Most Innovative Company 2010 #40: Aldi Sud

Yet another ‘Top Something’ List this week, this time from Fast Company about innovative companies. Like many readers, I guessed three of the top five without looking. (Does anyone ever say anything bad about Google?)

Innovation is defined as a new way of doing something or something new that is useful.  In that case, Google rightfully stays on the top of this list as the depths of search has barely been touched, and the usefulness of learning by watching on Youtube is amazing. Apple, Facebook and Amazon? Well, they are innovative, I guess, but only survive if they stay fresh.  The Apple products I own are slick, but hardly all that innovative, and I am starting to get a whiff that the ‘anti-PC’ thing is starting to get played.

I looked through Fast Company’s list, looking to find a least one company that truly innovated the customer/guest experience. I found them sitting in the last spot of the Top 40.

Aldi Süd

Ever shop at an Aldi? Ever shop at Trader Joe’s?  Anyone creating such great customer experiences and loyalty in the brutally low-margin, low guest-touch, grocery business deserves both applause and some more ink on an innovator’s list.

Aldi and Trader Joe’s are completely different to the consumer, but are run almost exactly the same way:  private labeled brands that offer value to the customer at increased margins for the company.

Ask just about anyone who has been to either Aldi or Trader Joe’s and they always get raves. One very picky uber-consumer friend of mine said, “Everything at Trader Joe’s is just always a little bit better, even the frozen peas.”

I was shocked to hear her compliment anything, and at the same time, delighted by the thought of her getting excited by frozen peas.  But that right there is the zeitgeist of Tio JoJo’s Secret Salsa.

Unlike another specialty grocer Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s conveys a strong sense of value, and it really has a hometown grocer feel to it, which is pleasing to the 40 and above crowd who remember it that way.  Aldi is great because you don’t need a GPS to find milk.  The footprint is decidedly small.

So, Aldi Süd has changed the customer experience by giving their customers less.  In today’s world where the consumer stands downstream of a steady flow of gadgets, trinkets, and apps that promise more, these guys truly did innovate by doing something new and useful.

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