peninsular. According to information available to Lebensmittel Zeitung, Lidl is growing at nearly 20 per cent.          

The country's economic troubles are clearly benefiting the German hard discounters as consumers increasingly feel the pinch. Pensioners and former state employees are said to be flocking to budget supermarkets in droves.          

It must be a weird feeling for Aldi store managers.

Mülheim & Mount Olympus

They know they have to shut up shop at the end of the year, but their stores are fuller than ever. In fact, some outlets are recording revenues that rival Aldi's very best sites in Germany.          

In Mülheim, however, decisions are as implacable as once on Mount Olympus. Only this week, Aldi director Johann Mörwald came to Greece to discuss withdrawal plans with local top management.          

As a final drop in the bitter draught of Attic tragedy, Aldi is having a tough time trying to sell its store base and central warehouse in one convenient packet. To date, Delhaize Group has only shown interest in buying individual stores, and local supermarket operator Masoutis Super Markets also only seems to want to cherry-pick.

An ill wind for the man on the street          

However, it's an ill wind that ne'er blew anyone any good. Lidl must be rubbing its hands with glee. After German soft discounter "Plus" exited Greece in 2008, Aldi was the company's only real rival in the segment.  

The Schwarz Group subsidiary will now have a freer hand to set prices -- ones which were already relatively high by any European comparison.          

What, one wonders, will be the next ironic turn of fate? Act V: Lidl Hellas privatised by the Greek government, or Aldi purchased by the Onassis family?

Related article in German: Lebensmittel Zeitung, 27.08.2010, by Hans-Jürgen Schulz

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