Trader Joe's is an American chain of grocery stores headquartered in Monrovia, California. By 2015, it was a competitor in "fresh format" grocery stores in the United States. By November 2019, Trader Joe's had over 503 stores nationwide in 42 states and Washington, D.C.
The first Trader Joe's store was opened in 1967 by founder Joe Coulombe in Pasadena, California. It was owned by German entrepreneur Theo Albrecht from 1979 until his death in 2010, when ownership passed to his heirs. Albrecht's family also owns the German supermarket chain ALDI Nord, to which Trader Joe's belongs. Another Aldi company, Aldi Süd, also operates in the U.S., but uses the Aldi name and logo. The company has offices in Monrovia, and Boston, Massachusetts.
HistoryTrader Joe's is named after its founder, Joe Coulombe. The company began in 1958 as a Greater Los Angeles area chain known as Pronto Market convenience stores. Coulombe felt the original Pronto Markets were too similar to 7-Eleven and the competition would be disastrous.
Coulombe developed the idea of the Trader Joe's South Seas motif while on vacation in the Caribbean. The Tiki culture fad was fresh in the cultural memory and he had noticed that Americans were traveling more and were acquiring tastes they had trouble satisfying in American supermarkets at the time.
The first store branded as "Trader Joe's" opened in 1967 in Pasadena California, which remains in operation to this day. In the first few decades, some of the stores offered fresh meats provided by butchers who leased space in the stores, along with sandwiches and freshly cut cheese, all in-store.
In 1979, Germany's Theo Albrecht bought the company as a personal investment for his family. Coulombe was succeeded as CEO by John Shields in 1987. Under his leadership the company expanded into Arizona in 1993 and into the Pacific Northwest two years later. In 1996, the company opened its first stores on the East Coast in Brookline and Cambridge, both just outside Boston. In 2001, Shields retired from his position and Dan Bane succeeded him as CEO.
In 2004, BusinessWeek reported that Trader Joe's quintupled its number of stores between 1990 and 2001, and increased its profits tenfold. Supermarket News estimated Trader Joe's sales for 2015 at $13 billion, and placed Trader Joe's 21st on the list of "SN's Top 75 Retailers for 2016."
In February 2008, BusinessWeek reported that the company had the highest sales per square foot of any grocer in the United States. Two-and-a-half years later and in 2016, Fortune magazine estimated sales to be $1,750 in merchandise per square foot—more than double the sales generated by Whole Foods.
In February 2016, due to customer feedback, Trader Joe's announced their goal "to have all the eggs sell in western states come from cage-free suppliers by 2020 and all the eggs sell nationally to come from cage-free suppliers by 2025."
In May 2009, Consumer Reports ranked Trader Joe's the second-best supermarket chain in the United States. In June 2009, MSN Money released its annual Customer Service Hall of Fame survey results, in which Trader Joe's ranked second in customer service. From 2008-2010, Ethisphere magazine listed Trader Joe's among its most ethical companies in the United States, but it did not make the list in 2011. In 2014, Consumer Reports again ranked Trader Joe's a top-scoring supermarket chain. The company ranked #23 among the 2019 Glassdoor best places to work in the US, and #14 in 2020.
Joe Coulombe died in 2020.
Locations, Trader Joe's had 504 stores in the United States with stores being added regularly. In 2017, Trader Joe's opened 14 new stores nationwide. Most locations averaged between 10,000 and. California has the largest number of stores with 183 open in the state.
Each location is designed to represent its respective area. Every store has its own staff members that create artwork to represent the surrounding neighborhood. Some store locations have their own "find the mascot" and children can obtain a prize when they tell a staff member where it is "hiding".
Trader Joe's is a tiki-nautical themed establishment but locational stores may include props to blend into the local area; for example, a surf theme for a store near the beach. Along with their interior, stores supply products are specialized to the people of that location.
ProductsWhile a typical grocery store may carry 50,000 items, Trader Joe's stocks about 4,000 items, 80% of which bear one of its own brand names. Trader Joe's describes itself as "your neighborhood grocery store". Products include gourmet foods, organic foods, vegetarian foods, unusual frozen foods, imported foods, domestic and imported wine and beer, and "alternative" food items.
Many of the company's products are environmentally friendly. In October 2007, amid customer concerns, Trader Joe's began to phase out foods imported from China, and from February to April 2008, Trader Joe's phased out single-ingredient products from China because of customer concerns. Between 2012 and 2013, Trader Joe's moved from 15th on Greenpeace's CATO scale to third by removing six unsustainable species of fish from its shelves and getting involved in efforts to protect the Bering Sea Canyons.
Trader Joe's discontinues individual products based on customer reactions more often than larger grocery chains to free up space for new items. Some products are exclusive to certain regions of the United States depending on availability and popularity.
Trader Joe's sells many items under its own private labels, at a significant discount to brand-name equivalents, and requires its brand-name suppliers not to publicize this business relationship. Until 2020, Trader Joe's labels were sometimes named in accordance with the ethnicity of the food in question, such as "Trader Jose's", "Baker Josef's", "Trader Giotto's", "Trader Joe-San's", "Trader Ming's", "JosephsBrau", and "Trader Jacques'". By selling almost all of its products under its own labels, Trader Joe's "skips the middle man" and buys directly from both local and international small-time vendors.
Trader Joe's is the exclusive retailer of Charles Shaw wine, popularly known as "Two Buck Chuck" because of its original $1.99 price tag in California. Of the wine selection at Trader Joe's, Coulombe has said, "We built Trader Joe's on wine first, then food. I tasted 100,000 wines, and most weren't wonderful. They were submitted to us by desperate vintners". Along with Charles Shaw, Trader Joe's is known for stocking a very large selection of California and New World wines.
Trader Joe's has said its private-label products contain no artificial flavors, no artificial preservatives, no colors derived from anything other than naturally available products, no genetically modified ingredients, no partially hydrogenated oils, and no MSG.
On May 1, 2018, Trader Joe's launched their first podcast, Inside Trader Joe's. This podcast has five seasons and 24 episodes and features crew members, store captains and executives. Listeners can learn about the way the retailer does business, where and how they discover new products, get answers to frequently asked questions, and more.
CriticismTrader Joe's ranked poorly in a 2013 Greenpeace report on sustainable foods. According to an article titled "Trader Joe's Gets it Easy?":
The retailer has been characterized as "notoriously secretive" and it has also been criticized for a lack of transparency by management about the sources of products such as organic milk.
In September 2013, in response to the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, Trader Joe's stated that it would require part-time employees to work an average of 30 hours per week in order to qualify for medical insurance. Part-time employees who were not qualifying for medical insurance would now be eligible for plans which were available under the ACA. Those employees who were working full-time were unaffected.
In 2016, employees in New York City contacted the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union because "conditions deteriorated" at their store. One employee who was involved in the unionization effort was "repeatedly reprimanded because managers judged his smile and demeanor to be insufficiently 'genuine'". He was fired in September of that year for what the managers described as an overly negative attitude."