A book by Trader Joe himself

Originally published at: A book by Trader Joe himself | Boing Boing


One paragraph in and i’m already lost

This meant that Pronto Markets could sell extra-large eggs—which were twelve per cent per dozen larger than the large eggs, a meaningful difference to customers—at a discounted price, undercutting other chains.

What is 12% per dozen larger? Why does it matter that it’s per dozen, isn’t each egg 12% larger? How does the 12% only kick in at a dozen? Ok so maybe each egg is 1% larger and when multiplied by a dozen, it’s 12% larger? How can you possibly tell an egg that’s 1% larger than another egg?

two buck chuck

Excellent cooking wine, and there’s a headache in every bottle for free if one drinks it, just cook with that grape flavor beverage…


How did he “beat the big guys”, exactly? The chain was barely founded when he sold it to Aldi. So he managed to build just enough value to get bought by the big guys. Like virtually every small company does.

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When I started to work at TJ’s ( I spent 11 years there) some 18 years ago there were still a handful of managerial types who’d worked with Joe in the old days. The story I got from them–not fact checked by me–is that Joe and his partners disagreed over the chain’s future. Joe wanted to remain regional, with thirty-some stores, and the others were hot to expand expand expand. In the end they bought him out and he went on to other ventures.

These old-timers all had great respect for Joe. They painted a picture of an old-fashioned individual entrepreneur who took a personal interest in the company and gave a damn about his employees. He certainly believed that good wages and a generous retirement package made loyal, permanent workers. Some of these things were still in place when I started working there. For example at the end of each year the company contributed a percentage of each employee’s salary to that person’s retirement account (a real account, not a 401-K). It was one reason “everybody wanted to work for Trader Joe’s.”

During the course of my decade at TJ’s those remaining features were dismantled one by one as the company expanded crazily across the country. Retirement accounts were converted to 401-K’s and company contributions withered to nothing. When I left the “plan” had become a small annual bonus offered employees if the company felt like paying it. Wages stagnated, once dependable raises became smaller and harder to get. Near the end of my tenure they instituted a three-tiered wage system which ensured that newer, much lower-paid workers would stay in the bottom tier as long as possible. Set schedules were scrapped, replaced by “this week we can give you X hours.” I’ve heard employees in every kind of low-wage job fume about this. The company decides each week how many hours you’ll get, which days you’ll work, and what shift you’ll work. You the employee are basically expected to be available 24/7. If your life is such that you can’t work overnights or on Tuesdays, you’re considered a problem and you’ll be given fewer hours in the future. Of course the company doesn’t guarantee you any hours at all in any given week. In my store the week’s schedule was posted during the preceding weekend so it was nearly impossible to plan one’s life in advance.

These things are not unique to Trader Joe’s. They’re straight from the modern retail playbook. I doubt things have improved in the years I’ve been gone. That’s what bugs me the most. To this day TJ’s lives off its once-earned reputation as a quirky neighborhood market bustling with happy employees who enjoy the paternal care of a company that cares about them. It’s appalling how customers buy into this fantasy to the point of launching petition campaigns to bring a TJ’s to their community. No one stops to notice that Trader Joe’s is just one holding of a global conglomerate whose one mission is to stuff the pockets of its ruling family full with as little effort–and expense–as possible.


As an admirer of Tufte, I enjoyed this sign in a TJ’s:


Eggs are sized by weight, so all eggs over the mass that sorts for Large fall into Extra-large. The variation among them could still be considerable, but probably averaged 12%.

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ahhhh ok that makes sense. 12% larger, on average over a dozen. Muchas gracias.

The group that owns Aldi stores in the US does not own Trader Joe’s, though that group owns some of Aldi in other countries.

So in the U.S., Aldi stores and Trader Joe’s are not owned by the same company.


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