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. Marla Marla says:

    I didn’t know that Trader Joe’s is owned by Aldi! Their stores are like day and night. Our local TJ’s is well-lit, clean, and staffed by pleasant, helpful associates. On the other hand our local Aldi is badly lit, has dirty floors, and the staff is very disorganized.

    I found shopping at Aldo to be discouraging and haven’t been back there in a while, despite their cheap prices. But I always find an excuse to pop into TJ’s when I’m in the neighborhood.

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  2. vicki says:

    people who are enamored with Trader Joe’s either don’t read the ingredients or have never travelled abroad where you find the real stuff…in my opinion it is a pseudo kind of store…who wants almonds and veggie oil in their pesto, etc…that’s why they can sell their stuff so cheaply. Aldi’s on the other hand is a real bargain if you are seletive about what you buy and their concept of bringing your own bags is a wonderful German idea that needs more exposure in the USA. I could care less about a Trader Joe’s coming to my town but would be very excited to see an Aldi’s. Also, putting in a coin to get a buggy makes people bring them back to the store which is also teaching us Americans to be more responsible…

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  3. exSoCal says:

    Gee, I started shopping there back when Joe Coulombe was still running the operation and doing his funky local radio ads. I knew it was run by a German company now but not which one.

    We had a real withdrawal problem after the Northridge earthquake as the two Trader Joe’s nearest us were out of business for several months.

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  4. mfw13 says:

    Agree with several other posters….Trader Joe’s doesn’t hold a candle to Central Market.

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  5. Chris says:

    WOW, I did not know that. I am a person in category #2. Having been in both Aldi and TJs it makes a lot of since. Nice anecdote about the hand trucks.

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  6. Alex says:

    Really? People didn’t know this? Maybe I’m a grocery store smarty pants, but this seems like such old news. And, yes, I love me some TJs…and, when I lived in Germany, Aldi was the place to grocery shop.

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  7. yoshi says:

    I fall into category #4. Those that have a Trader Joe’s a mile from there house and could care less. The decor, food and the service isn’t that great. I really don’t understand the appeal.

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  8. Bernd says:

    I’m from germany and that’s why i know Aldi very well. It might be interesting for you that there’s no “Trader Joe’s” in Germany (or any other country as far as i know). Aldi-North has a few products with the brandname, but that’s all. The two german brothers Theo (85) and Karl Albrecht (88) are the richest people in our country. A decade ago people were ashamed if someone saw them shopping in a Aldi-store, a few years ago the image turned into a cult status. Nowadays Aldi is simply the reference line for grocery shopping in Germany – if they cut the price for products all others “must” follow.

    Right now we have a discussion about the working conditions in the stores and the methods how Aldi’s products are produced in emerging nations. Aldi trys to greenwash itself with bio food for example …

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