Trader Joe's

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Trader Joe's Company
Trader Joe's
IndustryRetail (grocery)
  • 1958; 64 years ago (1958) as Pronto Markets
  • 1967; 55 years ago (1967) as Trader Joe's
  • Pasadena, California, US
FounderJoe Coulombe
Number of locations
Area served
Contiguous United States
Key people
Dan Bane (Chairman & CEO)
ProductsPrivate label staple foods, organic foods and specialty products[2]
RevenueIncreaseUS$16.5 billion (FY 2020)[1]
OwnerFamily of Theo Albrecht
Number of employees

Trader Joe's is an American chain of grocery stores headquartered in Monrovia, California. The chain has over 530 stores nationwide.[1]

The first Trader Joe's store was opened in 1967 by founder Joe Coulombe in Pasadena, California.[3] It was owned by German entrepreneur Theo Albrecht[4] from 1979 until his death in 2010, when ownership passed to his heirs.[5] The company has offices in Monrovia and Boston, Massachusetts.[6]


Store in Hadley, Massachusetts (2007)

Trader Joe's is named after its founder, Joe Coulombe. The company began in 1958 as a Greater Los Angeles area chain known as Pronto Market convenience stores.[7][8] Coulombe felt the original Pronto Markets were too similar to 7-Eleven, which he described as the "800-pound gorilla of convenience stores", concerned the competition would be too much.[9][10][11]

Coulombe developed the idea of the Trader Joe's South Seas motif while on vacation in the Caribbean.[12] The Tiki culture craze was still going strong in the United States in the 1960s, so in a direct nod to the fad, the Trader Joe's name itself was a spoof on Trader Vic's, the famous tiki-themed restaurant that had opened its first location in the Beverly Hilton in 1955. Trader Vic's in Beverly Hills was notoriously expensive to eat at, but Trader Joe's in Pasadena would provide an irreverent and less expensive offering of food and drink.[13]

Coulombe noted two trends in the U.S. that informed the merchandising of his new store concept: one, the number of college-educated people was rising steadily, due in part to the G.I. Bill, and two, with new jumbo jets due to premiere in 1970, international travel would be accelerating as well. A better educated, more well-traveled public were acquiring tastes they had trouble satisfying in American supermarkets at the time.[14]

The first store branded as "Trader Joe's" opened in 1967 in Pasadena, California; it remains in operation.[8] In their first few decades, some of the stores offered fresh meats provided by butchers who leased space in the stores, along with sandwiches and freshly cut cheese, all in-store.[15]

In 1979, Germany's Theo Albrecht (owner and CEO of Aldi Nord) bought the company as a personal investment for his family.[5] Coulombe was succeeded as CEO by John Shields in 1987.[16] Under his leadership the company expanded into Arizona in 1993 and into the Pacific Northwest two years later.[2] In 1996, the company opened its first stores on the East Coast in Brookline and Cambridge, both just outside Boston.[2] In 2001, Shields retired from his position and Dan Bane succeeded him as CEO.[17]

Trader Joe's, Saugus, Massachusetts

In 2004, BusinessWeek reported that Trader Joe's quintupled its number of stores between 1990 and 2001 and increased its profits tenfold.[5]

In February 2008, BusinessWeek reported that the company had the highest sales per square foot of any grocer in the United States. Two-and-a-half years later and in 2016, Fortune magazine estimated sales to be $1,750 in merchandise per square foot—more than double the sales generated by Whole Foods.[2]

Joe Coulombe, the namesake of the brand, died in 2020.[18] His memoir was published posthumously in 2021.[19]


Trader Joe's is known for its unusual store locations.[citation needed] This Trader Joe's store in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, New York, is in a converted bank building.

As of January 19, 2021, Trader Joe's had 530 stores in the United States with stores being added regularly.[20] Most locations averaged between 10,000 and 15,000 sq ft (1,400 m2). California has the largest number of stores with 183 open in the state.[citation needed]

Each location is designed to represent its respective area. Every store has its staff members that create artwork to represent the surrounding neighborhood. Some store locations have their own "find the mascot," and children can obtain a unique collectible prize when they tell a staff member where it is "hiding," and choose a new hiding location.

Trader Joe's is a tiki-nautical-themed establishment, but locational stores may include props to blend into the local area; for example, a surf theme for a store near the beach. Aesthetic choices typically include red shopping carts and painted murals along store walls. Along with their interior, stores supply products that are specialized to the people of that location.


Interior of Trader Joe's in the Alabama Theatre in Houston

While a typical grocery store may carry 50,000 items, Trader Joe's stocks about 4,000 items, 80% of which bear one of its brand names.[2] Trader Joe's describes itself as "your neighborhood grocery store". Products include gourmet foods, organic foods, vegetarian foods, unusual frozen foods, imported foods, domestic and imported wine and beer (where local law permits), and "alternative" food items, such as vegan and vegetarian options.

Trader Joe’s encourages customers to try each and every one of their products. There is a “try anything” policy where free samples of any product are available to try before purchasing to make sure it’s exactly what you want. Trader Joe's stores also have a “no-hassle” return policy in place to refund customers with no ifs, ands, or buts. The relatively low prices at Trader Joe’s encourage customers to taste new and original products. Due to prices being so low, Trader Joe’s does not offer coupons, sales, or membership cards. Even with no coupons in it, Trader Joe’s still has a newsletter that details popular items, new additions to the shelves, and general notices to shoppers. This “Fearless Flyer” can be mailed to you or picked up in stores. [21]

Many of the company's products are environmentally friendly.[22] In October 2007, amid customer concerns, Trader Joe's began to phase out foods imported from China, and from February to April 2008, Trader Joe's phased out single-ingredient products from China because of customer concerns.[23] Between 2012 and 2013, Trader Joe's moved from 15th on Greenpeace's CATO (Carting Away the Oceans) scale to third by removing six unsustainable species of fish from its shelves and getting involved in efforts to protect the Bering Sea Canyons.[24]

In February 2016, due to customer feedback, Trader Joe's announced their goal "to have all the eggs [they] sell in western states (CA, OR, WA, AZ, NM and CO) come from cage-free suppliers by 2020 and all the eggs [they] sell nationally to come from cage-free suppliers by 2025."[25]

Trader Joe's discontinues individual products based on customer reactions more often than larger grocery chains to free up space for new items.[26] Some products are exclusive to certain regions (e.g., Midwest, east coast) of the United States depending on availability and popularity.

Trader Joe’s sells many seasonal items that leave the shelves after a certain period of time. Some of the items that come back every year include Pumpkin Joe Joe’s, Candy Cane Joe Joe’s, Pumpkin Cinnamon rolls, and Peppermint Pretzel Thins. These items will not be made permanent due to a lack of shelf space. [27]

"Two Buck Chuck" for sale at Trader Joe's

Trader Joe's sells many items under its own private labels, at a significant discount to brand-name equivalents, and requires its brand-name suppliers not to publicize this business relationship.[2] Trader Joe's labels are sometimes named in accordance with the ethnicity of the food in question, such as "Trader Jose's" (Mexican food), "Baker Josef's" (flour and bagels), "Trader Giotto's" (Italian food), "Trader Joe-San's" (Japanese food), "Trader Ming's" (Asian food), "JosephsBrau" (beer), and "Trader Jacques'" (French food and soaps). By selling almost all of its products under its own labels, Trader Joe's "skips the middle man" and buys directly from both local and international small-time vendors.[28]

Trader Joe's is the exclusive retailer of Charles Shaw wine, popularly known as "Two Buck Chuck" because of its original $1.99 price tag in California (local prices vary).[29][30][31] Of the wine selection at Trader Joe's, Coulombe has said, "We built Trader Joe's on wine first, then food. I tasted 100,000 wines, and most weren't wonderful. They were submitted to us by desperate vintners". Along with Charles Shaw, Trader Joe's is known for stocking an extensive selection of California and New World wines.[32]

Trader Joe's has said its private-label products contain no artificial flavors, no artificial preservatives, no colors derived from anything other than naturally available products, no genetically modified ingredients, no partially hydrogenated oils (adding trans fat), and no MSG.[citation needed]

Awards and honors[edit]

In May 2009, Consumer Reports ranked Trader Joe's the second-best supermarket chain in the United States (after Wegmans).[33] In June 2009, MSN Money released its annual Customer Service Hall of Fame survey results, in which Trader Joe's ranked second in customer service.[34] From 2008-2010, Ethisphere magazine listed Trader Joe's among its most ethical companies in the United States, but it did not make the list in 2011.[35][36][37] In 2014, Consumer Reports again ranked Trader Joe's a top-scoring supermarket chain.[38] The company ranked #23 among the 2019 Glassdoor best places to work in the US,[39] and #14 in 2020.[40]


Climate and sustainability[edit]

Trader Joe's ranked poorly in a 2013 Greenpeace report on sustainable food.

The retailer has been characterized as "notoriously secretive"[41] and it has also been criticized for a lack of transparency by management about the sources of products such as organic milk.[42][43] Trader Joe's scores the lowest on Green America's chocolate scorecard, as the retailer shares very little about addressing child labor or deforestation caused by the chocolate it sells.[44]

In a 2016 settlement with the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Justice, Trader Joe's violated the Clean Air Act by emitting high global warming potential (GWP) and ozone-depleting refrigerants.[45] The company was tasked with reducing its emissions and creating a process to track and repair refrigerants, and was required to use refrigerants with an ultra-low GWP in 15 stores. Since then, the company has not shared its progress to reduce leak rates or publicly report its climate emissions.


In September 2013, in response to the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), Trader Joe's stated that it would require part-time employees to work an average of 30 hours per week in order to qualify for medical insurance (with free coverage for basic dental and vision care still being available for all crew members who work an average of 15 hours or more per week). Part-time employees who were not qualifying for medical insurance would now be eligible for plans which were available under the ACA (but they would only be made available to those employees whose employers do not offer them an insurance plan). Those employees who were working full-time were unaffected.[46]

Product branding[edit]

In 1977, the company began introducing international-sounding variants of its brand for some of its private label ethnic food items, such as "Trader José", "Trader Joe San", and "Trader Giotto" for Mexican, Japanese, and Italian products respectively. The company also referenced other cultures with branding like "Trader Ming's", "Arabian Joe's", and "Pilgrim Joe" for Chinese, Middle Eastern, and Thanksgiving-themed American products.[47][48] In July 2020, during the George Floyd protests, an online petition signed by 5,300 people asked the company to rename these products, criticized their labeling as "racist" and accusing the company of promoting "a narrative of exoticism that perpetuates harmful stereotypes."[48][49]

The company reacted by stating that it was already in the process of reverting a number of international foods back to Trader Joe's branding, and that this decision had already been made several years earlier. Trader Joe's later clarified that some branding referenced in the petition will remain, stating: "We disagree that any of these labels are racist. We do not make decisions based on petitions."[50][51][52] The petition itself has been criticized on social media for promoting cancel culture and for "wasting time on a trivial issue."[52]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "Top 50 food and grocery retailers by sales". Supermarket News. Archived from the original on December 7, 2021.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Kowitt, Beth (August 23, 2010). "Inside the secret world of Trader Joe's". Fortune. Archived from the original on August 16, 2014. Retrieved August 23, 2010.
  3. ^ "Our Story". Trader Joe's. 2017. Archived from the original on November 16, 2018. Retrieved November 16, 2018.
  4. ^ "Theo Albrecht: One of the two brothers behind the Aldi supermarket empire". The Independent. London. August 14, 2010. Archived from the original on April 7, 2014. Retrieved April 2, 2014.
  5. ^ a b c Armstrong, Larry (April 26, 2004). "Trader Joe's: The Trendy American Cousin". BusinessWeek and Archived from the original on September 5, 2015. Retrieved November 27, 2009.
  6. ^ "Trader Joes Store Boston East Coast Headquarters Boston MA". Trader Joe's. Archived from the original on April 13, 2016. Retrieved April 2, 2016.
  7. ^ Gardetta, Dave (September 2011). "Enchanted Aisles". Los Angeles. Archived from the original on October 17, 2011. Retrieved October 15, 2011.
  8. ^ a b Tyler, Jessica. "There is an actual 'Joe' behind Trader Joe's — here's how he founded the grocery chain". Business Insider. Retrieved April 27, 2020.
  9. ^ "For Trader Joe's, a New York Taste Test" Archived October 19, 2015, at the Wayback Machine, The New York Times, March 8, 2006.
  10. ^ "Joe's Joe: Joe Coulombe". Los Angeles Times. May 7, 2011. Retrieved April 27, 2020.
  11. ^ Dwyer, Colin (February 26, 2020). "Joe Coulombe, Founder And Namesake Of Trader Joe's, Dies At 89". NPR. Retrieved April 12, 2022.
  12. ^ "Trader Joe's targets 'educated' buyer". Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Associated Press. August 30, 2003.
  13. ^ "The History of Trader Joe's". The Daily Meal. April 17, 2014.
  14. ^ "Trader Joe Wrote a Memoir". The New Yorker. October 20, 2021. Retrieved October 21, 2021.
  15. ^ "Trader Joe's turns 50 with customer deals". KGTV. August 17, 2017. Retrieved April 27, 2020.
  16. ^ Vitello, Paul (November 9, 2014). "John V. Shields Jr., Who Turned Trader Joe's Into National Chain, Dies at 82". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved April 27, 2020.
  17. ^ Harris, Jon. "Here's what Trader Joe's is looking for in a new location, and why it's not (yet) in the Lehigh Valley". Retrieved April 27, 2020.
  18. ^ Trader Joe's founder Joe Coulombe dies at 89 Associated Press, February 29, 2020
  19. ^ "Trader Joe Wrote a Memoir". The New Yorker. October 20, 2021. Retrieved October 21, 2021.
  20. ^ "Number of Trader Joe's locations in the United States in 2021". ScrapeHero. Retrieved January 22, 2021.
  21. ^ Cullum, Erin. "Trader Joe's Try Before You Policy". Pop Sugar. Retrieved March 26, 2022.
  22. ^ The American Way of Aldi Archived March 6, 2005, at the Wayback Machine, Deutsche Welle, January 16, 2004.
  23. ^ Hirsch, Jerry (February 12, 2008). "Trader Joe's halting some Chinese imports". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on October 22, 2009. Retrieved December 2, 2009.
  24. ^ "Carting Away the Oceans 7" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on October 21, 2013. Retrieved November 2, 2013.
  25. ^ "Announcements | Trader Joe's". February 12, 2016. Archived from the original on December 6, 2016. Retrieved January 22, 2017.
  26. ^ "Why does TJ's frequently discontinue products?". Trader Joe's. Archived from the original on January 22, 2010. Retrieved January 15, 2010.
  27. ^ "Products". Trader Joes. Retrieved March 24, 2022.
  28. ^ Thayer, Warren (June 1, 2002). "Trader Joe's is not your 'average Joe!' With perhaps 85% of sales coming from private label, this secretive bi-coastal chain has a playful – and highly effective – formula". Private Label Buyer. Archived from the original on February 12, 2008. Retrieved February 22, 2008.
  29. ^ "Walmart vs. Trader Joe's wines: Whose are better? | Produced by Advertising Publications". July 18, 2018.
  30. ^ "When Mixing Wine and Marlboros Makes Creative Sense".
  31. ^ "Arsenic in Trader Joe's Wine?". March 23, 2015.
  32. ^ Franson, Paul. "The Origins of Trader Joe's and Why Americans Don't Drink More Wine". Novus Vinum. Archived from the original on December 29, 2008. Retrieved November 5, 2008.
  33. ^ Kroll, Kathie (April 6, 2009). "Consumer Reports ranks top supermarkets". Archived from the original on February 17, 2010. Retrieved February 13, 2010.
  34. ^ "10 Companies that treat you right" Archived February 24, 2012, at the Wayback Machine, MSN Money, June 10, 2009.
  35. ^ "2008 World's Most Ethical Companies". Ethisphere. 2008. Archived from the original on January 11, 2010. Retrieved February 13, 2010.
  36. ^ "2009 World's Most Ethical Companies". Ethisphere Magazine. April 2009. Archived from the original on January 10, 2010. Retrieved February 13, 2010.
  37. ^ "2010 World's Most Ethical Companies". Ethisphere Magazine. April 2010. Archived from the original on April 19, 2010. Retrieved April 26, 2010.
  38. ^ "Wegmans, Trader Joe's, Publix, Costco & Sprouts Top Consumer Reports Supermarket Ratings". Consumer Reports. March 26, 2014. Archived from the original on April 7, 2014. Retrieved April 5, 2014.
  39. ^ Glassdoor Just Announced the 100 Best Places to Work for 2019: Bain, Zoom, In-N-Out, Procore, BCG, LinkedIn, Facebook, Google, lululemon, and Southwest all made Glassdoor's top-10 Best Places to Work for 2019 Inc., Peter Economy
  40. ^ Best Places to Work 2020 Glassdoor
  41. ^ Julia Moskin, "For Trader Joe's, a New York Taste Test" Archived November 29, 2014, at the Wayback Machine, The New York Times, March 8, 2006. Accessed March 30, 2013
  42. ^ Tracy Moore, "That Not-So Fresh Feeling: Why Is Trader Joe's Tight-Lipped About Its Food Sources?" Archived April 4, 2013, at the Wayback Machine, The Nashville Scene, May 24, 2010, quoting a report in Sustainable Industries magazine. Accessed March 30, 2013
  43. ^ MSN Money, May 2, 2013 "Stock Quotes, Business News and Data from Stock Markets | MSN Money". Archived from the original on May 4, 2013. Retrieved July 17, 2013.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  44. ^ "Chocolate Retailer Scorecard | Green America". Retrieved December 15, 2020.
  45. ^ "United States Settles with Trader Joe's to Reduce Ozone-Depleting and Greenhouse Gas Emissions at Stores Nationwide". June 21, 2016. Retrieved December 15, 2020.
  46. ^ Denver Nicks (September 17, 2013). "Trader Joe's Explains why its cutting health benefits for part timers". The Washington Post (reprinted at Archived from the original on September 20, 2013. Retrieved October 8, 2013.
  47. ^ Our Story. Trader Joe's (retrieved July 25, 2020)
  48. ^ a b de Guzman, Dianne (July 18, 2020). "Trader Joe's removing 'racist packaging' after online petition". Retrieved July 25, 2020.
  49. ^ "Trader Joe's to change product branding after petition calls it 'racist' - ABC News". ABC News.
  50. ^ Waller, Allyson (July 19, 2020). "Petition Urges Trader Joe's to Get Rid of 'Racist Branding'". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved July 22, 2020.
  51. ^ "A Note About Our Product Naming". July 24, 2020. Archived from the original on July 31, 2020. Retrieved July 25, 2020.
  52. ^ a b "Trader Joe's says no to changing ethnic-sounding label names". NBC News. Retrieved August 1, 2020.

External links[edit]