Posts Tagged “Trader Joe’s”

Cultural Sensitivity Shaming Strikes Trader Joe’s

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By Jim Prevor,

It was just February 28, 2020, right before the shutdowns began in America for the coronavirus, that Joe Coulombe, the founder of Trader Joe’s, passed away. He was 89 years old.

We’ve been visiting Trader Joe’s since before it was purchased by brothers Karl and Theo Albrecht, of Aldi fame, in 1979. We confess that we never once considered it to be racist or in any other way objectionable. We would have said the store was kind of light-hearted in its promotion, with staff running around in Hawaiian shirts, nautical décor, etc.

Coulombe grew up on an avocado farm in Del Mar, CA. He did a stint in the Air Force and then earned a Bachelor’s degree with a major in economics. He continued at Stanford to get an MBA.

The genesis of Trader Joe’s was competition. Coulombe worked for Owl-Rexall, the drugstore chain, and he had been asked to develop Pronto Markets, a convenience store concept. Eventually, Rexall was going to close the division, and Coulombe bought the company—having to sell his house, borrow from Bank of America and get his employees to buy stock. He ran it for several years as a convenience chain and then heard that 7-Eleven was coming into the Pasadena market. He felt he would lose out in a competitive battle. He explained his thoughts in a 2006 article in Stanford Business, which is published by Stanford’s Graduate School of Business:

“The guy with the most money wins. He gets the best locations. It’s very simple,” Coulombe says now, but he knew it then.

His best hope for survival was to come up with a new idea so the stores didn’t compete head on with 7-Eleven. He had to appeal to a particular demographic group that would seek out his stores, even if he couldn’t put them in the best locations.

It took more than a year for the idea to crystallize. Part of his inspiration came from an article in Scientific American detailing a new generation of college-educated adults. Up to 60% of young people would be going to college, the article told him, up from just 2% in the early 30s, when he was born. Clearly, college was a factor that would transform society.

Second, he read about the coming of the Boeing 747, a larger plane that would greatly reduce the cost of foreign travel. Coulombe began to see the demographic slice he wanted to attract: the growing group of people who were well educated and looking for something different—perhaps a bit exotic—but with a keen eye for a bargain.

As he tells it today, he saw his customers as teachers, musicians, journalists—the overeducated and underpaid.

The final piece of the puzzle fell into place on a Caribbean vacation. Lounging on the beach, he saw what Trader Joe’s would look like: a South Seas trading post with fishing nets and oars adorning the walls.

Trader Joe’s became a leader selling premium items, such as specialty cheese. For a while, it was the number one seller of Brie in America.

After he retired, Coulombe served on many boards, including those of Denny’s and Bristol Farms. He was always focused on the idea retailers needed to be uniquely aligned with their clientele. For him, that was often the idea of a new generation of Americans who were far better educated than in the past but not necessarily highly paid. Coulombe used to joke that Trader Joe’s would get great press because journalists fell in that well educated but not necessarily well paid bracket.

May Joe rest in peace.

Now, all of the sudden, a high-school senior claimed that Trader Joe’s was an exemplar of cultural exploitation because it markets many ethnic products under trade names such as Trader José for Mexican foods or Trader Ming’s for Chinese food.

By mock way of explanation of its theme, the Trader Joe’s website says the Trader Joe’s name came from Joe having “been to the Disneyland Jungle Trip ride.” The Wall Street Journal suggested that the inspiration behind Trader Joe’s name may have been the Trader Vic’s restaurant chain, which claims to be the home of the original Mai Tai.

The culture being what it is today, The Wall Street Journal explains that Trader Joe’s surrendered instantly. Trader Joe’s claims it had already decided to phase out the “offensive” names:

“While this approach to product naming may have been rooted in a lighthearted attempt at inclusiveness, we recognize that it may now have the opposite effect—one that is contrary to the welcoming, rewarding customer experience we strive to create every day,” said Kenya Friend-Daniel, the company’s director of public relations.

When the current period of ultra-cultural sensitivity is past, perhaps it will be realized that these “concerns” help no one at all. Nobody gets better educated. Nobody makes more money. Nobody is happier.

Indeed, as The Wall Street Journal pointed out, the high school student who did this will now get into an Ivy League school. Aside from that, we can say the world will be a little less fun and the real problems of the world today will be neglected a little longer.  

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Less Plastic Packaging is Resulting in Price Slashing at Trader Joe’s

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By Nikki Tran, SFGate

Buying produce at Trader Joe’s is about to get cheaper thanks to the elimination of plastic packaging on certain fruits, veggies, and other food staples.

In a new episodee of “Inside Trader Joe’s,” a podcast created by the grocery chain, hosts Matt Sloan and Tara Miller sat down with produce category manager Jack Salamon to unpack how Trader Joe’s plans to reduce packaging on certain products — which means lower prices for customers.

In the interview, Salamon explained how items like potatoes, onions, and apples can be sold as loose products, but were often bagged or bundled together in plastic containers. Now, the store will feature more loose produce.

How does this translate to cheaper prices? Salamon used fresh garlic as an example. Previously, garlic was sold in a pouch. The price a customer paid for garlic included not only the cost of the produce itself, but also costs associated with making the plastic sleeve, bundling the garlic together, and then topping the bag off with a paper header. The packaged garlic fetched $1.39 for two heads. Now, with those extra, hidden expenses removed, loose garlic goes for 49 cents apiece.

In cases where it is difficult to sell items without packaging, like blueberries, the company is trying out different strategies to reduce its plastic waste, such as thinner, biodegradable, and compostable materials. “We are on track to eliminate 4 million pounds of plastic from our stores in 2019 and 2½ million pounds of that plastic has come directly out of the produce section,” said Salamon.

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Trader Joe’s and Publix Tops with Shoppers in Survey

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IMG_6040Publix and Trader Joe’s for the third year in a row, have been ranked by shoppers as their favorite grocery stores.

A Market Force study of 7,200 shoppers conducted online in April ranked the Monrovia, Calif.-based Trader Joe’s first, the Lakeland, Fla.-based Publix Super Markets Inc., second and the Batavia, Ill.-based Aldi Inc., third, according to a Trader Joe’s news release.

The survey studied consumers’ grocery shopping habits and preferences, rating Trader Joe’s at 78% in consumer satisfaction and Publix at 74%.

Rounding out the top fiver were Aldi, Hy-Vee Food Stores Inc., West Des Moines, Iowa, and H.E.B., San Antonio.  Among the top brands were Boise, Idaho-based Albertson’s and WinCo Foods and Bentonville, Ark.-based Sam’s Club who made this year’s list after failing to garner enough mentions in 2014, according to the release.

Publix and Trader Joe’s led in many areas, including cashier courtesy, fast checkouts and cleanliness, while Aldi, WinCo and Costco Wholesale Corp., Issaquah, Wash., took the top spots in the value category.

Shop-Rite Supermarkets, Edison, N.J., scored highest for sales and promotions while H.E.B, Hy-Vee and Kroger Co., Cincinnati, performed well in most areas.

Other study findings: nearly half prefer to buy organic products, 28% are buying prepared foods at least weekly, up 10% from 2014 and 39% have used a grocery app, primarily for coupons.

Louisville,  Colo.-based Market Force is a global customer intelligence company that provides information for retailers, restaurants, financial institutions, entertainment studios and consumer packaged goods companies.

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Wegmans, Publix and Trader Joe’s Dominate Ratings

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DSCN0467+1In Consumer Reports’ new supermarket survey, Wegmans, Publix and Trader Joe’s remain at the top of the ratings of 68 of stores nationwide. Also earning high overall satisfaction scores were Fareway Stores, Market Basket (Northeast), Costco and Raley’s. Once again Walmart Supercenter landed at the bottom, along with A&P and Waldbaums, two smaller regional chains.

“Once upon a time, low prices, checkout speed and variety were attributes that mattered most to supermarket shoppers,” Tod Marks, senior project editor at Consumer Reports, said in a press release. “While these aspects are still critical, more and more consumers demand better fresh foods, more organics and a greater variety of locally made and grown foods.”

Many Americans believe that good health starts with a good diet. As a result, consumers have become increasingly savvy label readers, wary of preservatives, chemicals and unpronounceable ingredients and the demand for minimally processed foods and shorter ingredients lists has risen significantly. And supermarkets are taking seriously their new role in the health of their customers. Consumer Reports found that 95 percent of chains have a registered dietician on staff to assist with merchandising and marketing decisions. And, more than 75 percent of stores say they carry more locally grown or made goods than they did in 2012.

The report, “America’s Best, Freshest Supermarkets,” which includes the complete Ratings of grocery stores, is available in the May 2015 issue of Consumer Reports and at The feature also decodes common terms such as “fresh,” “natural” and more.

Consumer Reports National Research Center surveyed 62,917 subscribers about overall satisfaction with their supermarket shopping experiences based on 111,208 visits between March 2013 and July 2014. The top-rated supermarkets also received high scores for overall freshness — quality of produce, meats, poultry, bakery items and store-prepared foods as well as store quality, which included scores for staff courtesy and store cleanliness. Walmart Supercenter, consistently one of Consumer Reports’ lowest-rated grocers since 2005, earned low marks in every category other than price.

In addition to traditional characteristics such as service and cleanliness, Consumer Reports asked subscribers to rate their grocers on the selection of local produce and the price of organics at their stores. Only around six in 10 were completely or very satisfied with the quality of their store’s produce, meat, and poultry offerings, according to Consumer Reports’ survey.

Just three of the chains — Wegmans and national chains The Fresh Market and Whole Foods — earned stellar produce scores. Seventeen were below average. Eighteen retailers received low scores for produce variety, notably two big warehouse clubs — Sam’s Club (part of Walmart) and BJ’s Wholesale Club (in the East) — as well as Target and Target Supercenters.

Consumer Reports also asked subscribers about the prices of organic options available at their stores: Trader Joe’s, Wegmans, Costco, and Sprouts Farmers Market received high marks.  And, to determine the real-world price differences, Consumer Reports conducted a study by shopping for 15 similar organic and conventional goods, including bananas, milk, and chicken, at eight national, regional and online grocers. The organic items cost 47 percent more, on average, although in some cases, some of the organic versions cost the same or less than the conventional ones. For example, organic Grade A maple syrup cost 11 percent less than the conventional version at Price Chopper.

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Daily Table Program Coming Next Year to Address Food Waste

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IMG_6680National Public Radio reports a third of the world’s food goes to waste every year.   In the USA alone, nearly 40 percent of  food is thrown out, whether it occurs on farms, grocery stores, or in homes.

Doug Rauch, former president of  Trader Joe’s, is introducing Daily Table,  a new perishable foods project aimed at tackling the overwhelming problem of food waste.   He is determined to repackage perfectly edible produce just past its sell-by date that ends up in the trash.

“Most of what we offer will be fruits and vegetables that have a use-by date on it that’ll be several days out,” says Rauch.  Daily Table will open in early 2014 in Dorchester, MA preparing and repackaging food at deeply discounted prices.

The idea behind the project is to bring affordable nutrition to the underserved living in the inner-cities of America. Rauch suggests  the format is a hybrid between a grocery store and a restaurant, primarily taking this repackaged food, prepping it, and cooking it for what he calls “speed-scratch cooking.”

This is in an attempt to offer this food at prices that compete with fast food. Despite the fact that the food is past its sell date, Rauch ensures the products are absolutely safe to eat.

“This is about trying to tackle a very large social challenge we have that is going to create a health care tsunami in cost if we don’t do something about it,” says Rauch. “I don’t regard Daily Table as the only solution – there are wonderful innovative ideas out there – but I certainly think it is part of and is an innovative approach to trying to find our way to a solution.”

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