Trader Joe's Keeps Quiet On Secrets Of Success
LINDA WERTHEIMER, Host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.
RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:
The store is known for high-quality food, cheaply priced. And even those who don't have a Trader Joe's in town might have heard of its famous Two Buck Chuck - a decent bottle of wine for just $2. The store has inspired such loyalty in its customers that one posted a YouTube tribute that's been viewed over half a million times.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
WERTHEIMER: (Singing) It's booze. It's nuts. It's pills. It's peas. It's the peanut butter made of sunflower seeds. It's a box of soup. It's a bell from a boat. It's yogurt made from the milk of a goat. A bottle of juice with a crazy name. Ten kinds of soy milk that all taste the same. A $2 wine that tastes like 4. All your favorite stuff they don't have anymore.
MONTAGNE: Good morning.
BETH KOWITT: Hi. How are you?
MONTAGNE: Fine, thanks. And I guess we can tell from that little clip that there's a certain jokey affection for Trader Joe's, from those who shop there. But in fact, as you report, this is a very successful company with sales last year at roughly $8 billion.
KOWITT: That's right. And I think that's one of the secrets behind the company, that they have this neighborhood store vibe, yet they are actually quite large. And you know, in the story we note that they're bigger than Bed, Bath Beyond, even.
MONTAGNE: How can the store afford to sell this high quality of food for such a low cost?
KOWITT: Well, it has a very streamlined distribution center, which takes out a lot of the costs. But they also - they buy directly from producers whenever possible, which takes out a lot of costs. So there are no middlemen involved. So they're not going through distributors. Also, because they're buying in such large volume, they can secure large discounts from producers.
MONTAGNE: You know, one thing about Trader Joe's, for people who've shopped there a long time, is that there was once - there was a Joe. Tell us what the story is: who started it, and who owns it now.
KOWITT: Trader Joe's was founded by Joe Coulombe, who is still alive. He's 80. He had the idea that this growing class of educated consumers, that was well-traveled, was going to want things that reminded them of being abroad. But Joe hasn't had anything to do with the business in about two decades. He sold to the Albrecht family of Aldi Nord, which is a supermarket empire. They're German. And the company is now held in a family trust.
MONTAGNE: You tried to get Trader Joe's to cooperate on your story. And your story's very positive. But Trader Joe's declined. NPR called them to get their take on your story, and a spokesman politely declined. What's with all the secrecy?
KOWITT: They don't want to talk about, you know, who's supplying for them. They don't want to talk about their streamlined distribution center. They don't really want their consumer to know Stacey's, which is owned by PepsiCo Frito-Lay, is making their pita chips. It's just - they would rather you think that, you know, it's Trader Joe's brand.
MONTAGNE: So about that YouTube song: What do you make of that? I mean, what does that say about the whole Trader Joe's experience?
KOWITT: I think that's going to be the big challenge for them going forward. You know, they'll hit 350 stores soon. They're going into Omaha. And I think, really, they're going to have to work to keep that quirky, off-beat vibe as they get bigger.
MONTAGNE: Thanks very much.
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