Inside the secret world of Trader Joe’s

Fortune peeks underneath the Aloha shirt of Trader Joe’s:

You’d think Trader Joe’s would be eager to trumpet its success, but management is obsessively secretive. There are no signs with the company’s name or logo at headquarters in Monrovia, about 25 miles east of downtown Los Angeles. Few customers realize the chain is owned by Germany’s ultra-private Albrecht family, the people behind the Aldi Nord supermarket empire. (A different branch of the family controls Aldi Süd, parent of the U.S. Aldi grocery chain.) Famous in Germany for not talking to the press, the Albrechts have passed their tightlipped ways on to their U.S. business: Trader Joe’s and its CEO, Dan Bane, declined repeated requests to speak to Fortune, and the company has never participated in a major story about its business operations.

Some of that may be because Trader Joe’s business tactics are often very much at odds with its image as the funky shop around the corner that sources its wares from local farms and food artisans. Sometimes it does, but big, well-known companies also make many of Trader Joe’s products. Those Trader Joe’s pita chips? Made by Stacy’s, a division of PepsiCo’s (PEP, Fortune 500) Frito-Lay. On the East Coast much of its yogurt is supplied by Danone’s Stonyfield Farm. And finicky foodies probably don’t like to think about how Trader Joe’s scale enables the chain to sell a pound of organic lemons for $2.

8 Comments

  1. Between Whole Foods and this place, I’m conflicted to figure out which of them I detest more. Organic? Good luck with that. If I cannot walk the rows of vegetables being grown or the grazing areas where this organic food is being produced, I will not believe the label. And as far as the capitalist practices, I say the producers should embark on a organized campaign to limit availability and bring the Wharton trained MBA fuckers to their knees. I’m tired of reading about farmers offing themselves as a way of releasing themselves from the burden of making no money.
    Read here for an example: http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2010/01/farmer-suicides-increase-in-poor-economy/

  2. I heard the writer get interviewed on NPR this morning. I’ve only shopped there a couple of times myself, but I’ve met a bunch of people who rave about the place. They have a few interesting items, but the plastic-wrapped produce bugs me.

  3. Trader Joes is decent. Not decadent. Given a choice of mainstream supermarkets and TJs I would chose TJ’s. Some of it seems gimicky or marketed to new age fools but I like the fact that it seems like an independent place with wild upstarts taking the place of gm foods or proctor and gamble.

  4. I’ve never seen the attraction to Trader Joe’s. I’ve always found farmer’s markets and locally-owned grocery stores for freshness, and in the long run, better buy.

    1. Farmer’s markers are fantastic, if you’re not working 2-6 on friday or 1-5 on wednesday. And just where are these locally owned grocery stores?

  5. Best grocery store I’ve ever found, Sunflower Farmer’s Market ( http://www.sfmarkets.com ). It’s got a little bit of everything, including mostly pre-made meals, organic produce, bulk everything in bins, grind your own peanut butter, and they do carry meats that are delicious (not just tofurkey and fake bacon like some vegetarian-oriented places), though they have anything odd you could want from gluten-free fish sticks to vegan “Rice Cream Sandwiches” also. Their prices are phenomenal too – better than any national chain store I’ve been to.

    They’re not everywhere, but they have a lot of locations in the southwest… where it’s awfully difficult to get local produce otherwise in the August due to climate.

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