There are dozens of supermarket brands out there, but none are quite like Trader Joe’s. Just setting foot in one will tell you that you’re someplace special: The walls are colorfully painted, the employees are wearing Hawaiian shirts, and most of the products don’t resemble any that you’ve ever seen before. We tracked down 20 facts that we bet you didn’t know about Trader Joe’s, even if you’re a regular shopper.
The history of Trader Joe’s begins with, as you might expect, a man named Trader Joe: Joe Coulombe, to be exact. In 1958, Coulombe launched a small chain of convenience stores in the greater Los Angeles area called Pronto Market, but after realizing that competition from a burgeoning chain called 7-Eleven would likely drive it into the ground, he decided to introduce a new concept. The tiki trend was in full swing, so in 1967 he opened the first Trader Joe’s, a play on the name of popular tiki restaurant chain Trader Vic’s.
By 1972, Coulombe knew that the average American was traveling more and developing tastes for foods that were impossible to find at the average supermarket, so along with cedar-planked walls and Hawaiian shirt-wearing employees, he rolled out granola, the first in a line of foods under the Trader Joe’s private label. Coulombe was also a big fan of California wines, and the original Trader Joe’s (which still exists in Pasadena) sold literally every California wine that was available, helping to put many vineyards on the map.
In 1973, a trip to Trader Joe’s would have offered you many items that you won’t find today, like pantyhose, which was sold until 1978. In 1975, they started cutting and wrapping cheese for the first time, and in 1977 they expanded their private label with fun names like Trader Ming’s, Trader Giotto’s, and Pilgrim Joe and introduced the first reusable canvas grocery bag. In 1979, Coulombe cashed out and sold the company to German entrepreneur Theo Albrecht, who also owned the German supermarket chain Aldi Nord; Trader Joe's is still owned by his heirs today. By the late 1980s, the chain had expanded into Northern California, in 1993 the first Arizona location opened. 1995 brought expansion into the Pacific Northwest, and in 1996, the first two East Coast locations opened outside Boston.
Between 1990 and 2001, the number of store locations quintupled and revenue shot through the roof as they rolled out on average 10 new items per week. During this time, they also introduced supermarket innovations like paper bags with handles. In 2002, they introduced one of their most notorious products: a $1.99 bottle of wine, produced by Charles Shaw, that was actually decent. It came to be known as “Two Buck Chuck” (the price in most locations has since gone up to $2.99).
Trader Joe’s found success by anticipating the needs of their customers — in many cases knowing what the customer would want even before they did — and selling it to them at a low price in a fun atmosphere. Today, there are nearly 460 stores across the United States according to the company, with the majority in California but more being added regularly. Click here for 20 fun Trader Joe’s facts to keep in mind the next time you pay them a visit, and learn some things you didn't know about the products sold at Trader Joe's here.