Trader Joe’s is an American chain of grocery stores. Headquartered in Monrovia, California, the chain has over 530 stores nationwide. The first Trader Joe’s, which is still operating to this day, was opened in 1967 by founder Joe Coulombe in Pasadena, California.
Trader Joe’s is named after its founder, Joe Coulombe. Previously known as Pronto Market convenience stores, the company began in 1958 as a Greater L.A. area grocery chain. Coulombe felt the original Pronto Markets were too similar to 7 Eleven, creating too much competition.
The Tiki culture craze was still going strong in the United States in the 1960s, so in a direct acknowledgement to the fad, the Trader Joe’s name itself was a spoof on Trader Vic’s, the famous tiki-themed restaurant that opened its first location in the Beverly Hilton in 1955. Trader Vic’s in Beverly Hills was positioned as an expensive , high-end place to eat. Trader Joe’s took the other stance, an affordable place for food and drink.
In the first few decades of operation, some of the stores offered fresh meats provided by butchers who leased space in the stores, along with sandwiches and freshly cut cheese.
In 1979, Germany’s Theo Albrecht (owner and CEO of Aldi Nord, a European discount supermarket chain) bought the company as a personal investment for his family. Coulombe was then succeeded as CEO by John Shields in 1987. Under Mr. Shield’s leadership, the company expanded into Arizona in 1993 and then into the Pacific Northwest. In 2004, Businessweek reported that Trader Joe’s quintupled its number of stores between 1990 and 2001 and increased its profits by ten times!
Trader Joe’s has its own private labels, discounted from brand-name equivalents. In 2008, BusinessWeek reported that the company had the highest sales per square foot of any grocer in the United States. In 2014, Consumer Reports ranked Trader Joe’s a top-scoring supermarket chain. The company was then ranked #14 among the best places to work in the US in 2020.
In 2021 Trader Joe’s donated more than $349 million dollars worth of quality products to their valued non-profit partners across the country. Through the Neighborhood Shares Program, they continuously provide nutritious foods to communities, serving nearly 63 million meals to a wide range of community recipients across the country.
In the early 2000’s, I arrived in Los Angeles to do some marketing training. At the time I knew nothing about Trader Joe’s history. Walking in that first time, I was mesmerized! It didn’t have the usual supermarket feel I was accustomed to; I knew it was something special. Shopping there felt like an outing – a mini-vacation – and became a weekly pleasure for me.
I was sure to spread the word of Trader Joe’s unique atmosphere, inviting friends to join me, so they could experience shopping there if they hadn’t already. I quickly became a regular, especially on Sunday mornings, making sure to get my complementary sample of their coffee. I don’t know of any other supermarket that does that! I loved buying their unique snacks, grass fed beef, amazing varieties of cheese, fish, avocadoes, bread, vitamins, you name it. My favorite was their mixes of chocolate with nuts that no one else had.
After meeting at a convention in the LA area, I had the pleasure of introducing my fellow Canadian and friend, Geoffrey, to the Trader Joe’s experience. He was simply baffled by the brightness and liveliness of this particular location. Once we took in all that this shopping experience had to offer, Geoffrey made note of the beautiful women working there. When we got to the cashier, he asked, “Is being a model part of the job description for working here?” Leave it to Geoffrey, who just so happened to be single at the time. Our beautiful cashier and I had a good laugh!
Unfortunately, we Canadians do not yet have the pleasure of a daily or weekly Trader Joe’s trip. One thing is for sure, I will be the first in line when we get one in Toronto! When I need my fix, I drive 2 hours to the one in Buffalo! A note to all Canadians reading this: you know how much our cheese options cost in Canada right? Many times more than $10! If you are near a Trader Joe’s, or if you are visiting Niagara Falls, take another 20 minutes and go to the Buffalo location. You won’t be disappointed about the price or quality of what you get. Aside from that, you will leave with a bag full of great, and sometimes unique, items!
Ok so let’s breakdown what makes everyone, even Canadians, flock to this supermarket.
- Trader Joe’s locations are bright and and pleasing to the eye. People are generally drawn to nice looking things and places full of life.
- Even if you arrive half asleep, they’ve got you covered, with free shots of their delicious coffee! Who doesn’t love free samples?
- With a unique physical layout, they are not too big like the Big box stores, and not too small with limited options. They are just the right size and therefore appeal to the average Joe.
- Great prices on items like cheese can all the difference; for families and individuals alike.
- Each location carries unique items not available at any other supermarket.
- Speaking of things looking nice, their beautiful staff also add to the overall experience, right Geoffrey?
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