Do You Know Who Owns Trader Joe’s?

Do you shop at Trader Joe’s?

From what I have seen, the world is divided into three sets of people.

1. Those who have never been to a Trader Joe’s, and perhaps have never heard of it.

2. Those who love Trader Joe’s more than they love their own families.

3. Those who love Trader Joe’s more than they love their own families and are incensed that there isn’t one nearby.

So, let me ask those of you who fall into categories 2 and 3: Who owns Trader Joe’s?

1. Some great California family full of surfers and gardeners.

2. A small band of communal farmers in Oregon.

3. A huge German discount-grocery chain best known in the U.S. for no-glamor stores often located in marginal neighborhoods.

Yeah, it’s No. 3. The company is called Aldi and, though I’d seen one or two of its stores in the past, I didn’t even know it was a grocery store. Then I read this very interesting Wall Street Journal piece about the company’s ambitious new plan for the U.S., which calls for 75 new stores this year. The article claims that Aldi is so good at selling cheap goods that WalMart couldn’t compete with it in Germany. How do they do it? Here’s one way:

Store-brand goods generally make up 22 percent of U.S. food sales in terms of unit volume, according to research by Nielsen Co., while in some European markets, they account for about 30 percent. At Aldi, 95 percent of the goods are the retailer’s own brands.

They are, in other words, not the obvious owner of a chain like Trader Joe’s — which, although it tries to be ruthlessly cheap, also has a very high style quotient and neighborhood grocery store vibe.

I thought of all this when I ran into a friend who used to work at a Trader Joe’s. I asked her if she knew who owned the chain. She said no, then thought about it, and suddenly remembered: “Oh yeah, some Germans!”

She knew this only because some Aldi executives came to look at her store a few times, and as she recalls it, her management asked all the employees to not speak to the Aldi executives. It was unclear why this was necessary.

Then she remembered something else: “The carts we used to wheel boxes up and down the aisles, we called them U-boats, because they were shaped like a U. We were told to definitely not call them U-boats whenever the Germans were visiting.”

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  1. j. Ringomon says:

    #3- ALDI!

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  2. j. Ringomon says:

    Sorry, posted my first comment before making the jump- I thought it was a real quiz!

    It makes sense if you think about it though, because Trader Joe’s is heavily stocked with their own store-bands as well.

    ALDI and TJ’s are basically the exact same concept, just aimed at different demographics.

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  3. nancy says:

    Yu do know , too, that Aldi headquarters is right next to Fermilab, right.

    I feel the particles accelerating.

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  4. Brian Kirk says:

    I fall into category 3 & wish a Trader Joe’s would open here in Austin. Sure I love Central Market & Whole Foods, but Trader Joe’s (based off my experience in La Jolla last year) beats them both hands down on price & quality.

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  5. Syruss says:

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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  6. DB says:

    How are they not the obvious owner of Trader Joe’s, which must be at least 95% store-label brands? Yes, maybe they cater to higher-income consumers, but the supply strategy is nearly identical.

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    • Marlene says:

      I agree. I used to like them in the 80s, and I will occasional shop there still, but since they went to 80% store brand and I often find disappointing produce I won’t go out of my way to shop there. They seem to focus on candy, cookies, and snack foods now. I have found their own brands to be not as good as many of the products they are knock offs of. I do, however, like their selection of cheese.

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  7. Brendan says:

    Great post. I love when you expose like this. I shopped at Traders before and felt the cult-love some had for it. In the “buy-American” spirit of the stimulus, I say go to Wegmans if you are looking for the true cult food-shopping experience.

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  8. econobiker says:

    The Nashville metro region just got a Trader Joes- in the swanky part of town -Green Hills.
    For the media hysteria, you would have thought Mose’s had arrived to demonstrate parting water in a hot tub…

    I also like Aldi and did not know that Trader Joes was similar concept for the la-te-da set who deem themselves never to set foot in a Walmart or even know that Kmart still exists…

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    • moses says:

      so sad (for my ethics) that i still shop at walmart amid my views…economy has made it very difficult to………………………………still trying to make a difference

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