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. Hoosier Paul says:

    I shop at both, and I’d always thought it was an odd coincidence that both stores package their produce in the exact same way.

    I guess now I know why.

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  2. Brion Emde says:

    One theory I’ve heard of the lack of Trader Joe’s in Colorado is our strange liquor laws, where food stores are not allowed to sell full-strength beers or wines.

    Apparently TJ’s makes a lot of their money on beer and wine sales and until Colorado changes its laws (we did just allow Sunday sales this year), no Trader Joe’s.

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  3. sunshine says:

    “Those who have shopped at Trader Joe’s and were disappointed with the (lack of) quality and selection, not to mention five minutes from expiring, or already expired and rotten food…”

    Yes, this is me. I’ve only been there a few times and got stung by rotten food twice — once in a sealed jar! Not impressed by their tiny selection. A few of their ready-made party foods are crowd-pleasers, and they sell cheap booze, but these things are just a gimmick to get people in the door. Trader Joe’s is a bad excuse for a grocery store.

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    • HG says:

      Sounds like complete bias to me. I’ve never seen almost expired food at a TJ or even Aldi.
      You have an issue with pushing the “buying American Car” syndrome, when in reality the food products are made in the US and this gives many Americans jobs.

      There is one thing to be said about Aldi’s which is the first thing one recognizes goes to one, a quarter must be placed into the shopping cart. This discourages carts standing all over, being a hazard to cars, etc. and sometimes being stolen. The limited amount Aldi employees needn’t be used for returning carriages and they can use their efforts for other reasons. Overhead is cut! Replace the cart and you get the quarter back. It forces order on people which makes things more pleasant for the next person.

      Last but not least, the persons who complain about cleanliness really surprise me.
      We have visited several Aldis and all where very clean and brightly lighted.
      Germans have never been known for anything dirty so I firmly believe this bias is just to slam Aldi. The company is very conservative and the employees are seen to never slack off.
      We finally have such a store within 20 miles and a considerable amount of money can be saved there. The cereal for example is the same type in different packaging as in a larger Publix, yet it’s much less expensive. We still enjoy our Publix though for they have a larger selection.

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    • okenaaro says:

      been shopping there for 4 straight years since this comment was posted. I’ve had about 5 bad products out of 1000s. and they always refund, no matter what the reason. they maintain quality service and quality products. I can’t speak for every city, but I can swear by the stores here in st. louis. They do right by their customers. GMOs = higher future medical bills, and I’ve found no other stores that have an official zero tolerance policy for GMOs, except Trader Joe’s. a cult following simply means there’s a minority in town that’s better than the rest and the words spreading. it’s called winning. get over it.

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  4. TJ Fan says:

    never heard of Aldi – but I love TJ. However I would not want to have to do all my grocery shopping there. It is great for some things – not for others. The coffee quality is iffy – they had a bread I loved and stopped making it, and the quality of some things is not so great. I buy selectively. There are some very good values there.
    As for Central Market – what a marvelous place to shop – but like Whole Foods, the money was just sucked out of my wallet the few times I shopped there while visiting in Austin. Unlike WF – the selection is wonderful.
    If a CM opened near me I would think I had died and gone to grocery heaven. I would also have a much bigger grocery bill.
    If a Whole Foods opened near me I would go about as ofter as I do now – maybe once every 2-3 years. Expensive and over-hyped. It is not called whole paycheck for nothing.

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  5. CB says:

    I’ve done some location analysis of Trader Joe’s in the past. Interestingly, while most retailer’s criteria is typically income driven, i.e. usually X number of persons with a Y average income within a given radius, Trader Joe’s is different. Their criteria is more socially driven than economic. They target locations with a focus on educational attainment, i.e. X number of persons with bachelor’s degree or higher within a given radius.

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  6. Bobby G says:

    I don’t know if anyone else knows this, but Wal-Mart tried to push itself into Germany and was dominated by Aldi. Wal-Mart pulled out and do not have any plans to go back in.

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  7. ben says:

    Are you going to correct your post now that its clear that Trader Joe’s and the US Aldi stores have virtually no link?

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  8. Ari says:

    #34 – I doubt that is the only reason there are no TJ stores in Colorado. NJ has very strict laws about where alcohol can be sold, and they have Trader Joes in NJ (they just don’t sell alcohol in their stores) .
    Personally, for me (I live in WA) the discount priced alcohol is one of the only reasons I shop at Trader Joes. (though I still prefer costco for that).

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