By Audrey Quinn
Posting in Food
Is the chain a boon for higher quality food, or just a traitor to the local food movement?
Many food-conscious folks have a complicated relationship with Trader Joe's. Its low prices and healthy aesthetic draw us in, but its ubiquity and secretive owners leave us wary. A friend of mine's father calls the Bellingham, Washington location "Traitor Joe's," a nod to the store's appeal to once-loyal customers from the local food co-op.
What personally strikes me as odd is the chain's ability to make me feel okay paying rock-bottom prices that would sketch me out at any other store. They instill $1.49 tofu, $1.99 bagged spinach, and $0.99 pasta with a bourgeois vibe more akin to Starbucks than Grocery Outlet.
Alessandra Ram argues this week in the Atlantic that despite the store's shortcomings, it may offer a model for affordable sustainable food moving forward.
Ram points to the chain's responsiveness to customer concerns over the sustainability of its products. Trader Joe's raised standards for their seafood products, signed the Fair Food Agreement pledging to pay laborers more for produce, and made a public committment to stock more non-GMO items on their shelves, all thanks to public campaigns.
These moves by Trader Joe's have motivated other stores to take notice, Ram writes:
Even Wal-Mart, which serves a lower-income demographic than Trader Joe's, is following suit: The store has generated a lot of publicity since drafting a corporate policy to buy seven percent of all its fresh food from within 150 miles of its regional warehouses.
That influential effect is what's most promising to me about Trader Joe's. Yes, the store catered to demands for better food, but those demands came from a vocal mostly higher-income consumer base. If the store can continue to motivate chains serving lower income customers to remain affordable while offering higher quality food, I think that would be a prime opportunity to make real progress in improving American food consumption.
[via The Atlantic]
Photo: IK's World Trip/Flickr
Aug 8, 2012
Trader Joe's is unique in a chain food store operation is that the employees actually seem to enjoy working there and helping customers, unlike the full-sized markets where the latter is an imposition. Amazingly, they also empty your cart or basket and pack the groceries for you, unlike "Slaveway" yet still have highly competitive prices. It's nice to look forward to shopping there!
I live a bit over a mile from Trader Joe's #7 -- walking distance. This store has been my primary grocery store since before I bought my house in 1973, and the store was then one of Joe Coulomb's original chain of Pronto Markets, here in the Los Angeles area. Now four times as big as it was then, and currently undergoing still another enlargement, it has foods I can trust, not only for being made with real, natural ingredients, but also for being utterly delicious. The article never mentioned that Trader Joe's taste-tests foods before deciding to stock them, and they are as fussy about quality as I am.
Nothing against the co-op in Bellingham but people will choose the store with better quality, wider selection & lower prices most of the time.
We shop happily, gleefully even, every Friday at Trader Joe's. The products are fine, and the store's staff are all excpetionally pleasant, helpful and seemingly happy people. The experience as much as the product quality and prices keeps us coming back. Now we also shop at not one but two local farmer's markets, where we get most of our meat, fish and veggies. We feel we have the best of both worlds.
I am behind on the issue..Has C4 corn been banned under the banner of non-GMO? If so, will C3 grasses, particularly wheat and rice, be banned too if developed as C4? I'm 65 so who cares, but someone better be looking at the future needs of the planet.....
People seem to find it hard to think a company can do good. I find that disturbing. I have read stories of reporters sending food from Trader Joes to testing labs looking for problems. Nothing was found. Trader Joes is privately held, which means they do not have stock holders to pay. If the owners are ok with a modest profit and the management are not over paid, there is no reason why they cannot sell good food at low prices. The reality is Walmarts prices are not that great around here. I put them in the same price range as Sears on most items. If the highly paid upper management at Walmart took even a 5% pay cut they could lower prices accordingly. It is simple economics 101. Lower operating costs = lower prices or higher profits. The big privately owned local food chain in New England is Market Basket. With no stock holders to answer to they always have prices lower than Walmart for good quality food. Recently they have been renovating stores with a slightly more upscale environment to take on Whole Foods in the organic food space. They have had organic food year round from local farms and hot houses for decades, but now the stores are pretty like Whole Foods. Now health conscious people, who previously would not lower themselves to go to a cheap food store, can have their upscale store at half the price.
TJ's is held by the Aldi brothers (the German supermarket chain) as a private company; one of the Aldi twins recently died, but the chains are unaffected. The TJ's management, based in California near Los Angeles, treats its workers well, with good pay, good benefits (including health), and discounts on food. TJ's management tries to source good foods in quantity, not always to the benefit of the customer. TJ's runs local stores with very tight staffing, almost monk-like attention to stock rooms and turnover, and a dedicated staff of people with very high customer service skills. Each store is a lean system, with only a little variation in performance. TJ's can compete on price, but mostly provides an opportunity to buy basic groceries with quality and purity as goals, and do that consistently. How do I know this? I worked for them for nearly five years.
Like most mom and pop stores. Lean, hard working, dedicated staff. It is impressive they have been able to keep some standards while growing. What irks me is this statement. "despite the stores shortcomings," Up to that point in the post the only short comings mentioned are providing quality goods at a reasonable price. Why do people assume something nefarious is going on? Why do people seem upset that someone makes a profit in a successful, liked, business model? I think most of this is just envy. Fed by the DC class warfare machine.