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. Nina says:

    Brendan, look at the packaging and find out a lot of stuff is produced in the US. Haven’t you realized in today’s market just because something is foreign owned it can still supply americans with jobs. On the other hand you can buy an american brand car which is entirely build in a different country…

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  2. Raj Pandravada says:

    The closest Trader Joe’s to me is about 15 miles away. I’m definitely mad that there isn’t one closer.

    That said, my weekly or bi-weekly shopping trip seems more like a pilgrimage, since there is always one or more T-Joe’s virgin tagging along, their eyes shining with the prospect of butter almond thins and hard toffee encrusted with pistachios.

    Anyway, hope at least one of the 75 new stores planned by ‘ze Germans’ is closer to me…

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  3. Tyler says:

    Addendum:
    Tader’s Joe is owned by a family trust of Theo Albrecht (Aldi North). But the over thousand regular Aldi stores in the USA belong to his brother Karl (Aldi South).

    So Aldi and Trader’s Joe have no legal ties in the US and are two competing chains in the US.

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  4. cya says:

    I loved trader joe’s in santa monica– wondering why in the world we don’t have one in Houston. Just ‘rip-off’ Whole Foods. TJ’s is the way a market should be…. truly great value and excellent product.

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  5. lihsia says:

    Anyone know about the original Trader Joe? A guy from LA actually named Joe?

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  6. Coda says:

    More TJs! More! As far as “marginal” neighborhoods – the ones here in Seattle are in thriving neighborhoods. Wish there was one in mine – but like #13, I’ll drive to one, wait in line to get a parking space and troop along with the rest of the sheep to shop there.

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  7. Bill says:

    Furthering comment #16 — And another interesting fact is that Aldi USA (the Aldi supermarkets in the US) and Trader Joe’s are not part of the same Aldi — One is owned by Aldi Nord, one is owned by Aldi Sud. I forget which belongs to which… but in essence, in the US, Aldi and Trader Joe’s are competitors.

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  8. Blah says:

    I’m with Syruss here – I don’t understand the hype. You can find a few random items that are a good deal (like just about anywhere else) but they are really selling a brand. To cite but one example of what I mean, the asian supermarket here blows them out of the water for any fish or produce, in terms of both price and quality.

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