German bakers are very upset over a new machine at Aldi that produces "fresh baked bread" at a moment's notice:
Germany--Standing in Aisle 1 of a local Aldi supermarket, between the €2.59 ($3.62) bottles of sparkling wine and the packaged bread, German master baker Wolfgang Schäfer is in enemy territory.
The third-generation baker lobs 15 cents into the massive, beige-colored automat before him, presses a button and cocks his ear to the machine for any clues to what's transpiring inside. Almost instantly, a warm wheat roll plunks into the bin below.
"Not even two seconds," says the 55-year-old Mr. Schäfer, who had switched out of a white shirt embroidered with his family bakery's insignia into a less conspicuous checkered button-down for the stealth fact-finding mission. "Whatever goes on in there, it's certainly not baking."
What exactly does happen inside the automats has become a matter of dispute between Aldi Süd, a discount supermarket chain, and most of Germany's 15,000 traditional bakeries, since the company began installing the machines in hundreds of its German stores this year. The automats are emblazoned with the word Backofen, or "baking oven," and pictures of bowls of whole grain and bouquets of wheat. Aldi markets the rolls and bread the machines dispense as "fresh out of the oven--direct into the bag."
But to thousands of German bakers, Aldi's freshness claim is half-baked. Worse, they charge, it misleads customers who might equate the German discounter's baked goods with the bread they and their employees knead, shape and bake through the wee hours of every morning.
The German Bakers' Confederation, steward of the country's centuries-old bread-making tradition, is taking Aldi Süd--one of the two companies that make up the Aldi empire--to court on claims of deceptive advertising. Aldi Süd says it rejects the claims in the lawsuit.
I am certainly not against all false advertising statutes--the government's role in ensuring transparency is extremely important. But this seems like an egregious abuse of the statute. The bakers are not altruistically worried that consumers will be hurt by their decision; they're worried about competition cutting into their profits.