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Trader Joe's Controversy: Trader Joe's in St. Paul and Minneapolis

By July 3, 2009

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I may have been one of the last people to do so, but today I paid my first visit to the new Trader Joe's store in St. Paul, which opened last Saturday. The whole of St. Paul appeared to be at the opening party and the store has been hopping ever since. Judging by the success of Trader Joe's other Twin Cities stores in Maple Grove, Woodbury and St. Louis Park, the St. Paul store will remain just as busy.

Trader Joe's occupies it's own niche in the world of grocers. There's a focus on specialty and unusual items packaged and priced to make them attractive and accessible to as many consumers as possible. And Trader Joe's most famous line, $2.99 Charles Shaw wines, Three Buck Chuck, brings folk to the store just by itself. Trader Joe's sells liquor in the same building as groceries by having a separate entrance and checkout for the liquor department.

Not everyone is pleased to see Trader Joe's arrive in St. Paul's Highland Park. Nearby independent grocery store Korte's Market gathered signatures to oppose the store while the development was being planned, and is now waiting to see what the effect on their business is before they take any action to deal with the competition.

Traffic, a problem plaguing the St. Louis Park location in particular, has been a concern with the latest Trader Joe's, which has an even larger catchment area of shoppers. Most people from Minneapolis, St. Paul or the south metro area who wants to visit Trader Joe's will be coming to the St. Paul location. So far the traffic has been hectic but manageable at peak shopping times.

Union representatives have been picketing the new store this week, carrying signs urging shoppers to boycott Trader Joe's for not employing union workers. Trader Joe's average wages are higher than the average union employee, and the company benefits and retirement plans are available to employees working over 20 hours a week. And it seems that the staff are happier, when the checkout clerks hand me my receipt with the standard "Have a nice day!" they seem to be a little more sincere at Trader Joe's than other chain grocery stores.

Trader Joe's isn't content with four Twin Cities stores. A store is rumored to be planned for Hopkins, and another store on Lyndale Avenue in Minneapolis is definitely in the planning stage but faces opposition from a store one block north - the Wedge Coop. Trader Joes and the Wedge have a lot of overlap in their target markets and while Trader Joe's doesn't sell co-op staples like bulk produce and carries very few local Minnesota foods, Trader Joe's purchasing power will undercut the Wedge for many natural and organic foods and as a result, the Wedge's business is likely to suffer.

The Wedge is objecting specifically to Trader Joe's application for a liquor license. Liquor is such a significant part of Trader Joe's business that they won't build the store unless they can sell beer and wine in it. Minneapolis has legislation mandating business who hold liquor licenses to be at least 2000 feet apart. Hum's Liquor, across the street from the Wedge, would usually prevent either the Wedge or the proposed Trader Joe's having a liquor license too, but Trader Joe's has applied for an exemption and received the support of Minneapolis City Council in April. If the state and local residents agree, then Trader Joe's will be permitted to sell Three Buck Chuck on the site and the store will likely be built.

It's only been three years since the first Trader Joe's opened in Minnesota, and it is certainly taking the Twin Cities by storm. But are their organic goods for the massses and cheap wine a welcome addition, or unfair competition to independent markets and co-ops?

Comments
July 3, 2009 at 11:14 am
(1) Paul says:

I have visited Trader Joes, and I don’t care for it. It’s always crowded, loud and difficult to find things. I don’t think the wedge has a lot to worry about. They may see a slight drop in sales, but I think they could coexist as their overlap is minimal. I think in the long run Trader Joe’s is more likely to suffer from building too close to the Wedge.

July 3, 2009 at 2:32 pm
(2) Steve Johnson says:

TJ’s has portion size products that are consumer friendly! What will happen is consumers will flock to TJ’s. Grocery stores are now turning into food asembley plants were consumers go in and pick from a variety of ready to eat or ready to heat food components to take home and place on the table. In other words they are becoming Grocerants. Most consumers do not cook them simply assemble meal s particularly Monday Friday.

July 4, 2009 at 10:19 am
(3) Beerisfood says:

Trader Joes is Aldi for a wealthier demographic. It’s owned by the Albrecht brothers of Germany. Think Walden family of Walmart. Target, Wallmart, Aldi, Trader Joes are all broadly influencing the grocery supply chain. They bring international buying power and have the ability to crush small, medium, and even large competitors. Increasing organic content in these stores is not indicative of any particular environmental or ethical position, it is completely market driven. This favors large scale industrial organic production, meaning big business located in distant places. Therefore it weakens the local foods movement by deflating prices. We need to support local growers, so the strength of our knowledge base remains high, our soil rich, and our economy to our community. CSA, Co-op, backyard and community gardening are the future, but all being pressured by the globalized, pre packaged/processed “convenience” of retailers like Trader Joe’s.

July 6, 2009 at 6:35 pm
(4) Lois Koffi says:

TJ’s is an amazing store option. I have lived away from the Twin cities for almost seven years and will be moving back later this year. I am completely STOKED that there is a Highland Park location of TJ’s. I think it is a great option to have in addition to my other shopping. It’s great to have variety and will help other stores improve, if they choose to see Tj’s not as competition, rather, just another store that is doing things right. We love three buck chuck!

September 7, 2009 at 9:13 pm
(5) Susan says:

Just a lot of food-like-products. If you are looking for cheap junk food, TJs is your place. If you care about your health and are looking for actual food, visit your local co-op, or better yet, a farmer.

February 21, 2010 at 9:05 pm
(6) mike says:

I worked at Tjs for 3 years and was constantly harrassed by management(physical attacks by fellow workers close to management, insulting remarks questioning my masculinity, provocation, denial of wage increase, etc.) because I expressed interest in unionization and was outspoken concerning their belittling of workers. they finally fired me for saying ‘f***’ at 3am while on the midnight shift. And to deny me unemployment compensation they lied through their teeth about my case, which was easy to prove and I did get unemployment benefits. they use a lot of psycology to manipulate workers,i.e. the standard flattery/ insult tactics. It’s a German company, one of the few German companies that is not unionized.

October 5, 2010 at 6:30 pm
(7) John says:

I’m all for supporting local farmers, but I got news for you-there’s a lot more food in the world than Minnesota or even America produces. At least TJ’s carries Mozz di Bufalo-real mozzarella made from the milk of water buffaloes. I don’t know of anywhere else here it’s carried. Please enlighten me if I’m wrong. In my former city, I could buy it anywhere-even Costco. Sure are a lot of Italian markets in this city that don’t carry Italian staples!

May 10, 2011 at 10:42 am
(8) Maddie says:

As an employee at a Minneapolis co-op I do most of my shopping at co-ops. For a few items though, I hit up Trader Joe’s. Generally I will buy cooking oil, chocolate and liquor; luxury items more or less. It’s true that co-ops cannot compete on price with items such as these (as well as on other processed, packaged convenience foods) but when it comes to meat and seafood, cheese and dairy, bakery items and produce co-ops win every time! Produce at tjs is especially disappointing. I have never had really good tasting fruits and veggies from tjs, everything tastes just alright. The apples are mushy, the lettuce is just ok, and they lack selection in good leafy greens. Besides that most all of it is unnecessarily packaged. There is no comparison between the really fresh local produce available at co-ops and the limp, musty, shrink-wrapped, imported produce at tjs. Meat is fresher too at co-ops, it doesn’t have nearly as far to travel, and too bad for tjs that they don’t have a meat counter with really fresh meat! I make a small enough salary that I need to really watch how I spend it, but it has never seemed like a sacrifice to me to shop locally at co-ops and get really delicious food in return.

February 5, 2012 at 3:12 pm
(9) Marcel says:

- It may have been a rainy day but the wednidg AND these images are simply BEAUTIFUUUUUUUL! Love her dress, the simple flower and elegant braid in the hair.

August 16, 2013 at 1:48 pm
(10) Jeromy says:

Having worked for Trader Joe’s for five years, I was fired for trying to form a union. Their health care is diminishing, their wages are in decline and their CEO, Dan Bane, used to be an executive at Walmart. It’s funny how so many darlings of the liberal party are just wolves in sheep’s clothing.

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