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Trader Joe's

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 in Washington, D.C. The first Trader Joe's store was opened in 1967 by the founder, Joe Coulombe, in Pasadena, California. It was owned by a 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.

Trader 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 that the competition would be too much.

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 noticed that Americans were traveling more and acquiring tastes they had trouble satisfying in American supermarkets at the time. The Trader Joe's name was a spoof on Trader Vic's, the famous tiki-themed restaurant that had opened its first location in the Beverly Hilton in 1955. Trader Vic's in Beverly Hills was notoriously expensive to eat at, but Trader Joe's in Pasadena would provide an irreverent and less-expensive offering of food and drink.

The first store branded as "Trader Joe's" opened in 1967 in Pasadena, California; it remains in operation as of 2021. 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 (owner and CEO of Aldi Nord) bought the company as a personal investment for his family. In 1987, Coulombe was succeeded as CEO by John Shields. In 1993, under his leadership, the company expanded into Arizona and, two years later, into the Pacific Northwest. 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.

In February 2008, BusinessWeek reported that the company had the highest sales per square foot of any grocer in the United States. In 2016, two-and-a-half years later, 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 was "to have all eggs sold in the western states come from cage-free suppliers by 2020 and all eggs sold nationally come from cage-free suppliers by 2025."

In 2020, Joe Coulombe, the namesake of the brand, died.

Awards and Honors

In May 2009, Consumer Reports ranked Trader Joe's the second-best supermarket chain in the United States (after Wegmans). 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.


While 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 (where local law permits), and "alternative" food items, such as vegan and vegetarian options.

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 (Carting Away the Oceans) 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 (e.g., midwest, east coast) of the United States depending on availability and popularity.

"Two Buck Chuck" for Sale at Trader Joe's

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. Trader Joe's labels are sometimes named in accordance with the ethnicity of the food in question, such as "Trader Jose's" (Mexican food), "Baker Josef's" (flour and bagels), "Trader Giotto's" (Italian food), "Trader Joe-San's" (Japanese food), "Trader Ming's" (Asian food), "JosephsBrau" (beer), and "Trader Jacques'" (French food and soaps). 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 (local prices vary). Of the wine selection at Trader Joe's, Coulombe said, "We first built Trader Joe's on wine, 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 (adding trans fat), and no MSG.

Trader Joe's is known for its unusual store locations. This Trader Joe's store in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, New York, is in a converted bank building.

Joseph Hardin Coulombe (June 3, 1930 – February 28, 2020) was an American entrepreneur. He founded the grocery store chain Trader Joe's in 1967 and ran it until his retirement in 1988.

15 Things You Never Knew About Trader Joe's

1. Joe was real

The real Trader Joe was Joe Coulombe, a Stanford Business School graduate who founded the chain in 1958. He bought out part of the Pronto Markets chain and decided to name the stores "Trader Joe's" in 1967. The first official market was born in Pasadena, California. Coulombe passed away in February.

2. It's owned by Aldi (sort of)

Aldi Nord owns U.S. Trader Joe's locations, while Aldi Süd owns U.S. Aldi locations and European TJ's locations.

One of Aldi's founders, Aldi Nord, purchased TJ's in 1979 but decided to keep the name, mission statement, and management the same. We think he made the right decision. Speaking of the wallet-friendly shop, check out these awesome 20 Ways To Save Big At Aldi.

3. There are no sales at TJ's

TJ explicitly states, "'Sale' is a four-letter word to us. We have low prices, every day. NO coupons. NO membership cards. NO discounts. NO glitzy promotions or couponing wars at our stores. We offer the best everyday value, every day." We like the way they think.

4. The stores are decked out

The nautical theme makes TJ's stores look and feel like they're ready to sail the seven seas. Even the employees, AKA "crew members," are on board with quirky job titles like "merchants," "mates," and "captains."

5. TriOne of Trader Joe's top-selling products is the Triple Ginger Snaps. These sweetly spicy cookies are concocted with ground ginger, crystallized ginger, and ginger purée. Something else that's not too hard to believe? Speculoos Cookie Butter is another bestseller.

6. Speaking of Speculoos, about 80% of Trader Joe's products are its own brand—including this delightful spread. Plus, TJ's sells its own line of beer that it's been brewing for quite some time. Its vintage ale ages gracefully, so the older it gets, the better it tastes.

The best part of TJ's store brand? All products are free of stuff like artificial flavors, preservatives, synthetic colors, genetically modified ingredients, and artificial trans fats.

7. Granola is a store staple

The first Trader Joe's branded product was granola. The franchise debuted its version of the crunchy breakfast staple back in 1972.

8. It's famous for its wine

The two-buck Chuck, AKA "the undisputed champion of affordable wines," is exactly what it claims to be. TJ's had sold more than 600 million Charles Shaw bottles as of 2012. Although the price of a bottle has increased since it was introduced to TJ stores in 2002, it's still a great value.

9. The crew wears Hawaiian shirts for a reason

Sure, the crew members are easily distinguishable, but have you ever wondered exactly why they don funky Hawaiian shirts? TJ's proudly states, "We wear Hawaiian shirts because we're traders on the culinary seas, searching the world over for cool items to bring home to our customers." No wonder why the chain has so many fans!

10. Trader Joe's often discontinues products

Because TJ's stores aren't roomy enough to accommodate an endless variety of products, they must manage their space very effectively (a typical TJ's store carries about 4,000 products, while an average supermarket sells around 50,000!). This forces them to sift through and choose the products with the best quality and value.

This policy includes nixing seasonal merch (sorry, pumpkin spice lovers!). Not to mention stores introduce new products every single week, so they must boot some items to make way for the new ones.

11. TJ's holds taste tests where each product is tested for certain criteria. If a product doesn't meet the rigorous requirements, it doesn't score a spot on the shelves. Each product must pass the test.

12. It's more widespread than Whole Foods

Trader Joe's has more than 500 stores in 42 states, which beats Whole Foods' 479 U.S. stores. While the franchise began in SoCal, it expanded over the years, taking over Arizona in 1993, the Pacific Northwest in 1995, the Boston area in 1996, and Chicago in 2000.

13. Trader Joe's is a Good Samaritan

The grocery store chain donates its extra grub to food banks. TJ donated over $260,000,000 worth of goods in 2003. FYI, they even have a Donation Coordinator who is responsible for responding to donation requests, so they take their charity work seriously. Kudos!

14. Bells are the language of choice

Instead of obnoxiously yelling requests over the loudspeakers, TJ's has a special PA system that requires only bell jingles. One bell means the crew needs to open another register or to return to the registers, two bells mean a customer has questions at checkout or assistance from a crew member is needed, and three bells mean that a manager is needed.

15. Trader Joe's started as primarily a wine shop

"Back in the late 1960s, we sold every California wine there was," the TJ's website states. And if you're heading to the store, here are The 32 Best and Worst Frozen Foods at Trader Joe's.