Group MD Paul Foley said that planning permission was granted last week for the expansion at its base in Atherstone, Warwickshire, which will see Aldi’s existing facility double in size when the building is finished in about 16 months’ time.
He said the main aim of the expansion was to provide Aldi’s central buying team with the right sort of facilities to manage the chain’s product development work. But it will also support an ambitious expansion plan.
Aldi is already looking to boost its head office buying and property teams, but Foley stressed the chain had no intention of overstaffing the new facility. And he said it would further improve Aldi’s efficiency. “You don’t need to work in Portakabins to save money. It’s about having great facilities and high quality people.”
In an exclusive interview with The Grocer, Foley revealed that Aldi believed there was potential to build a network of 1,500 stores in the British Isles. While he acknowledged obtaining suitable sites would be a major obstacle, he said the biggest headache was finding the right sort of people for the business. Foley said it was only possible to develop people at a certain pace and that was one reason why Aldi would be reluctant to buy another chain. “We would be interested in the buildings but we do not always have a place for their people.”
Aldi has revamped its business over the past five years, putting more emphasis on the quality of its products. Foley said: “We are pretty much known everywhere else in the world as a retailer of great quality products. But in the UK we are known only as a cheap shop. So we are going to change that perception.”
He added: “In the past two to three years, the results of our push on product quality and innovation has encouraged us that we are going in the right direction. But we are by no means finished.” And he said more consumers were waking up to what Aldi had to offer. “New people are shopping with us and they can’t have been shopping with discounters before because they did not have a store nearby. So we have to be winning them from other supermarkets.”
The chain has embarked on a major marketing campaign focused on its quality and price proposition, and it recently unveiled a new format store in Rugby. That format has already been rolled out to five other stores, although the stores have also been made bigger to provide the space needed for Aldi’s range of 1,000 products.
Aldi is also stepping up its NPD programme. It has launched its Specially Selected range in time for Christmas and has two major ranges - in health and organics - planned for next year.