Aldi UK and Ireland managing director Paul Foley shocked the grocery world by stepping down this week. Will his departure mean Aldi returns to its secretive roots?

Paul Foley’s surprise exit from Aldi is not only a shock to the grocery world, it also spells bad news for the German discount grocer.

As head of UK and Ireland, Foley is credited with playing a key part in the growth of Aldi in this country, and over the last 18 months, of taking Aldi to the masses.

Before the credit crunch, Aldi was doing very well for itself in the UK but it wasn’t widely known. In those areas in which it had a store, it had developed a core customer base and many raved about the quality of its products.

But for the majority of British shoppers, Aldi was a mystery. They had heard the name, knew it was a German supermarket, but didn’t have one that near that they could try.

Foley changed all that. The credit crunch allowed him to grasp the opportunity to spread the Aldi word.

He went on a PR offensive, speaking to the press for the first time, signed up a celebrity chef, and started to advertise heavily. And he didn’t just talk about how cheap Aldi is, he was careful to explain the quality of the products.

Foley started to invite journalists to blind tastings, and many of Aldi’s products came top in some of the consumer magazines’ tasting features. He actually cared about Aldi and that shone through – and while sales in the last two months have started to slow, Foley was still key to breaking perceptions about the discount grocer, and creating new opportunities.

Whatever the reason for Foley’s departure, it would be a crying shame if Aldi now retreated back under its stone.

It has appointed Armin Burger – a Aldi Sud lifer, who previously headed up Aldi’s Austrian operation – to take over from Foley. He is said to be very well regarded in the company, but it may also signal a return to how things used to be.

This would be a mistake for Aldi. The grocer has to realise that discounters won’t be as popular in the UK as they are in Germany – where they have around a 40% share – and British shoppers need to feel comfortable with the store they are shopping in.

Foley made customers feel comfortable with Aldi. And if Burger doesn’t do the same, those not familiar with the grocer may not bother trying it out.