Aldi UK bosses Matthew Barnes and Roman Heini on their Grocer Gold win

When Aldi missed out on this title in 2012, it was growing at a rate that was already the envy of the supermarkets.

But the discounter was determined to show this was no flash in the pan, and with growth, if anything, accelerating, its victory in 2013 is the perfect validation of a new model it insists is sustainable for years to come. “We are Discounter 2.0,” joint MD Roman Heini told The Grocer following its success on Tuesday night. “Even fresher, more products, but still with a limited range overall. We are the only operator that offers that.”

The foundations of Aldi’s success over the last two years were built on improvements to product quality - resulting in an unprecedented 16 gold medals at The Grocer’s Own Label Food & Drink Awards last month - and an increased range, with fresh produce a particular focus, the vast majority of it locally sourced. As a result, in 2012, fresh meat sales doubled, fruit and veg sales leapt by 48% and bakery sales jumped 40%, as Aldi expanded its product range by a further 30%.

The October launch of a chilled ready-meals range, together with a new premium wine range, continued further the process of filling in the gaps in its selection. And in the opinion of the judges, Aldi “should no longer be considered a discounter” as it has “perfected the art of miniaturisation in supermarket grocery.”

Aldi’s achievements in 2012 weren’t limited to the product side, however.

There was the campaign to feed a family for 57p, an evolution in its already “savvy and sophisticated” social media strategy, and the introduction of baskets into all of its stores, following a Facebook campaign by consumers.

And if its willingness to introduce baskets seems an obvious concession to the customer, the significance should not be overestimated, says joint MD Matthew Barnes, for what it says about Aldi’s increased willingness to listen and to act.

Matthew Barnes, Tony Baines and Roman Heini

L-R: Matthew Barnes, Tony Baines and Roman Heini

“Customer service wasn’t good enough,” he admits. “So we put a comprehensive customer service programme in place. It’s a powerful tool, but it’s only powerful if you react to it.

“So we enormously increased parent and child spaces, baby trolleys - we have three new types of baby trolley now. We have introduced mid-sized trolleys. It’s all come via the customers. We are prepared to listen but also to act, and we have been rewarded with their loyalty.”

Aldi also went on a huge recruitment drive in 2012, hiring 4,500 staff over a 12-month period, including 250 apprentices and 100 graduates. And it revealed plans to reinvest £181m of operating profits back into the business to fund investment throughout 2013, including the first high street store, opened in Kilburn, in yet another sign of Aldi’s conversion from rigid discounter, to flexible, multi-format grocery retailer.

However big it gets, though, Barnes insists Aldi will always stay true to its discounter roots.

“It’s our DNA,” says Barnes. “The UK evolution we have gone through hasn’t changed those core values. A selective range of products at outstanding prices and quality to match brands. We will continue to work like that.”

Adds Heini: “We are quite hopeful that over the coming year we will continue to see strong sales growth. We have a few more products in the pipeline. We have never been as razor sharp on price as we are today, so we can’t really see a reason why the growth can’t continue.”

Read this: Aldi - “We are Discounter 2.0”

The Grocer Gold Awards 2013 - Grocer of the Year