Trader Joe’s week, day 1: The company

Trader Joe's in Madison, WIIn a few weeks, the Madison location of Trader Joe’s will celebrate the five year anniversary of its opening. To read some of the news coverage from that day, you’d think Madisonians got indoor plumbing for the first time, the reported level of excitement was so high. Not ever having experienced the TJ’s phenomenon firsthand, the initial hype turned me off at the time, so it took quite awhile before I actually stopped in to see what all the fuss was about. Now I admit to stopping in once every week or two to pick up a few items that have become staples for us. Based on a few recent conversations, I was inspired to set aside this entire week on the blog to consider Trader Joe’s and, for those of us who have regular access to one of their stores, how it fits into our lives as modern eaters. I’ll highlight a few of my favorite products along with some TJ’s items that don’t typically make it into this shopper’s cart. (In case the links below don’t make it clear, let me say for the record: this is not a paid promotion.)

To start things off, I thought it would be worthwhile to consider the broader picture, sharing links that consider the company itself (including its corporate practices and strategies) and some of its retailing practices. A great place to start is this 2010 piece from CNN Money. Did you know that Trader Joe’s is a privately held company owned by one branch of a German family of supermarket moguls? Me neither.  (The other branch of the family owns the Aldi discount markets here in the U.S.) CBS’s Moneywatch has a list of 6 things to buy at Trader Joe’s and a companion list of 4 things not to buy there. Those lists are interesting to think about, but they mostly prioritize shoppers’ pocketbooks over other factors that can influence our purchasing decisions. For example, remember my recent post about tomatoes? The Coalition of Immokalee Workers has thus far been unsuccessful in their efforts to get Trader Joe’s to join Taco Bell, McDonald’s, and Whole Foods (among others) and sign a Fair Food Agreement to help protect the rights of tomato farm workers.

What’s your take on Trader Joe’s: love it, hate it, ambivalent? Or maybe you couldn’t care less? Why?



  1. Paula

    Lucky!!!! The only thing I hate about TJ’s is that they haven’t come to Colorado yet. We have to drive 450 miles to Santa Fe to get our fix. Just had their super-yummy Harvest Grain Mix (or something like that) last night. And you can’t do all your grocery shopping there, I find – the produce is often lackluster and I’ve had some awful frozen fish from there, too.

    • Todd Ingram

      Must be hard making that weekly 900-mile round trip to stock up! 😉

      Trader Joe’s is definitely not a one-stop-shopping experience for all your grocery needs. The Madison TJ’s is on our way home from the gym, so we either run in then or stop by on the weekend when we’re already out shopping at the farmers’ market or grocery store. About the only fresh produce we buy at Trader Joe’s are the occasional bananas (J’s favorite fruit) and their bagged organic broccoli florets.

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