or Connect
ChefTalk.com › ChefTalk Cooking Forums › Cooking Discussions › Food & Cooking › What do you guys think of Trader Joe's?
New Posts  All Forums:Forum Nav:

What do you guys think of Trader Joe's?

post #1 of 39
Thread Starter 

 

 

Hello,

 

 

I am moving at the end of the month and my new place will be a few miles from a TJ's and looking for your opinions on the meats, fruits and veggies they offer. I have been to TJ's before but only a few times around 5 or 6 years ago so I am not to familiar with the store. I will have a Fred Meyer close by also but for my meats, fruits and veggies maybe TJ's is better?

 

Thanks,

 

Brian

post #2 of 39

I personally love Trader Joe's and wish it were a bit closer to my place.  Even so, I trek over there 2-3 times a month.

I really like that their products don't have artificial flavors or colors and that they carry some unusual items.  I just picked up dried hibiscus flowers on my last visit.

Their nuts and dried fruit are usually cheaper than the other stores in my area.  Their produce is hit or miss, I don't like the fact that many items come packaged, like a small bag of lemons or avocados, but their berries and cherry tomatoes this summer have been delicious and relatively cheap.  Many of their products are organic and customer service is always great.  If you want to sample something, just ask and they will open a package for you to try,

I don't often buy my meat there, but I love that they carry Niman Ranch's Sulfite/Sulfate free bacon.  It is delicious.

post #3 of 39

Trader Joe's is on the opposite side of town from where I usualy shop.  Even so,  I make it over there about once a month.  I like many of their products. They have hard to find mixed nuts without salt, and very reasonably priced.  Their own name dairy products come from cows that have not been fed hormones to increase milk production.  I got some of their turkey "bacon",  but hubby didn't care much for it.  We haven't tried any of their fresh meats.  Their produce is nothing special, in my opinion.  Even so we manage to find enough good products in the store to go back on a regular basis. 

 

I agree that their customer service is really good.  The staff always seems very eager to help. 

"The pressure's on...let's cook something!"
 
Reply
"The pressure's on...let's cook something!"
 
Reply
post #4 of 39

Don't know how many times I've heard this:  "Yeah, we really love it here, it's just great!  Don't miss LA at all!!! (coupla beats, then, somberly:) Except Trader Joe's.  Really miss Trader Joe's..."

 

Milk, eggs, cheese, coffee, WINE... King Arthur AP or whole wheat, $3/5 lbs, three kinds of Callebaut chocolate $5/half kilo... (the latter two sold in Trader Joe's packaging).  I usually get produce & meat elsewhere, though.  They do have excellent frozen fish.

The genesis of all the world's great cuisines can be summed up in a four word English phrase: Don't throw that away.
Reply
The genesis of all the world's great cuisines can be summed up in a four word English phrase: Don't throw that away.
Reply
post #5 of 39

The nearest TJ's is 5 1/2 hours away.

Are they a spin off of Whole Foods or Sam's Club?

post #6 of 39
Quote:
Originally Posted by Chefross View Post

Are they (Trader Joe's) a spin off of Whole Foods or Sam's Club?

No. TJ's is part of a German corporate grocery retailer. Theo Albrechet, recently deceased, was the CEO of TJ's and his brother, Karl, has a similar position with the Aldi's chain..

post #7 of 39

Trader Joe's is part of a German chain only if Monrovia, CA is in Germany.  For the record, TJ's is currently owned by a private, American trust set up by one of the (German) Albrecht brothers as a condition of the transfer from Coulombe in '79 which infused a lot of cash allowing for major expansion.  Theo Albrecht also has an interest in Aldi's, a German chain.  But except for this overlap, Aldi's is not the same as TJ's, a large majority of TJ's trustees and beneficiaries are American, as are the officers of the company. 

 

TJ's was started by Joe Coulombe and his wife on what was a rather whimisical model for the time.  Beyond the "South Seas" motif, the idea was that a school teacher could stop on her way home from work, and pick up what she needed to prepare a quick, decent, affordable, (not always) healthy, and fairly hip meal -- not to mention a glass of affordable wine.  The concept included (and includes) a pretty good selection of pre-packaged frozen food, not to mention the ever-popular bag of blue-corn tortilla chips and pre-made guacamole.

 

Trader Joe's is one of a kind -- well 343 of a kind.  The model has evolved into a schizophrenic inventory of staples and impulse items.  TJ's isn't stocked like a supermarket with an eye on the lowest common denominator.  Everything on their shelves seems to be there for someone

 

That someone isn't always going to be you.  But so what?  They didn't intend it to be your only market.  It's a great place to go regularly for the things they have you like, but is is too limited in general and has too many overpriced and/or bogus products to be your only store.   Unleash your inner school teacher, avoid Hansen's sodas like the plague, and you won't go far wrong.

 

As has been said:   Fantastic dairy and eggs, to the point that if you buy anywhere else (other than directly from a farm), you're doing it wrong.  Excellent cheese -- but the selection isn't unlimited.  Great wine and booze -- ditto.  Good prices on good olive oil, but don't buy regular ol' vegetable oil from them.  So it goes.

 

TJ's expanded its product line significantly during the Great Checker's Strike of 2005 (or was it 6?).  They added significantly to their fresh meat section for instance.  The meats are all good quality, but some are hugely overpriced.   One of the great places for Thanksgiving turkey.  They sell (nearly) fresh kosher birds, which function as though they were pre-brined.   It bears repeating that their frozen fish is good.

 

Frys, the SoCal electronics chain, was also build around a "South Seas" motif.  Coincidence? 

 

I think not,

BDL


Edited by boar_d_laze - 8/19/10 at 9:21am
What were we talking about?
 
http://www.cookfoodgood.com
Reply
What were we talking about?
 
http://www.cookfoodgood.com
Reply
post #8 of 39

Trader Joe's is excellent. Great buys for wine, cheese, nuts, and snicky-snacky foods. A lot of their chips are low in fat and salt. Their wine and cheese are a lot cheaper than any mainstream grocer. I do agree with someone saying up above about the prepackaged veggies and fruits (avocados, onions, potatoes, limes, lemons etc.) Produce is stilll good though. Nice selection of beer too. Seasonings are cheap but not a whole lot to choose from. Good options for rice, quinoa, and lentils. Overall, thumbs up for sure.

post #9 of 39


 

Quote:
Originally Posted by boar_d_laze View Post

Trader Joe's is part of a German chain only if Monrovia, CA is in Germany.  For the record, TJ's is currently owned by a private, American trust set up by one of the (German) Albrecht brothers as a condition of the transfer from Coulombe in '79 which infused a lot of cash allowing for major expansion.  Theo Albrecht also has an interest in Aldi's, a German chain.  But except for this overlap, Aldi's is not the same as TJ's, a large majority of TJ's trustees and beneficiaries are American, as are the officers of the company.

 

BDL

You are correct in that the headquarters of Trader Joe's is in Monrovia, CA; absolutely incorrect that it is owned by an American trust. Theo Albrecht has no interest in Aldi's for two main reasons: (1) Theo is dead (2) Theo and his brother Karl had a falling out several years ago; Karl being the CEO and primary stockholder in Aldi's. They had no cross ownership of the two chains. T.J.'s because of the nature of its business and its U.S. federal and state regulators, must be filed as a business entity dealing in consumable foodstuffs in each state where it does business. It is, however, privately owned by the heirs to Theo Albrecht's estate, who primarily reside auf Deutschland.
 

post #10 of 39


 

Quote:
Originally Posted by boar_d_laze View Post   One of the great places for Thanksgiving turkey.  They sell (nearly) fresh kosher birds, which function as though they were pre-brined.

BDL

For several years, until 2009, these fresh kosher birds were sourced from Rubashkin Meatpacking dba Agriprocessors in Postville, Iowa. The Fed shut Rubashkin down after an investigation found that at least 400 workers at the plant were illegal aliens. CEO Sholom Rubashkin was convicted in November 2009 of defrauding a St. Louis bank of $26 million. He had been fabricating invoices and shipping papers in order to maintain a $35 million credit line. Consumer Reports and Cook's Magazine did rate the Rubashkin processed turkeys as the best in the marketplace in 2007 and 2008. For Thanksgiving 2009, TJ's sourced the turkeys elsewhere. While TJ's has refused to "divulge" its current source, it appears to be Empire Kosher Poultry Corporation, the U.S. largest kosher poultry processor.

post #11 of 39

[deleted -- boring, contentious, overly-competitive]


Edited by boar_d_laze - 8/21/10 at 8:01am
What were we talking about?
 
http://www.cookfoodgood.com
Reply
What were we talking about?
 
http://www.cookfoodgood.com
Reply
post #12 of 39

[deleted -- double post]


Edited by boar_d_laze - 8/21/10 at 8:00am
What were we talking about?
 
http://www.cookfoodgood.com
Reply
What were we talking about?
 
http://www.cookfoodgood.com
Reply
post #13 of 39

[deleted -- double post]


Edited by boar_d_laze - 8/21/10 at 8:00am
What were we talking about?
 
http://www.cookfoodgood.com
Reply
What were we talking about?
 
http://www.cookfoodgood.com
Reply
post #14 of 39

Aw...BDL, you're too hard on yourself. 

"The pressure's on...let's cook something!"
 
Reply
"The pressure's on...let's cook something!"
 
Reply
post #15 of 39

TJ's .....it's a regular shop for me.

 

Good breads (for STL)  Tuscan is $2.29

Bananas are 19 cents each

cereal, coffee, vegetables, yogurts, nuts, dried fruits, juices, wines/beers....meats, sometimes...

It's designed for a couple or small family, everything is packaged accordingly.

The staff is welcoming, helpful and will go out of their way to make things right.

 

The only complaint I have is the one closest to me has tiny parking spaces in a crowded lot.....

and if I end up stopping on a weekend it's wacky busy.

cooking with all your senses.....
Reply
cooking with all your senses.....
Reply
post #16 of 39

 

Quote:
  The model has evolved into a schizophrenic inventory of staples and impulse items.  TJ's isn't stocked like a supermarket with an eye on the lowest common denominator.  Everything on their shelves seems to be there for
someone

 

This is the absolute best description of Trader Joe's that I've ever read!  So very true!  I love Trader Joes---lots of unusual things you can't find anywhere else.  A must try IMO are the vacuum fried Banana Chips--their Hummus is also very good.

post #17 of 39
Quote:
Originally Posted by B.Adams View Post
Hello,

 

I am moving at the end of the month and my new place will be a few miles from a TJ's and looking for your opinions on the meats, fruits and veggies they offer. I have been to TJ's before but only a few times around 5 or 6 years ago so I am not to familiar with the store. I will have a Fred Meyer close by also but for my meats, fruits and veggies maybe TJ's is better?

 

Thanks,

 

Brian

 

 

   Hi Brian,

 

   I may not have a very popular opinion of TJ's, but what does it matter what I think? 

 

   I really don't care for Trader Joe's that much.  I can certainly see the appeal and why some people like it.  But it just doesn't suit my needs very well. 

 

   What I believe TJ's does very well is supply some nice looking prepared foods/ready to heat foods/unique snack stuff and some decent wine.  My problem is that I really don't cook like that.  I normally either buy fresh ingredients or grow some of my own vegetables and herbs to use in my cooking.   I'm also not into everything covered in chocolate.  Don't get me wrong...I love a small bite of a chocolate bar...but that's usually it.  Just a small piece of a real nice piece of chocolate. 

 

    Just within the same shopping plaza as TJ's are the fresh seafood place that I buy from and a decent grocery store with a nice butcher department and some really good tasting meat.  On the way to TJ's I've got several ethnic stores that are on the way and much better for produce items.  On the same note I've got a much better selections of cheese from a local shop, which also has good prices (and has just started carrying Iberico bellota).

 

    But I have to admit, even if I didn't have better options close by I probably wouldn't make the trip to TJ's.  Not because it isn't a nice store...it just doesn't fit my needs very well.

 

  dan
 

post #18 of 39

You have to be careful at Trader Joe's.  Not everything is organic even though the store seems to try to give out an aura of being a store like Whole Foods.  They carry two types of milk, the Trader Joe's regular brand isn't organic.  You have to get the one that clearly says it on the carton (it's more expensive).  The produce can be good,but most of it isn't organic either.  They don't carry any fresh lettuce, everything comes from bags.  The meats are just OK, I don't think they are any better than a regular grocery store.  They don't carry specialized stuff like grass fed beef.  They do carry free range chicken breasts.  I consider TJ to be a step above a regular grocery store but below a grocery store like Whole Foods.  

post #19 of 39

The regular meats might not be special but you can find cured meats such as prosciutto much cheaper than other places (I think it was about $4 for a 4 oz packet at the TJ by Union Square in NY). They also sell lox for relatively cheap and stock some excellent condiments. I really like their whole-grain mustard. I'm not sure about other Trade Joe's but mine always had a huge line going around the store. I suggest going in with a friend waiting on line for you.

post #20 of 39

I have never had a long wait for check-out at the Trader Joe's where I shop.  However,  I also pick my shopping day & time carefully to avoid the crowds.  A friend and I went once on a Saturday.  First,  getting a parking space was challenging.  Then we could find only one cart,  so we had to share...sort of like carpooling during rush hour.  Even so,  checking out didn't take a long time.  Recently my husband wanted to see what TJ's was like.  He said he's becoming fed up with how inconsiderate the shoppers are where we usually go.  I told him "TJ's is just a better class of rudeness".   Well, can't blame the store for that.  But, he's difficult to please,  after all,  the moon, stars and sun are all supposed to revolve around him.  I'll be going to TJ's without him most of the time. 


Edited by amazingrace - 8/25/10 at 1:01pm
"The pressure's on...let's cook something!"
 
Reply
"The pressure's on...let's cook something!"
 
Reply
post #21 of 39

our Tj's lines move quickly....there is always alot of staff at each of the stores.......I like the way the staff are trained, they will take you to a product if you ask where it is.  If something is not right they will refund your money, if you wanna taste something they will open and sample it out, if you look perplexed they ask if you need help.....I've been in a lot of grocery stores, Trader Joe's goes over and above others in how they treat customers.   that includes whole foods.

cooking with all your senses.....
Reply
cooking with all your senses.....
Reply
post #22 of 39

B.Adams,

 

I live equidistant from both a TJ and a Freddy's.  I shop at both.   But I like Freddy's more -- not because it's a complete grocery store but because it competes with TJ in most ways while offering a better selection.  TJ's has some great values that aren't matched but they aren't a value retailer across the board.  They're quirky like that.

 

Last year the Freddy's in the Portland area totally revamped their offerings to include complete lines of organics in produce, dairy, grains and meats.  They've expanded their cheese selections and overall they offer better value than the West Coast Safeways.  It didn't used to be that way but they're catching on to changes in the market place.  Kudos to them.  They've also concentrated on offering more local products.  This, I believe is a direct reaction to the success of TJ (certainly not Safeway).  That being said, I don't know if those pertain only to the locations near me or it they've made those changes everywhere.  Worth checking out in your neck of the woods.

 

TJs is a mixed bag.  I love em in some respects and don't like them in others.  Jelly at post #2 mentioned that the majority of their produce comes pre packaged.  Personally, I really don't like that.  It's a needless waste of plastic and you don't get to choose exactly what you want.  The basic business model was touched on by BDL -- they're unique in a number of ways.  Product-wise, they offerer a limited selection of most food basics at a very good value.  Beyond that they have a very good selection of esoteric products, many of them pre-prepared foods, flatbreads, mixed nuts, snacks, etc..  But almost all the more "esoteric" items are subject to change.  So don't get too attached to that lavender extract because it probably won't be there next year.

 

Without their wine, cheese, nuts and coffee selection I question whether they would have much success.  They essentially took four items with good margins and offered them at a very good discount in exchange for higher margins elsewhere combined with lower overhead that comes high traffic in a smaller retail footprint.  I think that value has eroded in the last year and isn't as awesome as it used to be.  But for a lot of things it's still worth it to me.  The emphasis doesn't seem to be on having the best quality in any one thing but rather the best value in a number of items where people are particularly price conscious.  At the mid-range selections for all the items mentioned the value is good.

 

I would say:

 

-- Freddy's a great "go-to" store for everything.  Local to the NW and making efforts to tailor their products to local tastes.  

-- TJs you really have to experiment with what they have and find out what it is that keeps you coming back.  You might discover a few things.  For me -- cheese, very good organic yogurt and cheap but decent chocolate  always worth the trip.

 

+D.

post #23 of 39

They'd have to open a store in my area. Too regional right now for me know more than that they don't serve me.

post #24 of 39

Love: meats, snacks, hummus, coffee, alcohol, prices, dairy products, staff

Hate: produce

 

Seriously, TJ's is great for almost everything, but produce really seems outside their skill set. It's as if their whole purchasing and delivery system is optimized for goods with at least a 10 day shelf life. They bend over backward to have a produce section, but it just isn't any good.

 

There are 3 problems with their produce:

1) General quality is not high. Flavor, color, size, variation, and overall 

2) A lot of their stuff is obviously ripened-in-truck. Even when it is ripe, you can tell it was picked too young, and it's often quite dried out. I think this gets back to the fact that their infrastructure can't move things through the system faster than 10 days, and a lot of it sits under refrigeration for a while.

3) Overly packaged. Apples come in plastic boxes of 4. Huh? Not only is this a waste of material, it prevents you from picking and choosing, and buying the exact amount you need. It's also harder to inspect the fruit for problems. Sometimes you get home and unpack your box of tomatoes and find some at the bottom are bad. 

 

Stuff is okay / mediocre if you cook /eat it the day you buy it. Wait any longer than that, and you're in trouble.

 

My big idea for TJ's is to turn their produce sections into permanent farmer's market space. Get local growers in there with seasonal goods. You won't have year-round predictable inventory, but honestly anything would be better.  

post #25 of 39

On August 23rd, via CNN Money on-line, an article from Fortune Magazine reads as follows:

 

Quote:

Inside the secret world of Trader Joe's - Full Version

By Beth Kowitt, reporter

 

FORTUNE -- Apple's retail stores aren't the only place where lines form these days. It's 7:30 on a July morning, and already a crowd has gathered for the opening of Trader Joe's newest outpost, in Manhattan's Chelsea neighborhood. The waiting shoppers chat about their favorite Trader Joe's foods, and a woman in line launches into a monologue comparing the retailer's West Coast and East Coast locations. Another customer suggests that the chain will be good for Chelsea, even though the area is already brimming with places to buy groceries, including Whole Foods and several upscale food boutiques.

But Trader Joe's is no ordinary grocery chain. It's an offbeat, fun discovery zone that elevates food shopping from a chore to a cultural experience. It stocks its shelves with a winning combination of low-cost, yuppie-friendly staples (cage-free eggs and organic blue agave sweetener) and exotic, affordable luxuries -- Belgian butter waffle cookies or Thai lime-and-chili cashews -- that you simply can't find anyplace else.

 

Employees dress in goofy trademark Hawaiian shirts, hand stickers out to your squirming kids, and cheerfully refund your money if you're unhappy with a purchase -- no questions asked. At the Chelsea store opening, workers greeted customers with high-fives and free cookies. Try getting that kind of love at the Piggly Wiggly.

It's little wonder that Trader Joe's is one of the hottest retailers in the U.S. It now boasts 344 stores in 25 states and Washington, D.C., and strip-mall operators and consumers alike aggressively lobby the chain, based in Monrovia, Calif., to come to their towns. A Trader Joe's brings with it good jobs, and its presence in your community is like an affirmation that you and your neighbors are worldly and smart.

 

The privately held company's sales last year were roughly $8 billion, the same size as Whole Foods' (WFMI, Fortune 500) and bigger than those of Bed Bath & Beyond, No. 314 on the Fortune 500 list. Unlike those massive shopping emporiums, Trader Joe's has a deliberately scaled-down strategy: It is opening just five more locations this year. The company selects relatively small stores with a carefully curated selection of items. (Typical grocery stores can carry 50,000 stock-keeping units, or SKUs; Trader Joe's sells about 4,000 SKUs, and about 80% of the stock bears the Trader Joe's brand.) The result: Its stores sell an estimated $1,750 in merchandise per square foot, more than double Whole Foods'. The company has no debt and funds all growth from its own coffers.

 

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 privately 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.

 

To get inside the mysterious world of Trader Joe's, Fortune spent two months speaking with former executives, competitors, industry analysts, and suppliers, most of whom asked not to be named. What emerged is a picture of a business at a crossroads: As the company expands into new markets and adds stores -- analysts say the grocer could easily triple its size in the coming years -- it must find a way to maintain its small-store vibe with customers. "They see themselves as a national chain of neighborhood specialty grocery stores," says Mark Mallinger, a Pepperdine University professor who has done research for the company. "It means you want to create an image of mom and pop as you grow." That's no easy task. Just ask Starbucks (SBUX, Fortune 500) CEO Howard Schultz, whose expansion has been a huge success but has come at the expense of credibility with some coffee aficionados. The alternative is to remain a small brand with unflagging devotees, like outdoor clothier Patagonia. If it can get the balance right, Trader Joe's may be one of the few retailers to marry cult appeal with scale. Just don't expect anyone from the company to talk about it.

 

Who's a fan of Trader Joe's? Young Hollywood types like Jessica Alba are regularly photographed brandishing Trader Joe's shopping bags -- but Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor reportedly is a fan too. "What's not to like?" says Costco (COST, Fortune 500) co-founder and CEO Jim Sinegal. "They're very good retailers, and we admire them a lot." Visit a Trader Joe's early in the day, and there are senior citizens on fixed incomes shopping for bargains; on weekends and evenings a well-heeled crowd takes over. Kevin Kelley, whose consulting firm Shook Kelley has researched Trader Joe's for its competitors, jokes that the typical shopper is the "Volvo-driving professor who could be CEO of a Fortune 100 company if he could get over his capitalist angst."

 

The rise of Trader Joe's reflects Americans' changing attitudes about food. While Trader Joe's is not a health food chain, it stocks a dizzying array of organics. It sells billions of dollars in food and beverages that years ago would have been considered gourmet but are now mainstays of the U.S. diet, such as craft beers and white-cheese popcorn. The genius of Trader Joe's is staying a step ahead of Americans' increasingly adventurous palates with interesting new items that shoppers will collectively buy in big volumes.

 

The retailer's foodie roots and quirky in-store culture date to the original Joe. Joe Coulombe (pronounced COO-lomb), now 80, opened the first Trader Joe's 43 years ago in Pasadena to serve a sophisticated -- but strapped -- consumer. He named the store Trader Joe's to evoke images of the South Seas. He stocked it with convenience-store items and good booze, and at one time his shop boasted the world's largest assortment of California wine. (Decades later Trader Joe's would again become famous for wine, specifically its $1.99 Charles Shaw label, better known as "Two-Buck Chuck.") Coulombe then added health food -- a seemingly odd combination that totally worked in 1970s California. By the late 1970s he was operating more than 20 locations.

 

The company's success did not go unnoticed. German grocery mogul Theo Albrecht, who died in July at age 88, coveted Trader Joe's -- not as part of a major U.S. expansion but as a smart financial investment. Even in the early days, Trader Joe's appeal was its narrow but zany selection and loyal customers, recalls Dieter Brandes, who did due diligence on the company for Albrecht. "It was fantastic. It was different," he says. In 1979, Coulombe sold his company to Albrecht. Coulombe tells Fortune he "can't remember" the selling price.

 

The Albrechts, who own Trader Joe's through a family trust, have generally stayed out of the business. They visit the U.S. operation about once a year, and word around the office spreads that "the Germans" are coming.

 

Coulombe stayed on without a management contract for a decade; in 1987 he hired John Shields, a fraternity brother from his undergraduate days at Stanford, who was CEO until 2001. Under Shields' reign, Trader Joe's expanded outside California to Arizona in 1993 and to the Pacific Northwest in 1995. Although executives worried that Northeastern shoppers wouldn't "get" Trader Joe's, the company in 1996 leapfrogged the country and opened two stores in places crawling with college professors and other bargain-hunting elites: Brookline and Cambridge, both outside Boston.

 

Push your way into the bustling Trader Joe's in Manhattan's Union Square neighborhood, and it's hard to believe that executives ever worried that East Coasters wouldn't groove on the experience. Make no mistake: A typical family couldn't do all its shopping at the store. There's no baby food, toothpicks, or other necessities. But for this crowd of urbanites and college kids, Trader Joe's is nirvana.

 

A closer look at its selection of items underscores the brilliance of Coulombe's limited-selection, high-turnover model. Take peanut butter. Trader Joe's sells 10 varieties. That might sound like a lot, but most supermarkets sell about 40 SKUs. For simplicity's sake, say both a typical supermarket and a Trader Joe's sell 40 jars a week. Trader Joe's would sell an average of four of each type, while the supermarket might sell only one. With the greater turnover on a smaller number of items, Trader Joe's can buy large quantities and secure deep discounts. And it makes the whole business -- from stocking shelves to checking out customers -- much simpler.

 

Swapping selection for value turns out not to be much of a tradeoff. Customers may think they want variety, but in reality too many options can lead to shopping paralysis. "People are worried they'll regret the choice they made," says Barry Schwartz, a Swarthmore professor and author of The Paradox of Choice. "People don't want to feel they made a mistake." Studies have found that buyers enjoy purchases more if they know the pool of options isn't quite so large. Trader Joe's organic creamy unsalted peanut butter will be more satisfying if there are only nine other peanut butters a shopper might have purchased instead of 39. Having a wide selection may help get customers in the store, but it won't increase the chances they'll buy. (It also explains why so often people are on their cellphones at the supermarket asking their significant other which detergent to get.) "It takes them out of the purchasing process and puts them into a decision-making process," explains Stew Leonard Jr., CEO of grocer Stew Leonard's, which also subscribes to the "less is more" mantra.

 

Customers accept that Trader Joe's has only two kinds of pudding or one kind of polenta because they trust that those few items will be very good. "If they're going to get behind only one jar of Greek olives, then they're sure as heck going to make sure it's the most fabulous jar of Greek olives they can find for the price," explains one former employee. To ferret out those wow items, Trader Joe's has four top buyers, called product developers, do some serious globetrotting. A former senior executive told me that Trader Joe's biggest R&D expense is travel for those product-finding missions. Trade shows that feature the flavor of the moment "are for rookies," a former buyer said. Trader Joe's doesn't pick up on trends -- it sets them.

 

The other dozen or so buyers, or category leaders, spend more time in the office, fielding hundreds of cold calls a week from vendors tripping over themselves to make Trader Joe's a customer. Trader Joe's is a supplier's dream account: It pays on time and doesn't mess with extra charges for advertising, couponing, or slotting fees that traditional supermarkets charge suppliers to get their products onto the shelves. "It's all transparent -- no BS," says a former executive. In exchange, suppliers have to agree to operate under Trader Joe's cloak of secrecy. Fortune obtained a copy of a standard vendor agreement, which states, "Vendor shall not publicize its business relationship with TJ's in any manner."

Why the lockdown? Former executives say that Trader Joe's wants neither its shoppers nor its competitors to know who's making its products. And many suppliers aren't that keen on consumers knowing that they produce a lower-cost version for Trader Joe's either. Take Tasty Bite, which makes much of Trader Joe's Indian food. The Tasty Bite Punjab Eggplant ran $3.39 at a Whole Foods in Manhattan. The seemingly identical Punjab Eggplant that the Stamford, Conn., company makes for Trader Joe's is more than $1 cheaper.

 

Over the years Trader Joe's has improved the way it distributes Joe's-branded goodies to its stores. Management has sought to minimize the number of hands that touch a product; whenever possible, Trader Joe's purchases directly from the manufacturers, which then ship their wares straight to Trader Joe's distribution centers. A U.S.-made cheese, for example, is sent to distribution centers nationwide, where it's sometimes cut and wrapped, taking another cost out of the equation.

 

At a traditional supermarket, that same cheese would probably go through a distributor first, tacking on another cost. Trucks leave the distribution centers daily for the stores. Trader Joe's small stores don't have much of a back room, so ordering from the distribution centers has to be precise.

This distribution process helps determine where the company opens its stores. Texas and Florida have cities that boast consumers Trader Joe's covets, but insiders say the current distribution infrastructure makes it difficult for the company to efficiently get products to those states. To pick their next locales, employees look at demographics such as education level. In the past they've even looked at who's subscribing to high-end food and cooking magazines as a way of divining where the epicures are.

 

On a Tuesday evening just before dinnertime, retail expert Burt P. Flickinger III joins the steady hum of foot traffic at the Trader Joe's in Larchmont, N.Y. Because Trader Joe's won't give Fortune any information on its stores, Flickinger, of consulting firm Strategic Resource Group, has agreed to walk through a few suburban locales and offer feedback. In Larchmont, Flickinger does a little bit of his own shopping. (It's what happens when you walk into a Trader Joe's -- you get sucked into buying stuff you didn't plan to.) An employee, noticing that he has his arms full, brings him a basket. At the register the perky cashier offers up that the mango sorbet Flickinger has selected is on her top 10 list of favorite Trader Joe's items.

 

You can't buy engagement from employees, but the pay at Trader Joe's helps. Store managers, "captains" in Trader Joe's parlance -- the nautical titles are a holdover from Coulombe (newly promoted captains are commanders; assistant store managers are first mates) -- can make in the low six figures, and full-time crew members can start in the $40,000 to $60,000 range. But on top of the pay, Trader Joe's annually contributes 15.4% of employees' gross income to tax-deferred retirement accounts.

 

All of that can lead to a better customer experience. A ringing bell instead of an intercom signals that more help is needed at the registers. Registers don't have conveyor belts or scales, and perishables are sold by unit instead of weight, speeding up checkout. Crew members aren't told the margins on products, so placement decisions are made based not on profits but on what's best for the shopper. Every employee works all aspects of the store, and if you ask where the roasted chestnuts are he'll walk you over instead of just saying "aisle five." Want to know what they taste like? He can probably tell you, and he might even open the bag on the spot for you to try.

Can Trader Joe's maintain that kind of charm as it expands? Former employees worry that the company is losing its entrepreneurial zeal and that CEO Dan Bane has made the place more corporate, adding more senior vice presidents, and creating new titles such as product developer. At headquarters Bane encourages employees to wear Hawaiian shirts and name tags. But putting systems in place isn't necessarily a bad thing. "You have to grow up at some point," says a former employee. "You have to start following rules. You have to start putting in checks and balances." The stakes are higher now that Trader Joe's has hundreds of stores. A buying error could cost the company millions.

 

Bane, 62, who has a background in accounting, graduated in 1969 from the University of Southern California, where he played baseball -- or, as he's said, "spent a lot of the time on the bench." During a talk at USC, Bane said that he's modeled his leadership style on his famed coach, Rod Dedeaux. Bane joined the company in 1998 as president of West Coast operations and became CEO only three years later.

 

A few former employees describe him as gruff, but he also has a softer side. In a video tribute to a sixth-grade teacher named Mrs. Bidwell, he talked about how she helped him adjust to life in El Dorado, Ark., after the Navy relocated Bane's father there from Southern California.

Some former employees say Trader Joe's has already lost its quirky cool. "In the early days we never tried to be the neighborhood store," says a former employee. They didn't have to: Trader Joe's was the neighborhood store. And yet walk into the Chelsea location on a busy weekday night and you'll see something you almost never see in Manhattan: strangers chatting with one another. Veteran customers tell newbies what products they absolutely have to try, and serious cooks share tips on how to spike sauces and semi-prepared foods to make them even tastier. If Trader Joe's can maintain that kind of mojo, it could end up the biggest neighborhood store ever.    

post #26 of 39

over-priced yuppie food  HOWEVER, having said that, I do go there once or twice a year.

post #27 of 39

I guess I'm one of the lucky ones.  There are three TJ stores within driving distance from my home, but only one has beer and wine (Cambridge), and one has no parking at all (Boston's Back Bay).  I've had good luck with most of my purchases.  The frozen fish is good.  Love the nuts.  The TJ branded beer is made by Unibroque from Quebec (excellent Belgian style beers).  The wine prices are usually as good or better than case quantity discounts at the local packy. 

 

Unfortunately, none of the locals have fresh meat or fish.  Everything is frozen.  I've taken some of the frozen ethnic dinners to work for lunch and they've been some of the best frozen lunches I've had.  (I KNOW...  Heresy on this forum, but sometimes it's easier to slip a frozen meal into your computer bag than last night's stuffed pork chop.)

 

You can reliably find a great assortment of nuts and trail mixes.  Love their odd sauces and sweets.  One of the only stores I know that stocks a selection of grade B maple syrup.  Staff is friendly and helpful without being in your face like Walmart. 

 

They seem to like the crazy angled isle layout.  Don't know if it actually improves sales.  It's good for causing carriage traffic jams, though.

post #28 of 39

Been to Trader Joe's in the Oro Valley when visiting my folks. NIeat store. We then had one open-up here ...even though it's on the other side of town...I thought cool...... While I'm at Whole Foods for my once every month and a half trip....I can stop there too.

 

Went in and it was half the store werr my folks are. Not near the sampling of unique items. I wasn't overly impressed with this model of the chian so I haven't been back since probably last January. And because of where it's located...Short Pump area of Richmond.....and the lousy traffic of the area, I use all right turns to get to and from the Whole foods. Since I thought I would stop at TJ's and get the things that Whole Foods didn't have or were priced higher, it doesn't fit into the scheme of the driving pattern and because of the size fo the store.....they don't have the selection I had seen at the Oro Valley location. Seeing the comments in a couple of the posts I now understand why but that doesn't change the fact they don't carry things and it's just to far away to make a special trip.  

post #29 of 39

When it started Empire poultry was owned by some unsavory guys in Brooklyn.as were a supermarket chain and a Kosher frankfurter maker. Almost the same guys of which one was shot outside of a famous NY steakhouse years ago. They also gave old Frank Purdue the right to sell poultry in NY even though Purdue was non union. Purdue payed plenty. Most of these gentleman are gone now.

Chef EdB
Over 50 years in food service business 35 as Ex Chef. Specializing in Volume upscale Catering both on and off premise .(former Exec. Chef in the largest on premise caterer in US  with 17 Million Dollars per year annual volume). 
      Well versed in all facets of Continental Cuisine...

Reply

Chef EdB
Over 50 years in food service business 35 as Ex Chef. Specializing in Volume upscale Catering both on and off premise .(former Exec. Chef in the largest on premise caterer in US  with 17 Million Dollars per year annual volume). 
      Well versed in all facets of Continental Cuisine...

Reply
post #30 of 39
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ed Buchanan View Post

When it started Empire poultry was owned by some unsavory guys in Brooklyn.as were a supermarket chain and a Kosher frankfurter maker. Almost the same guys of which one was shot outside of a famous NY steakhouse years ago. They also gave old Frank Purdue the right to sell poultry in NY even though Purdue was non union. Purdue payed plenty. Most of these gentleman are gone now.


Wrong company, Ed.

 

Quote:

Joseph N. Katz,  an Austrian immigrant, founded Empire Poultry in a garage in the small town of Liberty, NY, and named it after the Empire state.

 

Growing the Business

Katz was considered a pioneer in the kosher food industry in the 1950s because of his innovations with new freezer and vacuum-wrapping technologies. Empire was able to take advantage of the new freezing techniques and add a variety of frozen products for sale in supermarkets and groceries throughout the nation. And the advent of vacuum-wrap opened the door for Empire to sell frozen whole chickens, which had been bulky and difficult to package.

Purchasing frozen kosher foods was new to Orthodox Jews, who had always turned to the local butcher for fresh chicken. But the idea caught on, and Empire was able to expand its product line to more than 250 items of fresh and frozen poultry, deli meats, and frozen entrees, such as blintzes, soups, pizza, fajitas, and egg rolls.

Katz brought his children into the company and his son, Murray, joined the business and moved up the ladder, preparing to succeed his father. He helped Empire add new products and continue in the tradition his father established years before.

Empire relocated to Mifflintown, PA, about 40 miles west of Harrisburg, in the early 1960s when Katz purchased a small processing plant there. He quickly expanded the site to accommodate Empire's growth.

In 1981, Joseph Katz died and Murray Katz took the helm of the business, serving as chief executive officer. The decade that followed was a difficult one for Empire.

Fire devastated the production line in 1986, burning the plant to the ground. Murray Katz was forced to take a hard look at the business before agreeing to spend nearly $20 million to rebuild. He saw the reconstruction as an opportunity to modernize production lines with new, faster equipment, capable of meeting Empire's growing needs.

Katz retired six years later in 1992, and Empire's ownership passed through a succession of financial institutions. Mr. Katz passed away in late 2005.

Most recently, Empire returned to ownership by an investor group dominated by individuals from kosher-keeping households, led by Palisades Associates, a merchant banking firm based in Bethesda, Maryland.

 
New Posts  All Forums:Forum Nav:
  Return Home
  Back to Forum: Food & Cooking
ChefTalk.com › ChefTalk Cooking Forums › Cooking Discussions › Food & Cooking › What do you guys think of Trader Joe's?