A history of Trader Joe’s and Joe Coulombe, the man behind the brand

Joe Coulombe, a struggling advantage store owner in Los Angeles, determined in 1967 to open up a grocery chain to enchantment to the tiny but expanding number of nicely-educated, nicely-traveled consumers that mainstream supermarkets have been disregarding.

“I have an perfect viewers in head,” he told the Los Angeles Moments in 1981. “This is a human being who acquired a Fulbright scholarship, went to Europe for a pair of yrs and created a flavor for anything other than Velveeta” common beer and Folgers espresso, he stated.

Coulombe acknowledged that international journey was about to explode thanks to the new Boeing 747 hitting the current market. For the name of his new retailer, Coulombe landed on Trader Joe’s to evoke exotic photographs of the South Seas. The title was motivated by Trader Vic’s, a well-liked Tiki Bar restaurant begun in California.

A single marketing and advertising professional assumed it was a horrible title — “Trader” was “a thing related with providing defective horse flesh,” Coulombe stated in his memoir, “Becoming Trader Joe,” revealed in 2021, a year after he died at age 89.

But it trapped, and the initial Trader Joe’s opened in Pasadena, California, in 1967. The area was great for his new concentrate on consumer, surrounded by college or university campuses, a healthcare facility and large engineering firms.

“He was a grocery outsider who was equipped to see things differently,” claimed Benjamin Lorr, creator of “The Mystery Lifestyle of Groceries: The Darkish Wonder of the American Supermarket.” “He preferred to faucet into this strategy that food was exploration, that food was travel and journey.”

Nautical topic

The first Trader Joe’s retail outlet experienced a nautical concept with maritime artifacts which include a ship’s bell, fish netting and 50 percent of a rowboat. The test out counter was an island with a roof. Workforce wore Polynesian shirts and Bermuda shorts. The supervisor was identified as captain and the assistant was initially mate. And lilting Hawaiian new music played over the loudspeakers.

But the products looked nothing like what you’d discover at a Trader Joe’s right now.

The initial retailer had a typical advantage shop assortment of groceries, along with discounted journals, textbooks, socks and hosiery, records and image ending. The big attract, on the other hand, was the liquor variety.

California had Fair Trade laws on liquor, so makers set minimum amount rates and it was unlawful to go beneath them. Given that Coulombe could not compete by offering minimal selling prices, he recognized he experienced to present a large selection to stand out.

The to start with Trader Joe’s boasted of owning the world’s premier assortment of alcoholic beverages — 100 makes of Scotch, 50 models of bourbon and gin and 14 sorts of tequila.

Coulombe ultimately found a loophole in California’s Good Trade regulations that allowed his store to import substantial-stop French wine and market it for decreased rates than competition, supporting him achieve wine connoisseurs. (It would not be until finally yrs later on that Trader Joe’s produced its famed $1.99 Charles Shaw wine, regarded as “Two-Buck Chuck.”)

Wellbeing craze

By the early 1970s, Coulombe seized on the developing wellbeing food items motion, believing it would attractiveness to the identical variety of shoppers who also happened to be wine connoisseurs.

“His ideas on internet marketing groceries came from his advertising of wine,” Benjamin Lorr reported.

Trader Joe’s to start with personal-label product or service was granola, and then it begun adding refreshing squeezed orange juice, natural vitamins, nuts and dried food items and cheese. At one particular level, Trader Joe’s was the greatest US importer of brie.

Coulombe grew to become immersed in the well being foodstuff tradition in Berkeley and San Francisco.

“I hired a younger hippie female out of the University of California at Santa Cruz to teach us the lingo,” he mentioned.

Brandenburg Brownies and Sir Issac Newtons

In 1977, Coulombe remade Trader Joe’s once again — setting it on a route that would be more acquainted to present-day shoppers.

In response to the finish of Fair Trade regulations on liquor in California and other rate controls, Trader Joe’s needed new ways to increase gain and keep competitive. It removed most family basics and cleansing essentials and centered on food. It also slashed the number of items it carried and moved to mostly advertising non-public-label goods.

“As we evolved Trader Joe’s, its finest departure from the norm was not its measurement or its decor,” Coulombe mentioned. “It was our determination to solution understanding, anything which was entirely foreign to the mass-merchant lifestyle, and our turning our backs to branded merchandise.”

The firm even positioned its non-public-label names and branding to hook up with nicely-educated consumers — Brandenburg Brownies and Sir Issac Newtons, for instance — Coulombe explained.

Developing strong private-label offerings to rival national models would be a single of his legacies in the supermarket industry, explained Lorr. “That transformed the stability of the grocery marketplace. Quickly, grocers are empowered in a way they were not.”

But Coulombe resisted opening up dozens of new outlets.

Trader Joe's has more than 500 stores across the United States today.

The handful of retailers Coulombe did open were in Southern California, which in shape the demographic profile he was seeking — academics, musicians, journalists and other specialists.

In 1979, Coulombe sold Trader Joe’s to the family of Theo Albrecht, then the proprietor of the Aldi grocery chain in Europe. (Aldi in the United States is separately owned by the relatives of Theo Albrecht’s brother Karl.)

Aldi executives would journey from Germany to visit Trader Joe’s about the moment a yr, but they took a arms-off solution to overseeing the developing chain.

By the time Coulombe stepped down as chief govt in 1988, Trader Joe’s had 27 California stores and an estimated $150 million in product sales.

It would be his successor as chief executive, John Shields, a former fraternity brother at Stanford, who led Trader Joe’s out of California and turned it into a national chain. In 1996, Trader Joe’s opened its initially two stores on the East Coast, both of those in Boston suburbs.
By 2020, Trader Joe’s experienced a lot more than 530 retailers and an believed $16.5 billion in product sales, according to the most up-to-date facts offered from Grocery store News.

“My successors at Trader Joe’s have taken a 30-retail outlet chain nationwide with impressive adherence to the primary ideas we began out with,” Coulombe said in 2010.