6 Things You NEED to Know About Trader Joe’s
A message to anyone who thinks they are helping the environment by buying groceries at Trader Joe’s: sorry, but you’re doing just the opposite. Yeah, Trader Joe’s has great value for shoppers, offering low-priced, great tasting foods. I’m not disagreeing with that. The truth is that as “green” as the store looks, feels, and positions itself to be, Trader Joe’s is actually one of the least eco-friendly businesses around.
Personally, I hate Trader Joe’s because of the brand’s shopping experience. I’ve never gone in and left without feeling uncomfortable, stressed, or angry. I’m not a regular; I’m not part of the Trader Joes Loyalist club–I don’t know where anything is and the diagonal aisles disorient me. I do love their samples though, believe that.
At TJ’s, you are literally surrounded in every direction by fast-paced Joe’s regulars. If you don’t know what you want before you get there or know exactly where it is, good luck finding it and managing to pick it up without feeling like you’re always in somebody’s way.
Of course if I go there more often I’ll be able to speed up my shopping trip–but why should I have to? Last week my girlfriend and I went to Ralph’s at about 9 pm to shop for food. We had the entire store to ourselves, and had as much time and space to look for food as we wished.
The Bottom Line
This is what you need to know about TJ’s—THEIR NUMBER 1 PRIORITY IS PROFIT; NOTHING ELSE.
Of course this is the goal for every company, but Trader Joe’s reveals nothing about how their company really works, while positioning themselves as eco-friendly. In today’s day and age, corporations of this size need to be demonstrating a high level of CSR (corporate social responsibility), especially if they are branding themselves and positioning themselves as a community-oriented, eco-friendly brand.
After we go over the company history, a few of their not-so eco-friendly practices and concerns that reveal the true face of Trader Joe’s, I guarantee you won’t see this company in the same light.
From Neighborhood Outpost to German-Owned, Profit-Driven Corporate Machine
The “Joe” in Trader Joe’s has been dead for years. He sold the company in 1969 to Theo Albrecht, a German supermarket tycoon whose family is basically Germany’s version of the Waltons (Wal-Mart owners). Albrecht passed away last year, but under his command the franchise has skyrocketed. Those of you familiar with the grocery chain Aldi will recognize the similarities between Aldi and Trader Joe’s. The Albrecht family owns both, and have made these two brands the most profitable in the category.
But, how? What does Albrecht’s business model focus on? The CHEAPEST sources of food, MINIMAL space to lower real estate expenses, and a SIGNATURE SHOPPING EXPERIENCE. For some, that experience is heavenly. For me? Pure hell.
What is Trader Joe’s going to be to everybody in five years? The same thing as Starbucks started revealing itself as a couple years ago–a wolf in sheep’s clothing, big business pretending to be your neighborhood store.
In reality, Trader Joe’s has helped obliterate Mom and Pop grocery stores like PW Supermarkets everywhere.
5 Reasons to Rethink the Way You View Trader Joe’s
1. Trader Joe’s does not buy many local foods
While they have phased out some foods from China and elsewhere overseas, the majority of their products are far from local, driving up energy use and the amount of hydrocarbons they use by sourcing their food from the cheapest suppliers around the world.
When you think about conserving the planet, local foods are the #1 way to reduce energy waste. Clearly, Trader Joe’s does not have the environment in mind when they outsource all of their products from throughout the world and repackage them as their own.
2. They have a history of mislabeling their organic products
Organic products now dominate the market, and are big bread winners for businesses. One of the trends in the food industry has been to mislabel foods as organic when they are not certified. Trader Joe’s has a “no comment” policy in public relations, and does not even respond to inquiries as to where or who their food comes from.
Whole Foods has phased out foods that were mislabeled as organic, let’s hope TJ can also start backing up their brand with some real certified organic products.
3. Trader Joe’s has been flagged by groups that assess the environmental impact and sustainability practices of major corporations.
In assessing the organic dairy industry, The Cornucopia Institute gave Trader Joe’s 1 out of 5 stars. Nobody in their upper management leaks any info on their practices. They don’t talk to the press. They don’t reveal how they work or what they do.
Thankfully, Trader Joe’s has committed to phasing out red-listed seafood by 2013. Greenpeace has been begging them to do this for a couple of years.
4. Excessive Packaging = HUGE waste of plastics and other materials
Look at all of the Trader Joe’s food items you buy. Do their bags, boxes, and other packaging indicate that they were made with recycled materials? I don’t think so…
Look at their produce–yes, prepackaging it like meat makes it faster to buy and offers you combo deals you’d have to comprise on your own elsewhere, but this is a huge waste of plastics and paper material. This produce ultimately ends up being overpriced, and your selection is extremely limited!
THINK ABOUT THIS–NOT ONLY DOES TJ’S USE AN EXTREME AMOUNT OF HYDROCARBON ENERGY BY OUTSOURCING THEIR FOOD FROM ALL OVER THE WORLD, THEY ALSO WASTE A TON OF MORE ENERGY AND MATERIAL BY PACKAGING FOOD UP INDIVIDUALLY WHEN IT DOESN’T NEED TO BE.
I don’t even need to provide links, just Google articles about their packaging and you’ll find tons of people online who feel the same way.
5. Trader Joe’s is a black box company–they release NO information as to how they operate
Where does Trader Joe’s buy their food from? Who knows? Why do you think their foods are priced so low? It’s not because the company loves their shoppers and wants to give them a great deal…TJ’s makes the most profit per square foot of any grocery store or supermarket.
We can call this the Wal-Mart effect: you find the cheapest sources in the world to produce your products, and package them as your own. This is extremely deceptive!
6. Their stores are set up in extremely close quarters ONLY to minimize expenses, but somehow they manage to paint their cramped shopping experience as fun, exciting and simple
For me, every TJ experience is defined by insanity–never being able to turn a corner without weaving through two or three carts, never being able to stand and look at foods without blocking someone else.
This is a key passage from the short article you must read:
“The company, which has about 300 stores in the United States, also keeps its stores small (usually about 9,500 square feet versus the average 50,000 square feet of conventional grocers) and the number of products in its stores low—about 2,500 to 3,000, roughly one-tenth the selection carried by conventional grocery stores, according to Private Label Magazine. As a result, the stores consistently post record profits for the grocery industry.”
Everything in big business has its purpose. For TJ’s the small store size is meant to get you in, get your money, and get you out as fast as they can.
If you think you’re shopping green at Trader Joe’s, you’re actually doing less to help the environment than if you were to shop at any other large supermarket.
Trader Joe’s has “unique” items, but only as far as the purple colors on their pita chip bags go. Anything you can find at TJ you can get at another market or large grocery store. If you haven’t been in to Ralphs, Safeway, or Vons lately, they each have a HUGE selection of organic products, local foods, and gluten-free stuff if you’re into that.
Perhaps I’m just airing my bitter frustrations out because I haven’t unlocked the mystery of Trader Joe’s for myself yet…but maybe some of you feel the same way.
Posted on March 15, 2011, in Business, Environment, Nutrition & Health and tagged Eco-Friendly, environment, Green Business, health, local foods, nutrition, Trader Joe's. Bookmark the permalink. 18 Comments.