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August 19, 2013 12:56 PM   Subscribe

Pirate Joe's is an unaffiliated reseller of Trader Joe's products in Canada. They buy Trader Joe's merchandise at retail cost across the border, bring them into Canada, and sell them at a markup. Trader Joe's is suing, and Pirate Joe's owner Michael Hallatt has not backed down. “This is a little bit David versus Goliath and a little bit Occupy Grocery.” He took the "P" off of the store's sign in reaction to the suit, leaving just "Irate Joe's."
posted by Stewriffic (299 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
As a Canadian expat in the US, the question I have to ask my countrymen is:

Why-oh-why would you bother with Trader Joe's when you've got all the President's Choice that you could ask for?

some one send me some Decadents please
posted by sparklemotion at 12:59 PM on August 19, 2013 [17 favorites]


I live in Victoria, so I don't have any easy access to Bellingham to go to Trader Joe's. Looking at the website, it seems to feature a lot of processed food.

Can any American MeFites explain what the attraction is?
posted by KokuRyu at 1:00 PM on August 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


So Occupy has jumped the shark.
posted by Bwithh at 1:00 PM on August 19, 2013 [6 favorites]


The lawsuit was filed in Seattle. His store is in Vancouver BC. I don't see how an American court has jurisdiction.

Hallatt does his buying in America, but "buying" is not the claimed tort. He does his selling and advertising in Canada, which is what Trader Joe's wants stopped (for some reason). Seems like the suit should have been brought before a Canadian court.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 1:02 PM on August 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


Can any American MeFites explain what the attraction is?

It's not processed food like you find in the regular supermarket freezer. It's almost all:

1.) Tasty.
2.) Cheap.
3.) Pretty healthy!

I shop there almost exclusively.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 1:03 PM on August 19, 2013 [13 favorites]


Can any American MeFites explain what the attraction is?

The packaging doesn't look like big American brands, so hipsters don't realize they are buying stuff from a big German conglomerate.
posted by Behemoth at 1:03 PM on August 19, 2013 [111 favorites]


KokuRyu,
I shop a trader joes for various simple things like, eggs, milk, peanut butter (never produce).

I think the best thing about Trader Joes is that they do a good job limiting the options available.
In other grocery stores, you find a two dozen or so different types of peanut butter whereas trader joes might just have two, but you know those two are good quality at a competitive price
posted by mulligan at 1:04 PM on August 19, 2013 [9 favorites]


Seconding KokuRyu. In some municipalities, TJ's is a good option for cheap wine; other than that it has always struck me as a pretentious hipstery 7-Eleven.
posted by sy at 1:04 PM on August 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


TJ's has a lot of somewhat unusual own brand thingies that are targeted at college-educated or similar consumers. Sometimes even cult items are suddenly discontinued ... But this means new items appear quite regularly. Dark side of TJ's : a lot of their more standard stuff are just basic/OK quality items repackaged in fancy ways. Their bread range and quality is bad.
posted by Bwithh at 1:05 PM on August 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


TJ's is basically snack food junction. At least it is for me. Also some of the convenience/frozen food is good and unusual.
posted by 2bucksplus at 1:06 PM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


The candied ginger at TJ's is enough of a reason for it to exist as far as I'm concerned.
posted by saturday_morning at 1:06 PM on August 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


TJ's repackages a lot of upscale brands and sells them cheaper. So you can get things like olive oil, peanut butter, broth, etc. that are high-quality but also cheap.

From the article: "One Yelp review of the store states, 'These guys are not affiliated with Trader Joe's in any way which means that they have to jump through some pretty knarley hoops to get these products here for us Vancouverites, but they do'...."

"Knarley"? Is that some sort of Canadian spelling?
posted by jaguar at 1:06 PM on August 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


Trader Joe's produce: little did you know that everything that comes out of the ground is most optimally dispensed in plastic wrap and/or containers.
posted by Brak at 1:06 PM on August 19, 2013 [9 favorites]


Why-oh-why would you bother with Trader Joe's when you've got all the President's Choice that you could ask for?

Why isn't it "Governor-General's Choice"?
posted by Bwithh at 1:07 PM on August 19, 2013 [21 favorites]


I'm with KokuRyu. I live in Austin, where we have the Whole Foods HQ, which has successfully lobbied to keep Trader Joe's out of town. This has caused many a squinty eye at Whole Foods. For years, I have heard of the wonder of Trader Joe's: the fantabulous purveyor of groceries that is better than everything else. And then, San Antonio got a Trader Joe's. Elated, I drove the 90 minutes to visit it (along with other stuff, it wasn't like I was just going for a freaking grocery store.)

My assessment: if you want fancy oreos? Trader Joe's is the best place to get fancy oreos. Do you want foods with fancy, homemade labels that hearkens back to either the frontier of Laura Ingalls Wilder or some 1920s candy shoppe or some strange amalgamation of the two? Trader Joe's has it. Other than that, it's just a clean, not-very-well stocked grocery store.



As a footnote, the main Central Market in Austin? Best grocery store ever.
posted by nushustu at 1:07 PM on August 19, 2013 [11 favorites]


I wonder how fast they can move the fresh fruits and vegetables, because at every Trader Joe's I've shopped at, that stuff is ready and ripe RIGHT NOW, and you'd better consume it today or tomorrow. For me, that's a good thing.
posted by sidereal at 1:09 PM on August 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


I don't understand how Pirate Joe's thinks they have a leg to stand on. They're plainly trading on the Trader Joe's brand - why would they expect Trader Joe's not to care?

Ugh, I'm really grossed out about the language PJ uses to defend himself. "Trader Joe's thinks Canadians are too ignorant...", positioning himself as some sort of underground resistance character against the corporate tyrants. Dude: of course they're going to want you to stop. What if they want to expand to Vancouver? Even if they don't now, I feel like they're obligated to go after you to protect that possibility down the line.

Trader Joe's is mostly just some genius marketing.
posted by neuromodulator at 1:09 PM on August 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


Trader Joes has pretty dang good microwave food. I don't think I could get good frozen Chicken Tikka Malsa basically anywhere else.
posted by hellojed at 1:09 PM on August 19, 2013 [6 favorites]


Trader Joe's has the best natural peanut butter in the world. (No hydrogenated oils!)

And those damn Joe-Joes cookies are friggin' delicious.
posted by entropicamericana at 1:10 PM on August 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm sure the MeFi brigade that hates capitalism and personal property rights will be along shortly to vociferously argue that Pirate Joe's is not doing anything wrong here.
posted by reenum at 1:10 PM on August 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


Why isn't it "Governor-General's Choice"?

I'm sure that Dave Nichol, as he weeps himself to sleep every night, asks the same question.
posted by maudlin at 1:10 PM on August 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


And then, San Antonio got a Trader Joe's. Elated, I drove the 90 minutes to visit it (along with other stuff, it wasn't like I was just going for a freaking grocery store.)

It must be similar to when Target opened up in Canada for the first time a few months ago. It was supposed to be this big deal, but the very first thing I see whenever I go there (it's next to where my son has hockey practice) is a sock rack that has about 3 pairs of socks, total.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:11 PM on August 19, 2013


I'm pretty sure that if Trader Joe's ever does come to Canada, it will be as disappointing as Target. (It's Zeller's with occasional tiny flourishes of nice design at mediocre prices, guys.)

I guess they'll treat their workers better than target, though.
posted by maudlin at 1:13 PM on August 19, 2013


I don't think I could get good frozen Chicken Tikka Malsa basically anywhere else.

Yet again, President's Choice has us covered for that.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 1:13 PM on August 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


Can any American MeFites explain what the attraction is?

These. These are the attraction.
posted by phunniemee at 1:13 PM on August 19, 2013


Enjoy your lead candy, Vancouver!
posted by Sys Rq at 1:13 PM on August 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


"Trader Joe's thinks Canadians are too ignorant...", positioning himself as some sort of underground resistance character against the corporate tyrants.

How can you possible be too grossed out? You've just identified two conceits that are central to the Canadian character: "Americans think we're stupid igloo dwellers! We have to stand up to their massive corporations!"

Pretty much meat and potatoes marketing for Canada.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:14 PM on August 19, 2013 [8 favorites]


I'm sure the MeFi brigade that hates capitalism and personal property rights will be along shortly to vociferously argue that Pirate Joe's is not doing anything wrong here.

I'm sincerely not sure what they are doing wrong. Seems like they're just a Trader Joe's reseller. Sincere question: do you not generally have the right to resell something you've bought at retail prices?
posted by Brak at 1:14 PM on August 19, 2013 [15 favorites]


If I ever want completely terrible produce and bread, Trader Joe's has me covered.
posted by Kwine at 1:14 PM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


I strongly suspect Trader Joe's acts as an outlet for high-end processed food for much of their inventory.
posted by Ardiril at 1:15 PM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


These. These are the attraction.

I like the Kopali Organics ones better, actually.
posted by elizardbits at 1:16 PM on August 19, 2013


I'm sure the MeFi brigade that hates capitalism and personal property rights will be along shortly to vociferously argue that Pirate Joe's is not doing anything wrong here.

He said he is legally allowed to "resell trademarked products if they are sold without material change," his legal response states.

He says he is not violating any American or Canadian laws by exporting his purchases to his retail store in Canada.

"The purpose of Hallatt's business, known as Pirate Joe's, is to provide a convenience to Canadians who wish to purchase Trader Joe's branded products but would prefer to avoid the time, trouble, and expense of traveling to the United States and returning to Canada through border security checkpoints and Canadian customs," his legal response states.


I'm not sure which brigade you're talking about, but it seems like TFA has the argument clearly stated. Do you have anything useful to contribute to the discussion?
posted by Floydd at 1:16 PM on August 19, 2013 [11 favorites]


Listen, I couldn't care less about every single other product at Trader Joes... but, I can get a five-inch log of goat cheese at Trader Joe's for $4.50. At every other store in NYC, such a log would be 10 to 12 dollars. And then there's the wine.

As far as I'm concerned, TJ's is a discount goat cheese and wine store.
posted by showbiz_liz at 1:16 PM on August 19, 2013 [38 favorites]


The first TJ's I went to (in Maryland) had Blarney Scones, therefore they are awesome.
posted by kmz at 1:16 PM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


TJs pales next to Whole Foods which is much more expensive though. Some Whole Foods have in-store masseurs and sit down restaurants where they will cook the steak you just bought of the shelf
posted by Bwithh at 1:16 PM on August 19, 2013


I'm sure the MeFi brigade that hates capitalism and personal property rights will be along shortly to vociferously argue that Pirate Joe's is not doing anything wrong here.

I'm OK with capitalism and quite a big fan of personal property rights, and I seriously fail to see what Pirate Joe's is doing wrong.

They are importing a good into a locale where the original retail seller does not exist. They are paying the original seller full retail price and not adulterating the product in any way.

Maybe TJs should just open up a Vancouver store.
posted by chimaera at 1:17 PM on August 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


Wouldn't it just be cheaper for TJ to just open a location right in town where Pirate Joes is? It would put them out of business *and* satisfy demand.
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 1:17 PM on August 19, 2013 [5 favorites]


Trader Joe's offers starting salaries in the range of $40,000.00 a year. Where I'm from, that makes it one of the best-paying employment opportunities going, so while there may indeed be something a little trendy about the fascination with Trader Joe's, it's the kind of trend that treats people a hell of a lot better than the last couple of decades of retail trends have, so I'm all for it.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:18 PM on August 19, 2013 [59 favorites]


Brak, the reseller doctrine you're talking about applies if you're selling your kd lang CD on Craigslist.

What Pirate Joe's is more close to the opening of those fake Apple Stores In China.
posted by reenum at 1:18 PM on August 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


I don't understand how Pirate Joe's thinks they have a leg to stand on. They're plainly trading on the Trader Joe's brand - why would they expect Trader Joe's not to care?

... and...

I'm sure the MeFi brigade that hates capitalism and personal property rights will be along shortly to vociferously argue that Pirate Joe's is not doing anything wrong here.

Oh, for the love of god. He's paying retail for a good he's reselling. The doctrine of first sale applies, and he's clearly not misrepresenting himself as some sort of official representative of the company. Not only is Trader Joe's in the wrong for suing him, but worse: they're making a bad business decision. Why would you sue somebody who is not only giving you money, but free marketing and free market research?

Show me the business case for this lawsuit.
posted by mhoye at 1:18 PM on August 19, 2013 [21 favorites]


TJs pales next to Whole Foods which is much more expensive though. Some Whole Foods have in-store masseurs and sit down restaurants where they will cook the steak you just bought of the shelf

Well, yeah, that's the whole point though. TJs is a downscale cheap version of Whole Foods. Whether it succeeds at being such is up for debate.

(I personally prefer Central Market to Whole Foods, but that's more just a personal preference than anything else.)

I've always really liked the simmer sauces at TJs too.
posted by kmz at 1:20 PM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


I agree that Trader Joe's seems to be making a mistake here. Pirate Joe's is not doing anything wrong.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:20 PM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Trader Joes has pretty dang good microwave food. I don't think I could get good frozen Chicken Tikka Malsa basically anywhere else.
posted by hellojed at 1:09 PM on August 19
[+] [!]


Try the UK, it's ancestral home and general happy hunting ground for high end microwave food
posted by Bwithh at 1:20 PM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Finlaggan, $19.95 US.

That and their chocolate-covered almonds with the cocoa and sea salt.
posted by rtha at 1:22 PM on August 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


If there's a market Trader Joe's would do well in in Canada, it's downtown Vancouver. They may be a decade too late though---Urban Fare may have that market sewn up by now.
posted by bonehead at 1:22 PM on August 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


I was also excited for my first TJ's trip, and then totally unimpressed, I think I missed something.

also

Urban Fare: Selling the exact same Western Family products as PriceSmart for twice the price.
posted by Cosine at 1:24 PM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Why would you sue somebody who is not only giving you money, but free marketing and free market research? The mind boggles.

I would assume they're more or less required to do so in order to police their trademark, but I'm not a lawyer so I may be mistaken.
posted by jaguar at 1:25 PM on August 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


I don't understand how Pirate Joe's thinks they have a leg to stand on.

Meals are healthier to push than cigarettes.
posted by Smart Dalek at 1:25 PM on August 19, 2013


What Pirate Joe's is more close to the opening of those fake Apple Stores In China.

It's really not. REALLY, REALLY not.

Those fake Apple stores present themselves as --- Apple stores! And they sell.... fake Apple products!

This guy isn't trading under the name "Trader Joe's" and he is selling authentic goods purchased at retail price. The only thing I can possibly *imagine* that he's doing wrong is violating a Canadian import law, which there's no indication that is the case.
posted by chimaera at 1:26 PM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


So, by the logic presented up thread, I should be able to open a store I call the Crabapple Store in Yellowknife that sells authentic Apple products as long as I'm buying everything at retail cost from Apple?
posted by reenum at 1:26 PM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Jesus Vancouverites, just drive to Bellingham.

The mind boggles that people are willing to pay a premium for TJ's products. That's pretty much their only appeal, the place is cheap. Remove that from the mix and you are better off at Whole Foods.

Oh, and somewhat related, just this past Friday my wife and I were going to the TJ's in Bellingham. Wife spotted half of Bellingham sitting in the beer garden at Kulshan Brewing a half block south of TJ's. We stopped and had a pint. Highly recommended. So civilized, so resolutely un-Vancouver.
posted by Keith Talent at 1:26 PM on August 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


I don't understand how Pirate Joe's thinks they have a leg to stand on.

A peg leg, surely.
posted by zippy at 1:26 PM on August 19, 2013 [19 favorites]


What strikes me about Trader Joes frozen meals is that they, for the most part, seem to come from the country of origin:

The Cod Provencal, Coq Au Vin, and other french dishes are a Product of France
The Thai food is from Thailand
The Pickles are from Germany
The StroopWaffles are from the Netherlands
Lots and lots of NZ cheeses and lamb cuts

Here in California too, they have the cheapest liquor selection for name brands (along with store brand liquors that ain't half-bad, even the TJ's scotch is OK). Ditto goes for their wine & beer. Hell, I'd put donuts to dollars that TJ's is responsible for a noticeable uptick in American wine consumption based upon the affordable good wines they seem to exclusively stock.
posted by wcfields at 1:27 PM on August 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


I guess I feel like Trader Joe's has put a tremendous amount of work into their brand identity and that Pirate Joe's is piggybacking on that and has the danger then of effecting their brand perception in Canada, so it makes sense to me that they'd want to move against that. Like, if he didn't call himself Pirate Joe's and didn't seem to use a variation of their fonts, (and I haven't been in the store but I'd guess maybe the labelling is similar) - I would be in the camp of "he's not doing anything wrong". But instead I feel like "Trader Joe's brand image is worth a ton and you're trying to associate yourself with it" is more accurate than "I'm just reselling their stuff".
posted by neuromodulator at 1:27 PM on August 19, 2013 [5 favorites]


Show me the business case for this lawsuit.

He is profiting off of the goodwill created by the huge investment in marketing and product development by Trader Joe's. So much so that he named his business in order to invoke that same goodwill.

Trader Joe's certainly seems to have lawyer's capable of walking the line of "playfully invoking the original product" and so I think they are probably pretty sensitive to someone who is on the wrong side of it.
posted by sparklemotion at 1:27 PM on August 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


So, by the logic presented up thread, I should be able to open a store I call the Crabapple Store in Yellowknife that sells authentic Apple products as long as I'm buying everything at retail cost?

Yes, absolutely. So long as you comply with Yukon/Canadian importing law.
posted by chimaera at 1:28 PM on August 19, 2013 [8 favorites]


Yeah, I wonder if this would have been a thing at all if he'd just called the store Seattle Imports or something. I remember buying Tim Tams and other "exotic" candy bars from an online Australian resale catalog way back when.
posted by kmz at 1:28 PM on August 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


Trader Joes is human-sized, has good prices and quality. Except for their bread which I think is mostly boring. If I ever had to work in a supermarket, Trader Joes would be the one I'd choose - it feels less degrading
posted by mdoar at 1:28 PM on August 19, 2013 [5 favorites]


"Trader" = they buy something from...someone/somewhere, brand it as their own, and resell it. Sometimes they have good things at cheap prices. Sometimes they have standard fare at somewhat higher prices. It can be hit or miss. They have a few things we/our kids like -- e.g., Heart of Darkness Mango/Passionfruit juice blend; frozen organic brown rice; various nuts and snacky things. Should you buy exclusively from them? No. Do they still fill a need or carry stuff other retailers don't? Maybe. Would I miss them if they left our area? Yeah -- the frozen, microwaveable brown rice is incredibly helpful and convenient. I'll let everything else slide.
posted by mosk at 1:28 PM on August 19, 2013


It's worth noting that Trader Joe's has used a pirate theme in its marketing -- newsletters, signs, product names -- for at least a decade, and so I'm guessing from the start. That strengthens their trademark infringement case, in my mind.
posted by jaguar at 1:29 PM on August 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


This is probably a stupid question, but: If someone bought something from Pirate Joe's and got sick or found a toenail or whatever, who would be responsible?
posted by troika at 1:31 PM on August 19, 2013


Trader Joe should just hire this guy as their Vancouver outletter. Or sell him a franchise or something. Is it really cheaper for them to sue?
posted by Obscure Reference at 1:31 PM on August 19, 2013


I don't see how an American court has jurisdiction.

Because the guy is coming to Seattle to do it, which means not only transacting business in Seattle, but crossing the border to do so. That's plenty of jurisdiction, not to mention opportunity to arrest the guy if it comes to that.

Sincere question: do you not generally have the right to resell something you've bought at retail prices?

Not necessarily. Not as such. Several things come to mind.

First, trademark. It's not just about copying someone else's mark and putting it on your own stuff. It's using someone else's mark in any way that might lead to confusion about the origin of goods or reflects negatively on the other person's mark, goods, or services. Trademark is about ensuring the relationship between manufacturer/distributor and consumer, and the defendant in this case is pretty obviously trying to circumvent that.

And this isn't an idle consideration. TJ's has absolutely no ability to exert quality control over shipping/distribution/storage here. Food spoils. TJ's has policies in place to rotate its stock and make sure that expired goods don't get sold. They have no control over whether the defendant is doing that, which could result in consumers buying goods with TJ's mark that are substandard if not downright harmful. Is that terribly likely? No, but businesses that don't attempt to control those kinds of risks are inviting lawsuits, and given any serious volume and any serious length of time, the probability of such a lawsuit approaches 1.0.

Second, licensing. You can't just open up a retail outlet and start selling food to consumers. There are regulatory regimes to comply with. It's the FDA in the US, and Canada presumably has its equivalent. TJ's has two problems here. First, its products are being sold in Canada without TJ's being licensed to do so. Unless it takes steps to prevent that, it could easily find itself the subject of an unpleasant lawsuit by Canadian authorities. Even if it wins, it loses. Best avoid the problem from the outset. Second, TJ's has no reason to believe that the defendant has his retail licensing in order, which could again blow back on TJ's.

Third, import/export laws. This is related to the above, but you're generally not allowed to just schlep inventory across international borders at will. Even in more-or-less free-trade partners like the US and Canada, the border does still exist, and there are tariffs that this guy is presumably avoiding. As this looks for all the world like a TJ's export operation, unless they take steps to stop it, both the Canadian and American governments could get annoyed at TJ's. Again, it could probably win by proving that the sale was unauthorized, but it's probably a better move to go after the guy directly.

So yeah. Plenty of reason you can't just sell stuff you've paid for, and plenty of solid business justification for suing this guy into next Tuesday.
posted by valkyryn at 1:32 PM on August 19, 2013 [58 favorites]


Reasons to love TJs:

Good, cheap produce.
Good, allegedly fair-trade meats (fair-trade chicken and seafood is easy to get where i live anyways, but not everywhere else)
Cheap, decent red wine. (I will drink a bottle of $3.29 Charles Shaw Merlot any time)
Cool snacks that are hard to get anywhere else: Speculoos and Speculoos bars (cookie butter), waffle crackers, etc.
Good, cheap scratch (as in 'I made it from scratch')
Not having to navigate aisles and aisles of crap i buy at Costco anyways (toilet paper, cleaning supplies, etc).
posted by Fuka at 1:32 PM on August 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


It must be similar to when Target opened up in Canada for the first time a few months ago. It was supposed to be this big deal...

As a USian expat in Canada, the one thing I think I will never, ever understand is the way Canadians mythologize American brands and "shopping experiences".
posted by junco at 1:32 PM on August 19, 2013 [5 favorites]


Central Market is one of the things I miss most about Austin. They are owned by HEB, but do a really good job.

I am partial to Trader Joe's Green Tea Mints, though. Weirdly, someone is reselling them on Amazon....
posted by GenjiandProust at 1:34 PM on August 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


Good organics, if a limited selection. Frozen peas and green beans, tortillas, and some berry deals. Good organic watermelons and sliced pickles, and all-fruit jams, and eggs and milk. They are generally cheaper than other places for these items. They also seem to be good to their employees, and don't advocate anti-union stuff like whole foods.

But they have a lot of snack-crap as well.
posted by Windopaene at 1:34 PM on August 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


chimaera, this is very interesting. So how does Canada treat cases where a person like me is obviously trying to piggy back on to the established brand that Apple has built around the world?

Also, what legal defenses exist under Canadian law for this type of conduct?

I started out snarky, for which I now apologize. This is genuinely something I'm interested in knowing more about. Does Canada have a workable solution to the mess that intellectual property law has become in the US?
posted by reenum at 1:34 PM on August 19, 2013


Your favorite grocery store sucks.
posted by MoonOrb at 1:34 PM on August 19, 2013 [10 favorites]


Can any American MeFites explain what the attraction is?

Well, first, you have to understand that most Americans don't have a nearby Wegmans.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 1:35 PM on August 19, 2013 [20 favorites]


Good, cheap produce.

One of us has strange experiences at TJs. I thought their produce was almost uniformly terrible.
posted by Justinian at 1:36 PM on August 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


As a USian expat in Canada, the one thing I think I will never, ever understand is the way Canadians mythologize American brands and "shopping experiences".

Do we? I think mostly we see a lot of commercials for stuff that's not available to us and think, Gee, I wonder what that place is like.
posted by Sys Rq at 1:36 PM on August 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


Because the guy is coming to Seattle to do it, which means not only transacting business in Seattle, but crossing the border to do so. That's plenty of jurisdiction, not to mention opportunity to arrest the guy if it comes to that.

Here's what I don't get, though. He's buying products in the U.S., and that's legal. He's selling them in another country, which may or may not be legal - but what standing does TJs have to sue in a US court for something that is happening in Canada?

Second, licensing. You can't just open up a retail outlet and start selling food to consumers.

Sure, but that's a matter of enforcement by Canadian/provincial law, and I don't understand why or how TJs has any say in how BC licenses its retail stores.
posted by rtha at 1:37 PM on August 19, 2013


Personally I like shopping at a store where the clerks act like something other than Death Row inmates. Also, decent quality wine, cheeses, frozen stuff and pasta, in a compact store.

I suppose I could shop at Whole Wallet, if I wanted to spend double the money. But like hell will I give the owner of that chain any of my money.
posted by happyroach at 1:37 PM on August 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


I was thinking "Hey, these Trader Joes sound a lot like Aldi--where I shop--but with a focus on trendy fresh green marketing."

Turns out that's exactly what TJs is. Aldi and TJs are part of the same German parent company.
posted by General Tonic at 1:39 PM on August 19, 2013 [7 favorites]


I miss Trader Joe's so much. So much. It's not even the booze, it's all the other cheap stuff - especially the vegetarian frozen foods. President's Choice...well, in my experience they are fantastic at making horrible versions of cereal and good versions of hummus. But they don't do the delicious nibbles that TJs does. And the cheese! OMG THE CHEESE. So cheap, I cry over the cheese case when I go to the US. Whole Foods should just have their staff wear pirate hats as they ring up your purchase.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 1:39 PM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


So yeah. Plenty of reason you can't just sell stuff you've paid for, and plenty of solid business justification for suing this guy into next Tuesday.

So how do so many flea markets and other sellers get away with reselling new name brand goods? Is it just the low volume of sales? People resell retail goods all the time through various channels.

Why shouldn't the law simply hold Pirate Joe's responsible for any harm in those extraordinary scenarios you mention and keep Trader Joe's out of it? This is actually a situation that generates revenue for Trader Joe's here, after all--where's any actual (as opposed to theoretical) economic damage to Trader Joe's here?

What if Pirate Joe's stopped reselling Trader Joe's goods exclusively but resold goods from a variety of retailers, with only some of its goods being products from Trader Joe's?
posted by saulgoodman at 1:39 PM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


valkyryn's points are valid as well --

1) He's skirting close to trademark law, though I don't think he crosses that line. A reasonable person would not see "Pirate Joes" and expect this to specifically be "Trader Joes." Changing the name of his business would solve that quickly.

2) Quality control/liability issues: if he's reselling someone else's food, there's a legitimate question about who is responsible if he sells something that makes someone sick.

That being said, aside from the above points, I do not see how he can cause damage to TJs since he is buying their product at full price and selling in a market/locale that they do not participate in.
posted by chimaera at 1:40 PM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


I do not see how he can cause damage to TJs since he is buying their product at full price and selling in a market/locale that they do not participate in.

Simply put: he may not be damaging them directly--other than the trademark issue, which I think is pretty clear-cut--but his activities are exposing TJ's to liability, so that's something TJ's is going to try to take care of.
posted by valkyryn at 1:44 PM on August 19, 2013


hipsters don't realize they are buying stuff from a big German conglomerate.

"Hipsters" shop at Trader Joes? O.K., "hipster" just jumped back over the shark, went back to the dock, got a knife, got back in the water, went back and killed the shark, dragged its sorry carcass back to land, buried it and pissed on its grave. If the people who shop at Trader Joes are "hipsters" then "people who drive cars" and "people who watch TV" are hipsters.
posted by yoink at 1:44 PM on August 19, 2013 [67 favorites]


As a USian expat in Canada, the one thing I think I will never, ever understand is the way Canadians mythologize American brands and "shopping experiences".

3 words: 1) quality 2) selection 3) cheap.

That's what the States has versus Canada. I've said it in other threads, but my wife, who is from Japan, thinks that shopping in Canada must be like what it was like to go shopping in a former Soviet republic, and I tend to agree.

The reason is, of course, economies of scale. Canada can't support cheap, quality and selection.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:45 PM on August 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


if he's reselling someone else's food, there's a legitimate question about who is responsible if he sells something that makes someone sick.

That's a reasonable question, but lots of other businesses have already figured it out. Any retail import food store is reselling someone else's products.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 1:45 PM on August 19, 2013


Turns out that's exactly what TJs is. Aldi and TJs are part of the same German parent company.

They're not. It's a weird thing - owned by brother's but not part of the actual same parent brand.
posted by stoneweaver at 1:46 PM on August 19, 2013 [5 favorites]


Trade Joe's if for people who like the idea of cooking but don't actually have the time or inclination to actually do it. Or for people who think the quirky colors and slick photography makes up for the shame of buying frozen TV Hulu Plus dinners.

However the Cookie Butter is what God puts on his-her morning toast, that I'm positive of.
posted by MiltonRandKalman at 1:46 PM on August 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


Turns out that's exactly what TJs is. Aldi and TJs are part of the same German parent company.

Sort of. Trader Joe's is owned by Aldi Nord, US Aldi grocery stores are owned by Aldi Sud.
posted by kmz at 1:46 PM on August 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


Show me the business case for this lawsuit.

Like every American chain, TJ's no doubt wants to keeps its options open with respect to expanding to Canada and if Pirate Joes goes on too long there may be legal issues to them doing that.
posted by GuyZero at 1:47 PM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


1) He's skirting close to trademark law, though I don't think he crosses that line. A reasonable person would not see "Pirate Joes" and expect this to specifically be "Trader Joes." Changing the name of his business would solve that quickly.

The whole case revolves around the fact that Trader Joe's doesn't do business in Canada. What good does it do to invoke trademark in a place they don't trade?
posted by Sys Rq at 1:47 PM on August 19, 2013


Turns out that's exactly what TJs is. Aldi and TJs are part of the same German parent company.

This is technically true, but they're actually run by operationally separate companies, Aldi Nord and Aldi Sud. i.e. they don't share supply chains in any way.

TJ's is not an upscale-marketed Aldi by any means.
posted by downing street memo at 1:47 PM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


This Forbes article has varied opinions from lawyers and is rather interesting.
posted by jaguar at 1:48 PM on August 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


So how do so many flea markets and other sellers get away with reselling new name brand goods? Is it just the low volume of sales? People resell retail goods all the time through various channels.

A few things. First, low volume does help quite a bit. If you're selling an item now and then, the company isn't likely to notice, let alone care. Second, a lot of vendors at flea markets actually do have licenses, and many of them may well be part of the manufacturer's distribution chain. Third, they may be selling the goods as used, in which case all of the concerns go away.

But I think most important is that the law recognizes a distinction between merchants and consumers. If you buy something from a consumer, that's largely at your own risk. If you buy something from a merchant, there are quite a few regulatory systems that come into play, such as products liability frameworks, implied warranties, etc., that don't apply to consumers.

This guy is acting as a merchant, and that exposes TJ's to liability in ways that me selling you my bike on craigslist would not.
posted by valkyryn at 1:48 PM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


We have 800 kinds of toothpaste just like every other first-world country.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 1:48 PM on August 19, 2013


The whole case revolves around the fact that Trader Joe's doesn't do business in Canada.

But they might! Someday!
posted by GuyZero at 1:49 PM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


3 words: 1) quality 2) selection 3) cheap.


I live 45 minutes from the Vermont/Quebec border and go down to Newport once a month because once you've lived in Canada as an expat, you see just how insane prices for shit is up here. The Shaw's there is filled with joyous Quebecois loading down their shopping carts with cheap milk, cheese, and whatever else takes their fancy because it's always at least a few bucks more for those items back home. Also, what Quebec charges for a six pack of beer--shitty or otherwise--boggles the mind.

I am a fan of TJ's and would love for them to expand into Canada, but as far as I know, they have no plans to. Whole Foods, however, has already started (but not in QC) and that is a minor consolation.
posted by Kitteh at 1:50 PM on August 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


I don't understand the "economies of scale" reason for Canadian price differentials - yes, Canada is a relatively underpopulated country but doesn't some absurd percentage of the population live a) within 30 miles of the border and b) in cities like Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal that would rank among the largest American cities?
posted by downing street memo at 1:54 PM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


what standing does TJs have to sue in a US court for something that is happening in Canada?

I take your point, but need to correct your terminology. "Standing" has to do with the ability to bring suit on a particular issue. Parties have/lack have standing, but courts have/lack jurisdiction, i.e., the authority to hear suits on a particular issue involving particular parties.

And the W.D. Wash. definitely has jurisdiction, as this guy is conducting business in the district. The fact that part of the offensive conduct happens in Canada is basically irrelevant, because he has sufficient contacts with the forum to permit the assertion of jurisdiction, specifically, he's buying the goods he's illegally importing to Canada in the district.

Now if he were simply taking goods that he'd purchased in Canada, sticking TJ's mark on them, and reselling them without ever entering the US, then you're right: there would be no jurisdiction in W.D. Wash. But because he's entering the forum on a regular basis as part of the course of conduct which is the basis for the lawsuit, he can be forced to appear in court here. Doing so would probably involve arresting him at the border for contempt of court.
posted by valkyryn at 1:54 PM on August 19, 2013 [5 favorites]


I think the best thing about Trader Joes is that they do a good job limiting the options available.
This, as odd as it sounds, is a large part of why I go there. 10 different types of pasta, sure, but one brand. One brand of olive oil and vinegar and barbecue sauce, and it's all pretty good, or good enough to keep me out of the Giant/Wegman's/Safeway/Harris Teeter behemoths. It's a luxury, the luxury of pre-made choice, I guess--I'm at an economic level where I'll trade convenience for selection and price. Plus, I live within walking distance of CVS and bodegas and Harris Teeter and good bakeries, so I can always make a quick trip for deodorant and bread and garbage bags.
posted by MrMoonPie at 1:54 PM on August 19, 2013


Well, first, you have to understand that most Americans don't have a nearby Wegmans.

So much this! Trader Joe's moved into the Rochester area last year, and shortly afterwards, several of us in my department were sitting around saying, "But...we have Wegmans! Why bother with TJ's?!"

proud convert to the Wegmans cult
posted by thomas j wise at 1:55 PM on August 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


Heart of Darkness Mango/Passionfruit juice blend

wtf
posted by Bwithh at 1:56 PM on August 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


Per Wikipedia, I found the following blurbs about Canadian trademark law:

Per the Restatement (Third) of Unfair Competition, the aim of trademark law in Canada is as follows: "One is to protect the public so that it may be confident that, in purchasing a product bearing a particular trade-mark which it favorably knows, it will get the product which it asks for and wants to get. Secondly, where the owner of a trade-mark has spent energy, time, and money in presenting to the public the product, he is protected in his investment from its misappropriation by pirates and cheats.

There's also a tort in Canada called "passing off" that helps injured trademark holders get satisfaction against infringers. The elements include:
1. the existence of goodwill or reputation within an identifiable market area,
2. the other party's use of the mark constitutes misrepresentation of their wares as those of the claimants, and
3. the misrepresentation could potentially or actually did cause harm.

The argument can be made that Trader Joe's has him dead to rights on elements #1 and #3. I'm sure a talented lawyer could make a compelling case for element #2.

This tort seems to eliminate my dreams of opening a new megaplex in Yellowknife anchored by the Crabapple Store, Wall Mert, Tar-zhay, and Bags 5th Street.

I hope Hallatt has money set aside for a lawyer. There's no chance that he won't be subject to long and costly litigation if he persists with his course of action.
posted by reenum at 1:57 PM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


I love shopping at TJs. The store is nice and small and there's only one or two choices for each category so that you can get in and out in less than a 1/2 an hour. There are also always a full set of cashiers manning the registers so you don't ever wait more than a couple of minutes in line. We're not big cookers so we like having the prepared and semi-prepared food and there are a lot of fairly heathy frozen meals that I can eat for lunch at work.

I do like that they treat their workers well. A friend of mine got laid off from her magazine editing job, is in her early fifties and lives in a fairly isolated college town so opportunities are sparse. She now works at TJs which would seem like a come-down in status but they pay well, treat their workers well and she actually loves working there.
posted by octothorpe at 1:59 PM on August 19, 2013 [6 favorites]


The packaging doesn't look like big American brands, so hipsters don't realize they are buying stuff from a big German conglomerate.

Oh shut up.

There are many many reasons that people shop at trader joe's, the most important one being that it is inexpensive. You make it seem like 'hipsters' are a political entity with their central platform being 'not buying stuff from a German conglomerate'. Inane, really
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 2:00 PM on August 19, 2013 [10 favorites]


Do we? I think mostly we see a lot of commercials for stuff that's not available to us and think, Gee, I wonder what that place is like.

It seems to me like it's more involved than that. I'm thinking about all the media hype about Target here (all the bus wraps and the Global "news" stories about the opening-day crowds), and how many of my Canadian friends that tell me about how they wish there were a Target here, or there were a Trader Joe's here, or Nordstroms, or whatever chain operation is trendy at the moment because they're obviously so much better and simultaneously cheaper, disregarding how the American chains that are already here aren't appreciably different from the Canadian stores. I guess it's bound up in the way many Canadians think of the US as a place where obviously everyone makes more money, everything is cheaper, and nobody pays taxes. The same thing is happening now with Verizon vs Telus/Bell. To the extent that mobile service is cheaper in the US than it is in Canada (and it isn't really that much cheaper), it's because of efficiency from a larger subscriber base, lower infrastructure costs, and lower worker salaries.

3 words: 1) quality 2) selection 3) cheap.

That's what the States has versus Canada. I've said it in other threads, but my wife, who is from Japan, thinks that shopping in Canada must be like what it was like to go shopping in a former Soviet republic, and I tend to agree.


I think I've said this before, too, but that just hasn't been my experience. There are as many products on offer as there are in the US. I'm trying to think of categories of goods that are more expensive or of worse quality than in the US: wine and beer, maybe, but the price discrepancy there is only because of taxation. Dairy is more expensive, but better quality. Gasoline, sure, but, again, that's because of taxation. The two things I can think of that have appreciably higher prices which could be due to economies of scale are automobiles and air travel. Maybe if you're in the middle of nowhere / the north it's like a "Soviet republic", but if we're talking about the population centres I just don't see it.
posted by junco at 2:00 PM on August 19, 2013


And the W.D. Wash. definitely has jurisdiction, as this guy is conducting business in the district.

That's simply not true. The court may have jurisdiction over some matters, but certainly not many other matters. The Forbes article, for example, addresses this point specifically:
A Country-Sized Hurdle

TerMolen suggest that Trader Joe’s has a bigger hurdle than a potential publicity mess. As Trader Joe’s claim in U.S. District Court targets a Canadian citizen operating in Canada, the company must be able to prove that federal trademark and unfair competition claims have some effect on U.S. commerce. “It’s difficult to think of scenarios where Trader Joe’s may have lost business opportunity or suffered monetary harm due to defendant’s conduct,” TerMolen says.

Legal precedent could indicate that it doesn’t. Grabell says trademark rights are territorial and Trader Joe’s must make their in Canada. “In a recent Supreme Court decision in a copyright case involving the re-sale of textbooks purchased by a student abroad for resale in the US, the Court ruled that the resale did not violate the publisher’s copyright. While trademark law and copyright law jurisprudence are different, the store owner may draw the analogy,” she says.
You must know this already....
posted by Chuckles at 2:01 PM on August 19, 2013


The packaging doesn't look like big American brands, so hipsters don't realize they are buying stuff from a big German conglomerate.

You're racking up a lot of favorites here because this is a "sick burn" or seems to have some serious zing factor or whatever, but even ignoring the honestly very poignant "what the fuck does hipster even mean anymore other than "you know exactly what i mean, those people".

But to stay on target here, everyone i know who shops at trader joes knows it's a big national chain. Everyone knows they're essentially "the whole foods that isn't completely full of shit and basically walmart". No one has any misconceptions of them being some local business or co-op or anything.

I shop there sometimes, and i've come up with a general outline of what to buy there and what not to bother with. The main thing i love about them is that they sell some stuff that's either hard to impossible to find, really expensive when i do, or both even though i'm in a fairly "major" city(Seattle, amusingly, as mentioned in this specific post). The main things that come to mind are chèvre that isn't $5-9 and poop quality for a tiny little portion at most even large chain grocery shops, any sort of flat bread/naan/etc, and tons of other stuff like juices and pita chips and even liquor. I buy plenty of stuff at the big chain places, a few things at local shops, and shop at farmers markets but they definitely have their place for certain things.

The whole "lol hipsters falling for their simple packaging" thing is a totally fictitious premise though.
posted by emptythought at 2:01 PM on August 19, 2013 [28 favorites]


I don't understand the "economies of scale" reason for Canadian price differentials - yes, Canada is a relatively underpopulated country but doesn't some absurd percentage of the population live a) within 30 miles of the border and b) in cities like Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal that would rank among the largest American cities?

Yeah, but retailers need economies of scale across an entire country to get those low prices. Canada's population is 35 million, the US has a population of 315 million. So you can get companies like Trader Joe's that appeal to a relative small market in the States, but that still means millions and millions of people, who can help defray the cost.

We also have pretty restrictive marketing (probably a good thing in some ways here) for dairy. So, my parents went to the States last week and brought me back, as a souvenir, a brick-sized block of aged cheese that would cost $30 here, cost them I think $10.

Milk is three times as expensive in the States. Food prices are not a trivial thing, either. With a family to support, I would never dream of shopping at Trader Joe's, since it's so expensive.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:01 PM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Can any American MeFites explain what the attraction is?

It's a grocery store for people (a) who's main kitchen appliance is a microwave oven, or (b) who are on their way to a party and need to bring beverages and something that isn't chips'n'dip or crackers'n'cheese.
posted by Greg_Ace at 2:04 PM on August 19, 2013 [8 favorites]


I think I've said this before, too, but that just hasn't been my experience. There are as many products on offer as there are in the US.

No, kids clothes (notably shoes) are very poor quality here. For kids clothes, there's really cheap (Walmart) or high end (brand/designer names). Gap is sort of in the middle, in that it has high prices and terrible quality.

So I am going to have to totally disagree with you. One of the reasons we go back to Japan every year is to purchase clothes for the kids. It's nothing fancy, just durable and cheap stuff that doesn't look to dorky.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:04 PM on August 19, 2013


Dammit: whose, not who's.
posted by Greg_Ace at 2:06 PM on August 19, 2013


With a family to support, I would never dream of shopping at Trader Joe's, since it's so expensive.

One of Trader Joe's defining characteristic is how cheap it is for bulk staples... I'm confused by the point here...
posted by saulgoodman at 2:06 PM on August 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


Listen, all TJs has to do is open a store in Blaine, WA - right across the border - and he collapses. And they get a bunch of money.

Seems simple...
posted by mephron at 2:08 PM on August 19, 2013


No, kids clothes (notably shoes) are very poor quality here...

Okay. I can't speak to that -- no kids here, and I hardly ever buy clothes for myself. But comparing what you said to my experiences in the US, I still don't really see a difference. In the US, your options would be cheap and bad (Walmart, K-Mart), slightly less cheap and still bad (Gap, Old Navy, etc.), or expensive -- the same as you describe. The only difference from what you're describing is that there are more big box stores selling the same cheaply made imported crap. I don't know of any source for cheap, high quality clothes in the USA. I'm not very surprised that there are such stores in Japan, but the comparison was with the US.
posted by junco at 2:11 PM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


TerMolen suggest that Trader Joe’s has a bigger hurdle than a potential publicity mess. As Trader Joe’s claim in U.S. District Court targets a Canadian citizen operating in Canada, the company must be able to prove that federal trademark and unfair competition claims have some effect on U.S. commerce. “It’s difficult to think of scenarios where Trader Joe’s may have lost business opportunity or suffered monetary harm due to defendant’s conduct,” TerMolen says.

But he's not just operating in Canada. At some point the defendant or his agent has to enter the US to buy the stuff, which is then exported to Canada. And the requirement is not an effect on "U.S. commerce" but rather "interstate commerce," which includes international commerce. The interstate commerce requirement of the Lanham Act (the federal trademark act) is meant to encompass the outermost reaches of Congress's power to regulate interstate commerce, which the Supreme Court has found to be extremely broad. I don't think subject matter jurisdiction in a federal trademark case will be a high hurdle for TJ's.
posted by jedicus at 2:12 PM on August 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's a grocery store for people (a) who's main kitchen appliance is a microwave oven, or (b) who are on their way to a party and need to bring beverages and something that isn't chips'n'dip or crackers'n'cheese.

(b) is certainly true. But I'm a TJ's regular and don't own a microwave, so (a) doesn't work. Admittedly, many of the items we buy can be microwaved, but they're much better in the oven.
posted by schoolgirl report at 2:13 PM on August 19, 2013


It's a grocery store for people (a) who's main kitchen appliance is a microwave oven,

Maybe Trader Joes shops vary a lot from state to state? There are three in my area, one of which I go to fairly regularly. All three of the ones I've visited sell meat and vegetables. They have a single central aisle for frozen foods, yes, but only one side of that aisle is for prepackaged frozen dinners (the other side is frozen veges, frozen fish, frozen meat, frozen fruit etc.--not stuff especially designed for the microwave); considerably less space than most of the "normal" supermarkets in the area, though probably a comparable percentage of total shelf space. I cook "from scratch" meals about six nights a week. It's true that I don't get a ton of stuff at Trader Joe's (some cereal, some olive oil, milk, yoghurt, butter, dried fruits, nuts, avocados, cheese, polenta, fish, wine), but it's fine for the stuff I do get. I don't buy a lot of meat but I prefer their meat to the local supermarket's (and for "dinner party" cuts I go elsewhere anyway).
posted by yoink at 2:13 PM on August 19, 2013


Yeah, the milk, eggs, cheese, yogurt, et cetera are priced very reasonably at TJ's. Not crazy about their produce, though.
posted by entropicamericana at 2:14 PM on August 19, 2013


Not crazy about their produce

I get pretty much all my veg/fruit at the local farmer's market, so--yeah. But the TJ's stuff is o.k. in a pinch.
posted by yoink at 2:16 PM on August 19, 2013


This Fortune article is three years old, but got some attention at the time & is perhaps as relevant as ever for providing some perspective on why folks like TJ's: Inside the Secret World of Trader Joe's.
posted by Going To Maine at 2:16 PM on August 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yeah, the milk, eggs, cheese, yogurt, et cetera are priced very reasonably at TJ's. Not crazy about their produce, though.

It's funny, when TJ's opened nearby I was under the impression the produce was to be avoided. But the fruit we've bought has been perfectly good, particularly the citrus.
posted by schoolgirl report at 2:17 PM on August 19, 2013


Canadians mythologize American brands and "shopping experiences".

I used to be like this.

You hear so much hype for American businesses and products, not just in the form of advertising, but word-of-mouth. I read online about how awesome TJs/Whole Foods/Target/whatever are online from actual American people, so I am swayed by it. Part of me is saying, maybe those stores really are better. Because who has ever said to their friends, "I love Superstore"? (Or Sobeys, or Loblaws, or the Bay, or insert your preferred Canadian chain here).

I don't know if it's a cultural difference, or just that Americans outnumber us 10:1.

I think I came to my senses when I had my first In & Out burger. What a goddamn ordinary fast food burger.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 2:17 PM on August 19, 2013 [15 favorites]


Are the legal niceties even important? Isn't it really more a matter of TJ's having the cash to drag him through expensive litigation until he's a pauper and of him having to worry about actual arrest and being thrown into who knows what sort of detention? I'm not sure the merits of TJ's case make much difference.
posted by tyllwin at 2:17 PM on August 19, 2013


With a family to support, I would never dream of shopping at Trader Joe's, since it's so expensive.


How odd. I shop at TJs specifically because they are ungodly cheap. I can buy a half-gallon of milk here in Seattle at the QFC and spend $3.60 for it, or buy the same size at TJ's and it costs me $1.59.
posted by los pantalones del muerte at 2:19 PM on August 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


I've always wished there was a Swiss Chalet or Harvey's or anybody that served poutine around here. :(
posted by kmz at 2:22 PM on August 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


And oh, a place to buy real Smarties.
posted by kmz at 2:22 PM on August 19, 2013


Do you typically buy discount brands, generics, and store brands? Then Trader Joe's will seem expensive, because you're comparing TJ's store brand to Food Lion's store brand. TJ's will be way better, but if you're on a budget, that might not matter.

Do you typically buy name brands? Then TJ's will seem way cheap, and just as good.

Fancy beer? Gourmet cheese? Organic peanut butter? Those will be cheaper at TJ's, too.
posted by MrMoonPie at 2:22 PM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think I came to my senses when I had my first In & Out burger. What a goddamn ordinary fast food burger.

Double-double, animal style?

Sorry but nothing better in the fast food world.
posted by Cosine at 2:23 PM on August 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


This is the hype I was talking about.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 2:24 PM on August 19, 2013 [5 favorites]


And oh, a place to buy real Smarties.

I'm as proud a canuck as the next but I gotta come clean, I prefer M&M's... Smarties are too hard, they skitter around my mouth. They freaking freaking rock in Smartie cookies tho!
posted by Cosine at 2:25 PM on August 19, 2013


That's simply not true. The court may have jurisdiction over some matters, but certainly not many other matters. The Forbes article, for example, addresses this point specifically:

No, it doesn't. As my colleague suggests, all that does is provide an argument for why TJ's might lose. It doesn't have anything to do with jurisdiction. There are two components to jurisdiction--personal jurisdiction and subject-matter jurisdiction--both of which are trivial in this case. Personal jurisdiction is established by the defendant's physical presence in the jurisdiction. So unless he stops coming to the US, personal jurisdiction obtains. The appeal to federal trademark law establishes this as a federal question, creating subject-matter jurisdiction.

TJ's case may face issues on the merits because of the Canadian aspects of the defendant's conduct, but that will not be any bar to jurisdiction, i.e., whether the court can hear the case in the first place.
posted by valkyryn at 2:25 PM on August 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


With a family to support, I would never dream of shopping at Trader Joe's, since it's so expensive.

Yeah, the one cool thing that TJ's has going for it is some crazy-cheap goods. Three-buck chuck! (that's halfway decent wine at three bucks a bottle.)
posted by nushustu at 2:28 PM on August 19, 2013


With most grocery stores growing to the size of a a small town, I appreciate that TJs condenses most of the good stuff into the size of a two-bedroom apartment. I get a little overwhelmed by the 40 kinds of ketchup and 28 sizes of pickle jars in most big stores, but TJ's does a good job of cutting the fiuff.

Also, pretzel bread and frozen croissants. And Lentil Masala Dip - I miss you and think about you almost every day.
posted by raztaj at 2:28 PM on August 19, 2013


I don't understand how Pirate Joe's thinks they have a leg to stand on. They're plainly trading on the Trader Joe's brand - why would they expect Trader Joe's not to care?

Because of the "principle of exhaustion": Once Trader Joe's has sold its goods, it's trademarks rights (on those goods) are "exhausted". The idea behind is that the trademark owner is allowed to profit once from the trademark (namely at the first sale). After that first sale, he/she cannot assert that trademark again with respect to those sold goods.
Consider of the following example: Say, you buy a new Ford. Are you allowed to sell that Ford? Put up an ad in a used car magazine? Or would that be a trademark infringement? Of course you can! The rights to the trademark are "exhausted" (for that particular vehicle).

So, actually, it is perfectly OK to buy merchandise and resell it in a different part of the world. Which is probably why Trader Joe's also brought forth the trade dress argument - the trademark case seems to be weak.

Incidentaly, there was a similar case recently, where Italian pasta maker Barilla sued someone for trademark infringement who did pretty much the same thing - buy their products (in Italy) and sell them across the border (in Austria?). They won, but only because the price tags were sloppily attached to the product, which arguably "sullied" or "diluted" the trademark.
Needless to say, all of this will depend on local case law, and one would have to look at the details to assess the chances.

As for the jurisdiction, maybe a US attorney can chip in on this, but it would seem that buying the merchandise with the intent of infringing on a trademark will be sufficient to establish US jurisdiction. And besides, wouldn't it be pretty much the first time that a US court would declare not to have jurisdiction in a case of this sort?
posted by sour cream at 2:29 PM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Since we're all in the "let me tell you about TJ's business today", my assessment

- Produce is pretty much uniformly shit, and usually wrapped in plastic. Stay away from the produce.
- Greens in a bag type stuff is generally pretty good, and they usually have Arugula, the one true salad green
- Bread products are generally crappy, but with a few exceptions. For example, I enjoy the pretzel rolls.
- There are great things to be had in the cheese section
- There are great things to be had in the nuts section
- There are craptons of cookie and chocolates to buy, most of them pretty good
- When I lived in California there were insane deals on good, real single malt Scotch. Like, Glenmorangie for < $30. I have no idea how they did that, other than maybe they were a loss leader. The store here in MN has none of this wonderfulness.
- It's kind of meh for beer. Long ago they had great deals on Samuel Smith's, but I haven't seen that for a while. Watch out for the "Trader Joe's brands", which usually suck badly.
- Ham & Gruyere flatbread (looks like a pizza) from the frozen food section is pretty damn tasty
- $1 pizza dough in a bag. yes please
posted by mcstayinskool at 2:32 PM on August 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


MrMoonPie: “Do you typically buy discount brands, generics, and store brands? Then Trader Joe's will seem expensive, because you're comparing TJ's store brand to Food Lion's store brand. TJ's will be way better, but if you're on a budget, that might not matter. Do you typically buy name brands? Then TJ's will seem way cheap, and just as good. Fancy beer? Gourmet cheese? Organic peanut butter? Those will be cheaper at TJ's, too.”

Yeah, this seems to be the case to me. People always say "it's so cheap!" but those are people who've never bought produce at Walmart, in my experience. It's not cheap – it's clearly in the organic foods / high-end segment – but in that segment, it's pretty cost-effective and even cheap on occasion.

But since I buy mostly basic foods – raw meat, raw produce, cheese, etc – and not much that's processed or pre-prepared. I get the feeling Trader Joe's is really great for that stuff, and there's nothing bad about them, but for me, I'm better off just going to the Mexican supermarket across the way from my house and maybe the pan-Asian market down the street. They're vastly cheaper, and they have everything I really need anyway. And even if the pasta at those places isn't high-grade semolina pasta from hand-grown organic wheat, at least it doesn't cost two bucks a pound.

nushustu: “Yeah, the one cool thing that TJ's has going for it is some crazy-cheap goods. Three-buck chuck! (that's halfway decent wine at three bucks a bottle.)”

As far as I can tell, the booze is the only thing that's actually cheap on a market-wide scale. The rest is cheap mostly in its own market segment, I think.
posted by koeselitz at 2:32 PM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


But since I buy mostly basic foods – raw meat, raw produce, cheese, etc – and not much that's processed or pre-prepared. I get the feeling Trader Joe's is really great for that stuff, and there's nothing bad about them, but for me, I'm better off just going to the Mexican supermarket across the way from my house and maybe the pan-Asian market down the street. They're vastly cheaper, and they have everything I really need anyway. And even if the pasta at those places isn't high-grade semolina pasta from hand-grown organic wheat, at least it doesn't cost two bucks a pound.

The fish is pretty reasonable too.
posted by Going To Maine at 2:34 PM on August 19, 2013


And even if the pasta at those places isn't high-grade semolina pasta from hand-grown organic wheat, at least it doesn't cost two bucks a pound.

FWIW, 99 cent 1lb. bags of run-of-the-mill standard pasta is there, in large piles, at TJ's.

Price-wise, I would generally agree that Walmart and Target are undercutting a place like TJ's, but TJ's is certainly no Whole Foods (and I mean that in both a good way and a bad way).
posted by mcstayinskool at 2:37 PM on August 19, 2013


I understand the Bellingham store occupies a considerably larger foot print than a tradition TJ's, this was a conscious decision made as they knew they would be busy with Canadians. (For the record, I'd guesstimate the store is almost twice the size of a regular TJ's.
posted by Keith Talent at 2:39 PM on August 19, 2013


Are you allowed to sell that Ford? Put up an ad in a used car magazine? Or would that be a trademark infringement? Of course you can! The rights to the trademark are "exhausted" (for that particular vehicle).

Yes, but if you opened a store called "Unofficial Ford!" and offered a fleet of new Ford vehicles (remember, this guy is selling new, not used, food), trademark exhaustion probably wouldn't save you. That said, this is one interesting fact pattern from a trademark law perspective.
posted by schoolgirl report at 2:41 PM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


mcstayinskool: “FWIW, 99 cent 1lb. bags of run-of-the-mill standard pasta is there, in large piles, at TJ's.”

Not in Albuquerque – guess a lot of this stuff is regional.
posted by koeselitz at 2:41 PM on August 19, 2013


Because of the "principle of exhaustion": Once Trader Joe's has sold its goods, it's trademarks rights (on those goods) are "exhausted".

The issue is not necessarily that TJ's claims the goods cannot be resold. The issue seems to be that TJ claims that the way in which they are being resold is itself damaging to the trademark. It's not the resale per se, it's the grey market storefront and the possible lack of regulatory compliance. If the guy had opened up a regular export/import business and selling "hard to find US foods" specializing in TJ's products then TJ's probably wouldn't care so much.

Now, I think that's a bit shaky, myself, and Pirate Joe's may have a good claim to the exhaustion defense, but it's at least an arguable position.
posted by jedicus at 2:46 PM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've never lived actually near a Trader Joe's, which is to say in typical grocery-store range -- but I've known people who've lived farther away than I, such as the Wisconsin lady who would always combine her van trip with friends to Ravinia with a stop at the store that was once off the Edens. I got to sample things then and honestly failed to see the attraction, but it certainly seems to be hugely satisfying for some people. We do have an ALDI in town and I can see similar, but less rabid, admiration, although I'm happier with their actual products on a price basis; the main reason I don't like going is that there's always a handful of items you just can't get even compared to the mid-sized regional-brand grocery that's closer to us. But then I have the same reaction to Sam's Club, with the difference being that I don't feel ALDI is out to destroy the remaining fraction of the American retail market that isn't under Walton family ownership.
posted by dhartung at 2:47 PM on August 19, 2013


I'm going to be sending someone used food for Quonsmas.
posted by biffa at 2:47 PM on August 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


My TJ's is full of the elderly because it's relatively cheap and they sell tiny normal sized containers. Look in their carts: tiny milk, matchstick box holding 18 crackers, single serving jar of pasta sauce, a single piece of fruit, etc. etc.

It's great because they are easy to carry AND gives you an excuse to grocery shop every other day.
posted by 2bucksplus at 2:48 PM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Why don't they just STOP SELLING THIS GUY THEIR STUFF? How many people can there be that show up at the Bellingham TJ's once a week or whatever in a truck with BC plates and fill it up?
posted by doublesix at 2:50 PM on August 19, 2013


I should be able to open a store I call the Crabapple Store in Yellowknife that sells authentic Apple products as long as I'm buying everything at retail cost from Apple?

Yes, absolutely. So long as you comply with Yukon/Canadian importing law.


Yukon? Let's make a little bit of an effort! :P

Also, there isn't one here in Yellowknife, but I have seen iStores around the country that offer many Apple products. They don't even buy at retail. Pirate Joe's seems different enough to me, but I'd bet TJ's would have a problem with it no matter what it's called.
posted by ODiV at 2:54 PM on August 19, 2013


There are as many products on offer as there are in the US.

There aren't. Really.

We're in metro Buffalo, so biscotti's relatives from the GTA come down fairly often. They always but always find a half-carload of things in Wegmans that they can't get at home. And they go to the various mall Shopping Hells for clothes and find lots of things that cost way more at home or that are simply unavailable at home. And when one of them was car-shopping, biscotti kept suggesting colors and trim levels that were just not available in Canada.

This isn't weird, fancy shit. Of course the GTA is gonna have way more weird fancy shit than Buffalo (noted local cuisine: hot wings, beef sammiches, and cheap lager). This is boring workaday stuff like frozen diet dinners to take to work for lunch, or flavors of soup, or dishwasher detergent, or toothpaste.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 2:59 PM on August 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


Yukon? Let's make a little bit of an effort! :P

Guilty as charged. I normally pride myself on good Geography but I totally spaced this. :(
posted by chimaera at 3:00 PM on August 19, 2013


It's our favorite place, it's that store, Trader Joe's.

The chili lime cashews mentioned in the film are perhaps the best snack ever.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 3:03 PM on August 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm sure the MeFi brigade that hates capitalism and personal property rights will be along shortly to vociferously argue that Pirate Joe's is not doing anything wrong here.

I'm hoping the joke is sailing over my head here, but wouldn't the people in favour of capitalism (i.e. selling things) and personal property rights (such as selling your personal property) be all for Pirate Joe's filling a need in the marketplace and profiting from it?
posted by ODiV at 3:06 PM on August 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


Trader Joe's has the best natural peanut butter in the world.

Nope. Give me one of those grinders that has peanuts sitting in it, and dispenses freshly ground nut butter when you flip the switch.

Unfortunately, so far the only grocers I've found that have this are Whole Foods and WinCo. WinCo has great prices, but they're fewer and farther between than Whole Foods, where you will unfortunately pay something like $8/lb.
posted by weston at 3:06 PM on August 19, 2013


They always but always find a half-carload of things in Wegmans that they can't get at home.

Also, THIS.

There are tons of neat food stuffs here in Quebec, especially when you get to Montreal, but it's not like people are buying fancypants things in the US and hauling them back over the border. There are simply things you cannot buy here or if you can, the mark-up is huge. For the past year or so, I was paying $5.59 for a jar of Biscoff in Vermont because I couldn't find here in Quebec. And then I did find it and the same size jar cost $8.00.
posted by Kitteh at 3:08 PM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Why don't they just STOP SELLING THIS GUY THEIR STUFF? How many people can there be that show up at the Bellingham TJ's once a week or whatever in a truck with BC plates and fill it up?

And if you read the article, you'd see that they have done so, and that Hallatt is countersuing them for discrimination because of it.
posted by jaguar at 3:18 PM on August 19, 2013


everyone i know who shops at trader joes knows it's a big national chain.

You know clever but wrong people. Trader Joe's is only nominally national. It is part of a huge MULTINATIONAL chain. ALDI is such a large corporation that is actually two corporations that have divided the planet (geographically incorrectly I might add) into two hemispheric territories.

I know plenty of people who think they are something other than what they actually are. Also there staff members are, to the last person, exemplar hipsters. Metafilter may not be able to define what hipsters are but TJ's hiring managers sure as hell can.

I also shop there regularly because cookie butter is delicious, they sell frozen boneless chicken thighs, their belgian beer is brewed by unibrou in Quebec and their orchids last for about a month at the least before losing their flowers. Plus hipsters are charmingly silly when they are not on their fixies.
posted by srboisvert at 3:18 PM on August 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


Third, import/export laws. This is related to the above, but you're generally not allowed to just schlep inventory across international borders at will. Even in more-or-less free-trade partners like the US and Canada, the border does still exist, and there are tariffs that this guy is presumably avoiding. As this looks for all the world like a TJ's export operation, unless they take steps to stop it, both the Canadian and American governments could get annoyed at TJ's. Again, it could probably win by proving that the sale was unauthorized, but it's probably a better move to go after the guy directly.

I highly doubt the guy is dodging import tariffs. The border guards on the Canadian side will stop Joe Schmo if he comes back across the border too fast and check the car for extra tanks of gas.

There's no way in hell this guy is driving TJ product across the border in volume and not coughing up.

As for Vancouverites not driving down? Let me say from experience, too few of us have cars. Public transit is awesome and all, but I'm not lugging a giant box of TJ cheese onto the country express bus from Bellingham to the Peace Arch, taking it through the (generally hated by all border agents) pedestrian crossing, walking it a mile to the C20-whatever-it-is now shuttle bus to White Rock, then waiting around for the 480x to Bridgeport station.
posted by Slackermagee at 3:21 PM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also there staff members are, to the last person, exemplar hipsters. Metafilter may not be able to define what hipsters are but TJ's hiring managers sure as hell can.

My last two local Trader Joe's were uniformly staffed by frumpy 50-year-olds, many of whom drove to work, no fixies in site.
posted by jaguar at 3:21 PM on August 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


This is where all the mentions of beer and wine at TJ's make me weep for living in a state where 2–buck Chuck is only slightly less illegal than medical marihuana. *shakes fist at Harrisburg *
posted by octothorpe at 3:21 PM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


And Bridgeport isn't even in the freaking city, its in Richmond, so you still have 15m of skytrain and another round of buses to get you home.
posted by Slackermagee at 3:22 PM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


My mother once stopped at a Trader Joe's in Arizona and asked the checkout person if she knew if TJ's had any plans to open a store in New Orleans. The woman didn't think it was likely, as "they only like to open stores in port cities."

So, uh, yeah. Bummer for New Orleans, I guess.
posted by brundlefly at 3:23 PM on August 19, 2013 [8 favorites]


Actually, I've regularly shopped at four different Trader Joe's in two different states in the past year, and all of them were staffed by frumpy (but very very nice!) 50-year-olds. The stores always come across as "slightly washed-up hippie" places, to me.
posted by jaguar at 3:25 PM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also there staff members are, to the last person, exemplar hipsters.

This is not true in my experience, and my local TJs is in San Francisco for chrissakes.
posted by rtha at 3:26 PM on August 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yeah, most of the staff I have encountered at various TJ's have never been hipsters. Hippie-types, nice older ladies or gents, or well-polished people in their 30s. Never a so-called "hipster."
posted by Kitteh at 3:35 PM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


I wonder how this will affect my plan to raid TJ dumpsters and sell the food I glean at swap meets under the name Trader Shmoes. At least as a little guy facing off against a giant corporation, I'll have metafilter's support, right? Right?
posted by happyroach at 3:35 PM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Most of the staff at our local TJ's are pretty hipster-ish. Lots of beards, piercings and body art. They're all so darn cheerful and chipper though.
posted by octothorpe at 3:35 PM on August 19, 2013


Also there staff members are, to the last person, exemplar hipsters.

Where on earth is your Trader Joe's? None of the TJ's in my area has a single "crew member" who would raise an eyebrow at the local megachurch or a PTA meeting. There's not a waxed handlebar moustache or an elaborate tattoo or anything like that in the bunch. And they're usually friendly and chatty--especially with the little kids (sometimes TOO damn chatty: keep that line MOVING people--and at least help bag your own damned groceries). But if those guys are "exemplar hipsters" then I stick to my original premise: "hipster" is now as restrictive a descriptor as "hairless biped."
posted by yoink at 3:37 PM on August 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


I am reminded of a guy here in Portland who had an entire business constructed around driving up to Seattle, buying stuff for you at IKEA, and bring it back down. He may have helped you assemble it, too.

They opened up an IKEA here a few years ago--I often wonder what happened to his service.

I don't know that I'd classify Whole Foods and TJ's in the same class. As far as I can tell, the Trader Joe's owners are not scum.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 3:37 PM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Trader Joe's is a division of the RAMJAC corporation\
posted by thelonius at 3:39 PM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Lifelong American here (at least on paper and in spirit): What the hell is Wegman's?
posted by saulgoodman at 3:41 PM on August 19, 2013


As far as I can tell, the Trader Joe's owners are not scum.

I believe they pay a lot better wages than most supermarket chains. Certainly their staff seem to be very loyal and very enthusiastic.
posted by yoink at 3:44 PM on August 19, 2013


Open letter to HEB: please open a branch of Central Market in Calgary, I will gladly give you my bank account details.
posted by arcticseal at 3:48 PM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've heard it on the grape that Trader Joe's is planning a move to Canada. I'm sure once BC sorts out the selling-wine-in-a-grocery-store thing, we'll get one (a Trader Joe's employee in B-Ham told us as much).

Canadians love things that you can't get in Canada until you can. Like Target, J. Crew, Rolling Rock, and such.

I really like some of their stuff and it's mostly cheap (even with the exchange rate and cost of gas to drive there), but it is all packaged food.
posted by monkeymike at 3:54 PM on August 19, 2013


noted local cuisine: [...] beef sammiches

Beef on Weck is something to be proud of! I wanted to make one for myself, but the caraway seed buns I can find here are too crusty/chewy. Maybe I need to bake my own
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 3:54 PM on August 19, 2013


My mother in law is a food technologist, and among her many employers was Contessa. She worked on their frozen shrimp products, and among the many purchasers was Trader Joe's. She visited their main corporate offices on occasion and what impressed her (and me) most about them was their fastidious commitment to passing on savings to consumers. Despite having estimated revenue of over 8 billion a year, she said their offices were stripped down to the bone. Everyone was cubicles, and even the CEO and other C-staff had very plain, small offices right next to the cubicles.

Trader Joe's product is mostly like this, regular brands under Trader Joe's labeling. Trader Joe's pays a lot less for the product than Safeway or your regular supermarket, which is why it's able to pass along prices that are so low. They're able to do this because they pay cash immediately, rather than have it on accounts receivable at 30-60 days. Cash is king, so producers are happy to take cash in hand at 40% lower return rather than book their sales on credit, which might get negotiated down later.
posted by shen1138 at 3:54 PM on August 19, 2013 [12 favorites]


I'm sure once BC sorts out the selling-wine-in-a-grocery-store thing

In Alberta, Safeway gets around this by having a "Safeway Liquor Store" which is in a separate building from the grocery store.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 3:57 PM on August 19, 2013


And Lentil Masala Dip - I miss you and think about you almost every day.

Me, too. It was - bar none - my very favorite lunch. Just use a spoon and put it in my mouth. I wish it would come back.
posted by stoneweaver at 3:58 PM on August 19, 2013


There is a candy shop (Caterina's) at John Wayne Airport in Orange County, California, that resells TJ's candy bars. My only issue with them is that these are the $2 bars and they sell them for $5.99!
posted by sciatica at 4:08 PM on August 19, 2013


Wegman's is amazing! I believe they're based in Buffalo, NY, and spread mostly in NY and down to the mid-Atlantic. Whole Foods quality produce, along with a more expansive and absolutely delicious prepared food section, excellent bread and baked goods, and overall scaled more like a Costco. Excellent international section (though I've heard claims they're doing away with this?) and the only place where I could get the regional tea that I loved, or British chocolate, etc.

Much as with Whole Foods, you don't go to Wegmans to stock up on toilet paper or dish soap. But you will get uniformly excellent food and excellent customer service (though prices skew to higher end).
posted by TwoStride at 4:11 PM on August 19, 2013


Fun game I just discovered. Use a greasemonkey script to switch out all instances of "hipster" to the most offensive pejorative you can stand to look at. These types of threads go from eye-rolling to entertaining in a blink of the eye. Play it with me!

The packaging doesn't look like big American brands, so goddam papists don't realize they are buying stuff from a big German conglomerate.
posted by no regrets, coyote at 4:15 PM on August 19, 2013 [6 favorites]


Step 1: Move to the South in a neighborhood near a Publix.

Step 2: Go to the deli and get a sandwich.

Step 3: Forsake all other grocery stores as inferior.
posted by dudemanlives at 4:15 PM on August 19, 2013 [5 favorites]


Step 1: Move to the South in a neighborhood near a Publix.

Step 2: Go to the deli and get a sandwich.

Step 3: Forsake all other grocery stores as inferior.



Dude dude dude are you listening? Dude...

fried chicken sandwiches

posted by 2bucksplus at 4:21 PM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


mcstayinskool - - Produce is pretty much uniformly shit, and usually wrapped in plastic. Stay away from the produce.

TJ's can be extremely un-uniform because they don't have the deep supply chains like the major chains and quality can vary drastically store-to-store. I do most of my grocery shopping at the St Paul Trader Joes. The produce I buy there is generally pretty good and not shrink wrapped.
posted by nathan_teske at 4:29 PM on August 19, 2013


Why isn't it "Governor-General's Choice"?

You were probably joking, but see section 9 of the Trade-marks Act 1985:
(1) No person shall adopt in connection with a business, as a trade-mark or otherwise, any mark consisting of, or so nearly resembling as to be likely to be mistaken for,
...
(c) the standard, arms or crest of His Excellency the Governor General;

(d) any word or symbol likely to lead to the belief that the wares or services in association with which it is used have received, or are produced, sold or performed under, royal, vice-regal or governmental patronage, approval or authority;
Presumably they either couldn't get consent or wanted to take advantage of Canadians' perception of US products/shopping/selection/whatever as superior.
posted by ddd at 4:30 PM on August 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


Trader Joe's mayo. The only reason I'll go in. "This is not a low fat food." I love that it says this right on the label. Yes, I can make my own and yes, it's better than the TJ's stuff but it's the best store bought brand around and an acceptable trade off for me in terms of cost and convenience.
posted by hangingbyathread at 4:35 PM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


I always thought President's Choice implied it was a selection of the president of the company.
posted by ODiV at 4:39 PM on August 19, 2013 [5 favorites]


Presumably they either couldn't get consent or wanted to take advantage of Canadians' perception of US products/shopping/selection/whatever as superior.

That, and Loblaw's has a president, not a governor general.
posted by Sys Rq at 4:39 PM on August 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


I always assumed that President's Choice referred to the president of the company.
posted by jamincan at 4:46 PM on August 19, 2013


Presumably they either couldn't get consent or wanted to take advantage of Canadians' perception of US products/shopping/selection/whatever as superior.

That, and Loblaw's has a president, not a governor general.
posted by Sys Rq at 4:39 PM on August 19 [1 favorite −] Favorite added! [!]



No Royal Warrant? No comment
posted by Bwithh at 4:47 PM on August 19, 2013


Ugh, what everyone else said just before me.
posted by jamincan at 4:47 PM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Between cooking and being an analyst I did a brief stint at Trader Joe's trying to get into their management side. It didn't work out, which was overall a good thing for me, but it was a great experience at seeing how the company worked, how they hired and how and why certain departments are problematic.

1a. The produce is a mess. This is absolutely the case. Other grocery stores use computers to measure how fast produce is used, and know how much is in stock. TJs uses people... people who have a great personality and may be able to remember all the awesome things you can do with a belgian endive, but aren't necessarily the most aware people such that they continually order many of the same foodstuffs that they already have. It goes bad because they don't want to run out, and the downside is they throw out far more than they need to.
1b. It is packaged funny because it is easier to scan and that means the floor staff can put you through a line faster. The packaging sizes are done via customer panel. My personal take on it is they rely on the belief that customers can be pressured into buying one additional item because it is a good deal. Since (1a) also applies, I think this also acts as a deterrent for others since you can't always go through it fast enough.

2a. You always hear rumors that they work hard to create their own products, that's mostly true however, the staples you buy elsewhere are produced at the same place as Trader Joe's. That means that when I saw a box labeled 'TJs' and cracked it open to find Orange Juice from a competitor with a name like Fhole Woods or the milk that was packaged similarly but had a logo like Barket Masket on each container.
2b. If you look carefully at the prepackaged frozen stuff, the packaging is pretty specific. Going to another grocery store like Barket Masket and finding a similar Seafood Normandy in the same shaped box led to the realization that Barket Masket also does not use preservatives in their Seafoood Normandy.

3. Knowing (1) and (2), you soon start to see how the money trail works - where the money goes, and how the stratification in the business works. Hawaiian shirts do a great job of masking who is in charge - especially when everyone except the first mate and captain are labeled crew members. Even those terms are friendly enough that you don't necessarily remember or realize that those folks are pulling in some serious coin while your coworkers are making minimum wage.

What you really have there are a lot of people who believe in the brand, are indoctrinated into how TJs sells and are happy to do the work. The folks there are there because they like certain freedoms and flexibilities TJs offers. Those that leave, generally aren't a good fit - either they are rude to the customers (which is rare) or they have better options than working at TJs (as in my case). What that means is that you've got a lot of really great people, that aren't the brightest bulbs in the shed, entrusted with ordering your produce (see 1a). Those that last long enough - and that means that aren't bright enough to have better options, but are bright enough to keep their mouth shut and the smile plastered on - may eventually make Captain (keep in mind that it is a cut throat promotion scheme as well - and one largely based on luck). As I said, its a great place - the people there are welcoming and truly a pseudo-family when you need one... but at the end of the day - it is a major privately held company. If you don't hear about the company's bottom line - there's a reason - they don't want you to know about it. (Here's a hint - they're making a killing off of what you think are cheap products that they make better)

Also there staff members are, to the last person, exemplar hipsters. Metafilter may not be able to define what hipsters are but TJ's hiring managers sure as hell can.

PBR? yes. Clothes from second hand stores? Yes. Bears before they were in and then just weird beards after they were in? Absolutely.

Trader Joe's is fierce about defending their logo. They have to be - they have a lot of potential dilution given that every store has an individual artist. In general though, they aren't going for a pirate - they are generally going for a merchant when they draw the ship and the 3 pointed hat.
posted by Nanukthedog at 4:49 PM on August 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


The store opened January 1, 2012. For months I operated under Trader Joe's corporate radar, on a 'need to know basis'. My only customers were die-hard fans who cautiously spread the word to friends and family. One customer came in to ask forgiveness for telling her sister.

By March, Trader Joe's had sent me a cease and desist letter. I taped it up in the shop window. It killed business. People counted down the 7 days I was given to close up and destroy the products - or else.

One customer summed it up well when I asked her if she thought the place seemed a little 'shady':

"Not all" she said. "I've lived in South America"

posted by Bwithh at 4:51 PM on August 19, 2013


hipsters don't realize they are buying stuff from a big German conglomerate.

"If the people who shop at Trader Joes are "hipsters" then "people who drive cars" and "people who watch TV" are hipsters."


Well, sure, except they're old cars or expensive cars or electric cars or something, and they're different shows than the ones I like, or else they don't like them the same way that I do or they watch them on a different screen or some damn thing. The modern definition of 'hipster' is basically 'people who pretty much just like me, except for some reason I'm better than them.'
posted by box at 4:57 PM on August 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


No Royal Warrant? No comment

We do have all the Royal Warrants on all the same stuff you in the UK have. I guess as long as it's not right in the name, it's fine.
posted by Sys Rq at 4:59 PM on August 19, 2013


I'm sure once BC sorts out the selling-wine-in-a-grocery-store thing

Researchers my illustrious alma mater UVic came out with a study that said that alcohol in BC is too cheap already and we ought to raise the price.

Meanwhile, my neighbourhood "government liquor store" is closed by 6pm on Saturday nights (!) and is totally closed on Sundays. Welcome to Canada!
posted by KokuRyu at 5:04 PM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


The SAQ here keeps pretty good hours here in Quebec. Also, they are the poshest palaces for booze I have ever seen. Polished hardwood floors, soft lighting, inviting displays. Coming from Atlanta, where booze stores are not state-regulated, it's pretty impressive (even more so when you have employees handing out samples left and right).

If we do move to Ontario, I will miss the ability to buy beer at the dep. The Beer Store thing is super weird to me.
posted by Kitteh at 5:08 PM on August 19, 2013


Fourth Avenue, on top of the hill, directly across the street from the Safeway. When I was in Vancouver, I used to live about seven blocks down the hill from there on Balaclava.

Reselling gray market Trader Joes stuff. Christ, that is SO Kitsilano. I can't believe it wasn't there when I was there, or that I didn't think of it.
posted by Naberius at 5:10 PM on August 19, 2013


I don't know that I'd classify Whole Foods and TJ's in the same class. As far as I can tell, the Trader Joe's owners are not scum.

Seconded with extreme prejudice. When you buy from Whole Foods, part of those higher prices go toward political action to make America a Libertarian Paradise where Whole Foods can sell any crap and still put 'healthy' labeling on it. Good luck with that.

There are a lot of people who have one or two (or maybe four) things that TJ's sells that they LOVE, and a lot of the people who don't "get" TJ's just haven't found their one-or-two-things yet.
posted by oneswellfoop at 5:12 PM on August 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


Yeah, I have had all sorts of excellent, generous free samples at the SAQ.

And although groceries are cheaper in the US, I find that it's often lower quality, so to get the same quality you spend the same amount. (Not milk, some but not all cheeses.) The stuff that I want from the US that I can't get here is weird crap that I could actually live without, not staples.

The car thing is a huge pain, though.
posted by jeather at 5:15 PM on August 19, 2013


Not quite on point, but -- anyone know when the Buffalo (Amherst) Trader Joe's is opening, so I can do my own personal cross-border importing?

I love love love Wegmans, but they don't have Trader Joe's Meyer Lemon Cookie Thins, which I've been assured are baked with crack.
posted by Capt. Renault at 5:16 PM on August 19, 2013


Okay. I can't speak to that -- no kids here, and I hardly ever buy clothes for myself. ...

The availability of quality clothing and shoes is a huge difference between Canada and the US. If you're an office worker who needs to wear a suit it's a pretty big jump from Moores to Harry Rosen. There's an 18% duty on imported shoes (not that we have a domestic industry anymore), and even if they're American-Made you're looking at a 25-30% markup.

Sometimes the shine wears off when retailers open here, but not always because they're not as good as imagined. People were quite happy when J.Crew came, although they were less happy when they realized they could no longer order from the US website at US prices.
posted by maledictory at 5:19 PM on August 19, 2013


Hallatt is countersuing them for discrimination

Anyone have any idea how this strategy would possibly work? Wouldn't TJ have to be refusing to sell to him due to his membership in a protected class—which, it seems pretty clear, they are not doing?
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 5:22 PM on August 19, 2013


I'm sure the MeFi brigade that hates capitalism and personal property rights will be along shortly to vociferously argue that Pirate Joe's is not doing anything wrong here.

I'm hoping the joke is sailing over my head here, but wouldn't the people in favour of capitalism (i.e. selling things) and personal property rights (such as selling your personal property) be all for Pirate Joe's filling a need in the marketplace and profiting from it?


I misspoke. You are absolutely correct in that absolute capitalists might condone Hallatt's conduct. I was referring more to the form of capitalism we have in the US, which is anathema to some at MeFi.

Trader Joe's has taken the effort to build a brand and a stable of products that are beloved by many. You can see this from the glowing testimonials up thread. Hallatt is only adding value insofar as he is willing to drive to the US and then drive back. His only value add is as a courier. How much would he make if he took the labels off the food and tried to charge what he does? So, TJ's has a very real interest in making sure that Hallatt isn't damaging their brand. What if he sells some dairy based products he forgot in his car for a couple of days, sells it to someone who is a first time buyer of Trader Joe's products, and that person gets sick? In addition to not trusting Hallatt, the customer will almost definitely form a negative opinion of Trader Joe's.

The reason we have intellectual property laws is to continue to encourage innovation (let's leave patent trolls out of the discussion). How much would he make if he took the labels off the food and tried to charge what he does? What if he sells some dairy based products he forgot in his car for a couple of days and sells it to someone who is a first time buyer of Trader Joe's products? In addition to not trusting Hallatt, the customer will almost definitely form a negative opinion of Trader Joe's. So, TJ's has a very real economic interest in making sure that Hallatt isn't damaging their brand.

Because of the "principle of exhaustion": Once Trader Joe's has sold its goods, it's trademarks rights (on those goods) are "exhausted". The idea behind is that the trademark owner is allowed to profit once from the trademark (namely at the first sale). After that first sale, he/she cannot assert that trademark again with respect to those sold goods.
Consider of the following example: Say, you buy a new Ford. Are you allowed to sell that Ford? Put up an ad in a used car magazine? Or would that be a trademark infringement? Of course you can! The rights to the trademark are "exhausted" (for that particular vehicle).


Except that is not what Hallatt is doing. Hallatt is trying to start up a large scale business built upon TJ's back without getting their approval. The reason TJ's opens up their own stores is to maintain quality. The example given up thread of someone opening up a dealership called "Unofficial Ford!" is much more apt.
posted by reenum at 5:22 PM on August 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


I live in Austin, where we have the Whole Foods HQ, which has successfully lobbied to keep Trader Joe's out of town.

Uhhhh, the first Austin Trader Joe's is opening September 20th. They will be opening 2-3 total in town, depending on whether you believe rumors of the 3rd.
posted by marble at 5:32 PM on August 19, 2013


Just got back from our weekly TJ's run and made a point of paying attention to the staff on duty. Not too many hipsters (although our cashier had pretty ironic sideburns) but overwhelmingly young, middle-class and white. I only saw one non-white staff member and one or two older ones.
posted by octothorpe at 5:35 PM on August 19, 2013


What kills me about this stuff is that the vast majority of Trader Joe's products are standard quasi-commodity stuff. The same little plastic sacks of semolina, flax and rice flour are available at many other retailers, with just a different sticker on them. Same with almost all the dry goods, and many of the dairy products. Nothing wrong with that, but except for some things, Trader Joe's isn't really doing anything any differently than anyone else. So why does this guy not figure out who those wholesalers are and figure out a way to buy the stuff with his own logo on it? That's right, because nobody would buy it unless they knew it came from Trader Joe's. And that's why what he is doing is somehow wrong.

It's funny, when TJ's opened nearby I was under the impression the produce was to be avoided. But the fruit we've bought has been perfectly good, particularly the citrus.

The stores vary greatly. Each one seems to have a personality. I go to one on my way home from work, and it's mostly the frumpy ex-hippie type. Very "earth mother". There is another one that seems entirely staffed by gay men. And yes, I've been to other Traders Joe where it was full of nothing but early 20 something youths dressed in the uniform of the alternative.

Produce is a very local thing, so I'd imagine that each geographic territory is going to be different. I've never had any problem with their stuff, and I often appreciate being able to select a nice bag or foam tray with pre-cut peppers or whatnot to throw on the barbecue.
posted by gjc at 5:37 PM on August 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


I was wondering how one might "lobby" to keep Trade Joes out of a community.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:37 PM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


About two years I did a price comparison. My local TJ (Seattle area) has the lowest prices locally on: organic milk, string cheese, non-dairy milks, most types of breakfast cereals, avocados, organic apples and pears, organic grapes and berries, organic frozen berries and vegetables, sweet peppers, decent cheese, and most citrus. Better prices on nuts than anywhere except Costco. Better quality clementines than other stores. Much better variety of dried fruit snacks. And you can buy a 1-pound goddamn chocolate bar if you feel like it.
posted by bq at 5:40 PM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Someone actually has an entire comedy bit based on Trader Joe's.
posted by orme at 5:40 PM on August 19, 2013


I was wondering how one might "lobby" to keep Trade Joes out of a community.

Usually that kind of thing is possible when a store needs zoning variances, or approval for increased parking and traffic, or something like that. You can then organize a campaign to have those things denied.
posted by thelonius at 5:41 PM on August 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


I was wondering how one might "lobby" to keep Trade Joes out of a community.

Usually that kind of thing is possible when a store needs zoning variances, or approval for increased parking and traffic, or something like that. You can then organize a campaign to have those things denied.


And until you see them actually breaching the shores of your fair province, you can do something else with your time until that day.
posted by Kitteh at 5:50 PM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


2 3 buck chuck, in the beginning was actual good wine from a well regarded producer who because of whatever circumstance had a giant surplus. It was a remarkable deal only because of this one time occurrence. TJ has been banking on it ever since. What you buy today isn't bad, it's just no longer quality far in excess of its price.

If you care about such things you already know that the US is Italy's dumping ground for terrible olive oil that they can't sell in Europe. TJ's has decent Spanish olive oil, but really decent Californian oil. Like the stuff I would otherwise reserve for eating, I can now afford to cook with.

Also I don't have to order Speculoos online anymore.

And that's all I have to say about Trader Joe's.
posted by danny the boy at 5:52 PM on August 19, 2013


Step 1: Move to the South in a neighborhood near a Publix.

Step 2: Go to the deli and get a sandwich.

Step 3: Forsake all other grocery stores as inferior.


Those subs are one of the things I miss most after moving away from the south. That and pimento cheese.

As far as I'm concerned, TJ's is a discount goat cheese and wine store.

Totally! It's worth the extra trip on shopping day just to make a cheese run to TJ's.
posted by LoraT at 5:57 PM on August 19, 2013


Trakia was the ultimate cheap wine. I heard the vineyards were destroyed in the Balkan Wars of the 90's.
posted by thelonius at 5:59 PM on August 19, 2013


TJ's used to carry this sharp cheddar studded with caramelized onions that had me greedily eating it on anything and everything back in the day. I also quite love those cinnamon cat cookies too. There is finally a store opening up in Burlington, Vermont (there are sighs of relief from expat Americans in Montreal as well as some Montrealers on the CH boards) in the coming months and Shepherd reminds me we aren't too faraway.
posted by Kitteh at 6:01 PM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm sure the MeFi brigade that hates capitalism and personal property rights

Much like Gandhi and Western Civilization, I think capitalism would be a great idea -- how about we stop corporate bailout welfare and start throwing plutocratic criminals into federal prison?

The Alcatraz tour would be much more instructive with some real-life bank presidents and investment flunkies stewing in their cells.
posted by Celsius1414 at 6:18 PM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Trader Joes is RIDICULOUS and AWFUL and TOO HIP (EXCEPT for the one thing I buy there which is great but I'm sure I'm the only one who can separate the wheat from the chaff)"

Jesus people. Tell me when you find your perfect ideal fantasy grocery store, where everything is top quality import from Europe and also free and doesn't offend your aesthetic or cultural sensibilities whatsoever.

Trader Joe's rules-- it's small enough that you can have lots of interesting quick meal/nosh ideas in a short period of time, the snacks are really good, the prices are reasonable, and they have really decent frozen Indian food (compared to comparable products in America). Why would you complain about this. Unless... you just liked complaining.

Oh, the little frozen masa pizzas are good too. It is very convenient and cheap if you live on your own or are a small family (maybe this is the hipster association? but I thought hipsters ATE OUT OF THE GARBAGE or something outrageous like that)
posted by stoneandstar at 6:30 PM on August 19, 2013 [13 favorites]


I have half a speculoos chocolate bar hanging out my face right now so I'm probably a little biased

Oh god so good


Anyway the nearest Wegman's still requires a car ride of fifteen minutes and their yogurt section is scary and bigger than my bedroom, and also they don't have fun cheeses that are less than four dollars. Also, they have mainly Vosges chocoloate and I am a simple person, I can't afford that by my lonesome. I live a block from a store with 17 dollar olive oil and it is amazing! But, you know, not as amazing as five dollar olive oil. I am usually cooking for one and feeding two and I can get in and out of TJ's for fifty-sixty dollars a week, depending on the tastes of my partner/carnivore, and that's not something I can do anywhere else in my area. Maybe you live in a place with options, and that's great! I live in a place with options that are all expensive.

also those almonds with chocolate and sea salt crack dust

(Mainly it's those, I would have paid so much money in the uk for those and no, you can't just make them, mine were soggy and odd)
posted by jetlagaddict at 6:47 PM on August 19, 2013


Seriously.

MetaFilter has now disappointed me for the first time.

Not a single mention of the wonderful ginger candies or the amazingly yummy Pad Thai kits?

For shame, Metafilter, for shame.

(No TJ's anywhere around, but I have a Mom in CA with one nearby and it provides her many a gift opportunity for your Friendly Neighborhood Samizdata.)
posted by Samizdata at 6:53 PM on August 19, 2013


Maybe you meant yams?
posted by thelonius at 6:57 PM on August 19, 2013


reenum: It could very well be that Hallatt has been using the Trader Joe's trademark without permission, maintaining an illusion that he has their endorsement, and perpetuating a deceit that he's affiliated with them. And all of that is definitely problematic. But even if he didn't do any of that it seems as if you think that he should not be allowed to resell Trader Joe's products.

I really don't think trying to start up a large scale business built upon TJ's back without getting their approval is illegal. But I'm no lawyer. I'm not even American. The border crossing brings another complicating factor into it too. Tangentially related, there are some seriously ugly regional pricing protections in place going on (yay free trade?) and they're apparently legal, so you can't always follow common sense.

The example given up thread of someone opening up a dealership called "Unofficial Ford!" is much more apt.

Isn't that just the name though? Putting "Ford" in your dealership name is going to get you sued.
posted by ODiV at 7:10 PM on August 19, 2013


I am still in mourning over the demise of TJ's caponata, damn it. Both because it was awesome (mix with chicken and gnocchi, throw in oven, boom! awesome dinner in 35 minutes) and because the jars were adorably shaped and I was saving them up to build a cute sewing notions organizer.

I miss you, caponata!
posted by bitter-girl.com at 7:10 PM on August 19, 2013


Anyone have any idea how this strategy would possibly work? Wouldn't TJ have to be refusing to sell to him due to his membership in a protected class—which, it seems pretty clear, they are not doing? - posted by DevilsAdvocate at 8:22 PM

"National origin" IS a protected class. The argument would be that they're discriminating against him simply because he's Canadian.
posted by AsYouKnow Bob at 7:13 PM on August 19, 2013


Can any American MeFites explain what the attraction is?

I feel like I've shilled for a couple different companies on the Blue recently, which is funny/depressing, because I'm basically an anti-capitalist at heart. But here's what the attraction is:

1) They have a lot of organic and health-oriented foods without the Whole Foods or (much as it pains me to say so) local co-op markup.

2) The workers are either happier than their peers at other chain grocery stores, or really good at faking it. Also, they actually have workers in their stores. You'd have to cut a limb off and start spraying blood to get someone to help you in most major supermarkets.

3) They have samples and their stores are cheerily designed.

4) Most importantly: the prices. I don't know what kind of crazy voodoo they're working to get the prices they offer (I think there was a MeFi post about this a whole ago, but I don't remember the answer), but where I live in the Boston area, TJ's is the most reasonable option for almost any item they offer. I think maybe it's less that they've always been cheap and more that food costs everywhere else have skyrocketed? I mean shit, I recently realized that if I make sure to be attentive and savvy, it's cheaper for me to shop at Whole Foods than at the most easily accessible general chain market, a Shaw's.
posted by threeants at 7:14 PM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


"National origin" IS a protected class. The argument would be that they're discriminating against him simply because he's Canadian.

Wouldn't this be trivial to disprove? You can discriminate against a member of a protected class as much as you want, as long as the cause of your discrimination isn't their membership in that class, which Trader Joe's could argue isn't the case given that they happily sell to other Canadians.
posted by hoyland at 7:16 PM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


(For example, 5-10 years ago, common knowledge in my family was that Trader Joe's was good for weird specialty products but not for stuff like fruits and vegetables. TJ's produce still seems more expensive than I'd theoretically like to be paying, but it's now noticeably cheaper than at Shaw's.)
posted by threeants at 7:17 PM on August 19, 2013


This is false advertising at its clearest.

The (new) name of his store is "Irate Joe's". And yet when I try to comparison shop, I have no ranking system of the various Joes I might buy! Is a 70% markdown Joe the Plumber worth a fully-priced Joe Biden? How long has his Joe Dirt been on the shelf? I have no idea!

Great idea; terrible execution.
posted by Lemurrhea at 7:18 PM on August 19, 2013


This hipster thing is a little comical to me because the biggest TJ customers I have ever encountered are my parents; it is hard to imagine what would be involved in being less of a hipster than they are.

but I thought hipsters ATE OUT OF THE GARBAGE or something outrageous like that

I do also know some hipster-like people who dumpster dive at TJs semi-regularly though.

posted by advil at 7:22 PM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Trader Joe's rules-- it's small enough that you can have lots of interesting quick meal/nosh ideas in a short period of time, the snacks are really good, the prices are reasonable, and they have really decent frozen Indian food (compared to comparable products in America). Why would you complain about this. Unless... you just liked complaining.

It's worth noting that Trader Joe's are very market /location specific.
The one by me is pretty small (about 10,000 sq ft vs. 15,000 for the newer ones).
It has 4 and half aisles + produce and beer/wine.

Pricing is also variable. At my TJs, most things are the same price or slightly more expensive than the nearby Safeway with the exception of milk/dairy (which is cheaper than all but the local convenience store chain) and Weetabix (which is almost $3/box cheaper than the other stores).
I will say they do have, on average, better quality packaged goods than the average supermarket around here, so that may make up for some of the price difference.

On the other hand, they haven't installed those god-awful "self-serve" checkouts, so maybe I should make a point of paying the markup just to reward them for that!
posted by madajb at 7:36 PM on August 19, 2013


Eastern ON mefites who have been in a TJ's: how do you think it compares with Farm Boy?
posted by brujita at 7:48 PM on August 19, 2013


It is very convenient and cheap if you live on your own or are a small family (maybe this is the hipster association? but I thought hipsters ATE OUT OF THE GARBAGE or something outrageous like that)

I do think maybe the high numbers of young single people who shop at Trader Joe's is where the "hipster" association comes from. My local Trader Joe's in LA definitely seems to be full of 20-somethings buying groceries (or just booze) every time I go there. And TJ's is indeed one of the best places to get your groceries if you're a youngish apartment dweller in the city: they're cheaper than the likes of Ralph's, they sell things in packages/quantities that are ideal for one person or a small household, and you can buy reasonably tasty and healthy stuff to eat even if you don't know how to cook.

But really, for the people wondering what the big deal is about TJ's, the snacks are where it's at. (Also the cheese. And the wine.) They have a great selection of delicious, non-preservative filled snacking foods. Cookies, chips, granola bars, nuts, dried fruit, candy, chocolate...

And like others have said, everyone has a few products they absolutely must get from Trader Joe's. One of mine is their maple brown sugar instant oatmeal, which is the only flavored instant oatmeal I've found that isn't hideously sweet and/or chemical-tasting. (You may ask why I don't just buy plain instant oatmeal and add maple syrup myself. That is because not even I can achieve the perfect just-sweet-enough taste of TJ's maple brown sugar instant oatmeal.) My mom's TJ's must-have is their eggs, which she insists are the freshest and have the yellowest yolks.
posted by yasaman at 7:57 PM on August 19, 2013


how do you think it compares with Farm Boy?

Very different stores. Farm boy is all about awesome produce, a good butcher (you know they try to do the 100 mile thing right? As much as possible, it's all local) and a really good, but chichi bakery. TJs is only really good for packaged foods, the kind of stuff FB doesn't do at all. The comparison is much closer to PC products.

FB is more like the Whole Foods chain.
posted by bonehead at 8:03 PM on August 19, 2013


I only buy one thing at Trader Joe's: kefir. Best value for money kefir I've been able to find in NYC. Their brand sells for $3/bottle; in other groceries it's usually >$4.
posted by pravit at 8:12 PM on August 19, 2013


"National origin" IS a protected class. The argument would be that they're discriminating against him simply because he's Canadian.

That only holds water if you (well, the judge) think TJ wouldn't bar an American who was doing the same thing. It seems very likely that they would, and the burden of proof lies on Hallatt.

Yeah, you could make the argument, but for all the sense it makes he might as well argue that he's being discriminated against because he's male.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 8:25 PM on August 19, 2013


I always assumed that President's Choice referred to the president of the company.

Yeahbut, it always seemed to me that the President's Choice logo was trying to imitate Ronald Reagan's signature. I mean, do a GIS for them.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:29 PM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Not quite on point, but -- anyone know when the Buffalo (Amherst) Trader Joe's is opening, so I can do my own personal cross-border importing?

I don't have an opening day, but we drove by it a week or two ago and they were at least working on it. Didn't have any logos/names up yet.

I love love love Wegmans, but they don't have Trader Joe's Meyer Lemon Cookie Thins, which I've been assured are baked with crack.

I haven't tried it, but the US Walgreenses have "DeLish" store-brand meyer lemon cookie thins. They might be close. They also have scab Samoas that are fine, if not quite up to the level of proper Samoas.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:33 PM on August 19, 2013


I haven't been to a Farm Boy in a decade but it's nothing like it at all. it's nearly the opposite.
posted by GuyZero at 8:38 PM on August 19, 2013


Speaking of Wegman's: Buzzfeed's 25 reasons why it's the best store ever.
posted by TwoStride at 8:41 PM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


We shop at TJ's for things like olive oil, quinoa, pasta, nuts, snacks (mmm, wasabi seaweed!), the above-mentioned goat cheese, and bananas. The biggest problem I have with most of their processed stuff, and the reason we avoid a lot of their stuff, is that they sweeten EVERYTHING. I feel like Hobbes sampling Calvin's Chocolate-Frosted Sugar Bombs.

As for the "hipster" issue… we're in Oakland. Some of the TJ's employees are tattooed with gauged earlobes; some of them look like they commute from Walnut Creek.
posted by Lexica at 8:46 PM on August 19, 2013


ODiv: You are absolutely correct in saying that I think Hallatt should not be allowed to resell TJ's products.

Hallatt is infringing upon Trader Joe's trademark by selling their products without any type of licensing or permission. People can make all the specious arguments they want that the "first sale doctrine" provides absolute protection to a reseller. But, the doctrine does not provide protection if the reseller is using the mark in a ay that could imply sponsorship or affiliation between the mark holder. Hallatt has a store called Pirate Joe's. Trader Joe's uses pirate themed imagery in its stores, and the fact is that both stores have "Joe's" in the name. There is a very strong argument to be made that Hallatt is implying an affiliation with TJ's. Perhaps he would have a more defensible position if the store was called The Beaver Pelt Place. And, as valkyryn pointed out, a US court absolutely has jurisdiction over him because he is traveling to the US to buy the goods. He is unlikely to win a trademark infringement case in the US. Maybe it's a different story in Canada.
posted by reenum at 8:53 PM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


And Hallatt is really stretching the limits of credulity with his claims of discrimination. Trader Joe's has a right to serve who they want. If the decision to not deal with Hallatt is based on the fact that he is hurting their business through his actions, the discrimination claim goes out the window.
posted by reenum at 8:56 PM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think I've said this before, too, but that just hasn't been my experience. There are as many products on offer as there are in the US.

As every other Canadian and near-the-border American has told you, you're very wrong. The selection is less and the prices are higher.

Example: Ogdensburg. Quiet, perfectly ordinary small town in upstate New York ... Except that it happens to be the first city one hits after crossing the St. Lawrence River and thus entering the US. As a result, the town has several businesses that offer a US delivery address for Canadians who want to buy from US mail-order companies that don't ship to Canada or make it too expensive to ship to Canada. Tires are a popular thing to buy this way, for example.
posted by ylee at 9:05 PM on August 19, 2013


But even if he didn't do any of that it seems as if you think that he should not be allowed to resell Trader Joe's products.

You are absolutely correct in saying that I think Hallatt should not be allowed to resell TJ's products.

My original impression was that you didn't think he should be able to resell the products even if he avoided the mark/brand/image similarities. Now I'm a bit confused, because you just invoked these similarities instead of just saying he shouldn't be allowed to sell it, full stop. Do you view the sale of it as infringement enough to disallow it? If so, why bring the name and pirate imagery into it at all?
posted by ODiV at 9:11 PM on August 19, 2013


Trader Joe's has a decent amount of nice stuff for us gluten-free individuals at reasonable prices - pasta, some of the frozen meals, and jeezly crow I have so many boxes of their frozen microwavable rice and bags of their roasted pepper and onion blend, it's not funny. Plus they usually have my preferred brand of gluten-free whole grain bread for less than the big chains do by a couple of dollars, so I get a bunch of those and shove 'em in my freezer.

(I'm about 45 minutes away from TJ's in either direction, when I go I stock the heck up)

And the orange peach mango juice is a freakin' revelation, I don't even care that it's probably mostly sugar.

The employees are nice, there's a good snack selection, and I can buy an awful lot of real food - not just the microwavable stuff, though that's handy - that I can actually eat for a pretty reasonable price. And the cheeeeeeeeeeeese, oh yes the cheese selection but especially the cheap yet delicious double cream Brie in big wedges.

I don't blame this guy for wanting to spread the goodness of TJ's to his fellow Canadians, but I do question the wisdom of his sort of piggybacking on their name. That seems a little silly of him, so I also don't really blame TJ's for going after him.
posted by angeline at 9:23 PM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


I was speaking to the "first sale doctrine" arguments made by Hallatt and others up thread and trying to explain why it didn't apply to this case.

My position is that he needs to get a license or formal authorization to sell TJ's goods in Canada.
posted by reenum at 9:24 PM on August 19, 2013


Regardless of his branding though? Or specifically because the first sale doctrine wouldn't apply because of his imagery?

That's what I was trying to get at. I'm having trouble grasping what you think the problematic aspect of his business is. The "core" or the "dressing".
posted by ODiV at 9:30 PM on August 19, 2013


Due to a former position, I can say that I've been to pretty much every Trader Joe's (and Whole Foods, and most of the Ralph's) in the LA area, and some are hipster (non-threatening urbanite) and some are suburban and some are bumpkinny shit out at the northwest end of the Valley.

All of the ones around here have terrible produce, and they're all great if you're shopping for two or fewer people, and kinda bunk the more you add to that.
posted by klangklangston at 10:42 PM on August 19, 2013


This isn't a real Trader Joes being recreated in Canada. It's a store front for imports.

The location is a small retail store on west 4th Ave. It has meter parking. No booze due to backwards BC laws. It has, on the same side of the street on the city block:
- New Apple Farm market which has reasonable quality for price in kitsilano (this is a rich neighbourhood). New Apple has 2-3x square footage for an independent upscale hippie Chinese grocer
- not one but 2 bakeries with emphasis on bread
- butcher
- fish shop
- shoppers drug mart

Safeway is across the road and whole foods is just east.

This store makes no sense to me. This guy has got some pretty expensive real estate in a rich neighbourhood where a lot of people parade around in yoga pants and fluorescent sneakers. I would think processed foods are not an attraction. Suburbanites wouldn't come because traffic is horrendous and they don't like parallel parking.

Maybe it stays afloat serving students and die hard American ex pats. I am surprised every time I go by that it's still around. 4th Ave is merciless and depressing looking stores with meandering, mistaken, or misplaced sense of identity close all the time. This guy's time will come. Vancouver won't notice or care.
posted by crazycanuck at 11:21 PM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


My TJ's, which is just a couple of blocks away from where I live, is closing - a developer bought the whole lot (Movie Town Plaza WeHo-LA) - and they're putting up some mixed use monstrosity. Sadness.

That was the best TJ's ever - fairly large, tons, TONS of free parking, great people. Now the nearest one is a 20 minute walk, tiny, with horrible parking. I am in mourning.

TJ's is great for dairy, cheap and decent cheese, fantastic for cheap and decent wine and liquor, nuts and dried fruit and the like. Produce is OK only in a pinch - I much prefer the cheaper and better ethnic markets, farmer's markets and our CSA (Farm Fresh To You) regular deliveries.

Also: if you want to buy vitamins and such supplements, you could do worse than TJ's.

Here's the thing about TJ's - in our area, roughly Hollywood Mid-Wilshire WeHo you could open another ten TJ's and you'd still have more demand. Just in the last couple of years they opened like 4 new TJ's and they're busy, busy, busy.

It was funny to see Fresh and Easy open on Hlwd. Blvd. - they flooded the area with irresistible coupons, so we went there a few times... and every time we went there, we had a hard time buying anything that would come out cheaper even with these coupons (i.e. stuff that we'd be interested in). Every time we would wander around the store and marvel "how do they expect to compete with TJ's? They'll get wiped out!". And so it was.

Meanwhile, TJ's could keep opening stores and people around here would beg for more.

Whatever they're doing, they're doing it right. People can't get enough of them. After our TJ's closes, the nearest one is across the street from a Ralphs. Because the parking at that TJ's sucks so badly, when we do go - and sadly we'll have to start going there more often starting next month - we park at Ralph's, and not to be total assholes we do purchase something symbolic at Ralphs. I swear, it's the only time we go to a conventional supermarket - it feels so ancient conceptually, so sad, the workers seem so unhappy and scared and dispirited - we feel like the only reason stores like TJ's have not completely driven out the Ralphs-type stores is because there are not enough TJ's and not enough people know about them. Certainly, if it weren't for buying stuff on account of the parking, we'd never set foot in a Ralphs.
posted by VikingSword at 12:08 AM on August 20, 2013


reenum, you don't understand passing off at all. Passing off is based on one product attempting to pass as another. Your position would mean that reselling an imported product on eBay would be passing off, which is clearly wrong; you go so far as to actually cite the Advocaat Case test but should note that this involves an alternate manufacturer of alcoholic drinks who made the equivalent drink and marketed it in a similar way (especially with regard to the name). It did not involve, say, a bar selling imported Advocaat.

If you want another example of this in common law passing off, look at the English case of L'Oreal v eBay [2009] RPC 21, Court of Appeal, which deals with L'Oreal's action against eBay for permitting passing off by counterfeit goods. You will again note that L'Oreal have not prevailed in any way with a claim that imported goods made by L'Oreal need their permission to be sold, even though they spend a lot of time talking about geographical markets and inviting dicta comments on the matter. Do you think that passing off prevents selling imported noodles?

Your stance appears to be that grey imports are not permitted by passing off, which is so wrongheaded I don't even know what to say. Maybe you should bother doing some basic research in relevant law before implying people are anti-capitalist idiots.

You might wish to examine international exhaustion of a trademark, but although this is recognised in Canadian law and can be useful when the Canadian trademark holder and the import source trademark holder are different there is no evidence I've seen that suggests TJ's has a Canadian trademark, or, if it has, that the trademark is not held by TJ US. If the trademark holder is the same entity then even if a Canadian trademark exists parallel imports are permitted due to implied licence (this implied licence is not revocable). In this case, there is no evidence that TJ is importing at all so there's not even a case of parallel importation and TJs does not even appear to trade in Canada.

I am not your lawyer.
posted by jaduncan at 12:12 AM on August 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


Now, the name Pirate Joe's? That is an extremely bad idea, but one which is easily dealt with by changing the storefront name.
posted by jaduncan at 12:13 AM on August 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


Wow! I love the fact that a small Tj's article has provided so much discussion, since I've worked there for 5 years part-time/management and I'm the only one here who has, besides Nanukthedog, who sounds a little bitter. Sorry about your experience, the management system has changed and is based on merit and skill, no longer luck and the good-ole-boys club.

Everyone is missing the point!

The MAJOR thing that Tj's does that is different than almost any other grocery store is that it private labels almost all of their products to save costs both on their end and the consumer's. The traditional grocery operation buys from middlemen after middlemen which jacks up the price. PIRATE JOE'S is acting as a MIDDLEMAN. The company must hate that he is doing the exact OPPOSITE of their business plan among all the other various legal blahblahblah.

ALSO:

No one has mentioned that all Trader Joe's labeled products contain no artificial colors, flavors or preservatives or GMOs. It's clean food. No one else is doing that.

In regards to the whole hipster thing; Trader Joe's employs the cream of the crop in terms of misfits. Trader Joe's is a home for people that look differently, think differently and treat their customers like actual human beings. We have freshmen in college, part-time employees that freelance who also have fulltime fulfilling jobs and baby boomers who need extra income for retirement, putting their kids through school or just want a job.

Trader Joe's isn't perfect. There's politics, 14 hour days and the fact that you break your back and often aren't thanked for it either by customers or by the uppers.

but.

They offered a philosophy major 5 bucks over minimum wage in the crappy job market after the depression in 2008 and gave me over 8 dollars in raises in 4.5 years since i've been there. Unreal anywhere else. I still get paid a lot less than other people but 60 grand a year plus a flexible schedule and the chance to pursue other means outside of it sounds pretty damn good in this day and age. One more thing everyone is forgetting...

It's FUN!
posted by hiddenknives at 12:14 AM on August 20, 2013 [9 favorites]


"It was funny to see Fresh and Easy open on Hlwd. Blvd. - they flooded the area with irresistible coupons, so we went there a few times... and every time we went there, we had a hard time buying anything that would come out cheaper even with these coupons (i.e. stuff that we'd be interested in)."

Fresh and Easy kills it with their semi-prepared foods, especially for vegetarians. The one up in Eagle Rock is almost worth a trip just for that, so I'm glad they're putting in another on Hollywood.

Shame about that TJs. The next closest ones are what, the Selma one and the La Brea one? Both have horrendous parking, but the La Brea one has the worst parking of any TJs in the LA area, and that's a hard crown to hold.
posted by klangklangston at 12:22 AM on August 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


However the Cookie Butter is what God puts on his-her morning toast, that I'm positive of.
posted by MiltonRandKalman at 1:46 PM on August 19 [2 favorites +] [!]


Great, thanks, way to make me hate living in Australia.

*fuckingmumblemumblethread*
posted by Salamander at 12:53 AM on August 20, 2013


ODiv, my friend, I think I addressed two separate issues in the most recent long comment, but they got muddied because I'm not being as clear as I should be:
1. Personally, I think the core of his business is what's wrong.
2. There are others up thread who argue that because the dressing is different from Trader Joe's, the first sale doctrine applies and makes what Hallatt is doing acceptable. I do not agree with this point, and was trying to rebut the points made by people who took this position.

I personally object to both the core and the dressing. But, if made to choose, I'd say the core is more objectionable.

jaduncan, thank you for clarifying the tort of passing off for me. I have no Canadian legal training, and this is not a tort that is recognized in the US as far as I know.
posted by reenum at 4:38 AM on August 20, 2013


Personally, I think the core of his business is what's wrong.

To believe that exportation without the permission of the company you purchase from is (morally? legally?) wrong would drive a cart and horse through many of the expected commercial freedoms that people have. If we say export isn't allowed then you can't wear your jeans on international flights without accepting that implied licence must be given when you purchase them.

Even if we said that freedom to resell in a different territory was impossible then you as a private individual would lose the freedom to purchase a phone from Asia and then sell it to a friend when you've finished using it. I think it would have a much greater impact than you are imagining.
posted by jaduncan at 5:24 AM on August 20, 2013


What if I sell them to someone who never even knew they were originally from abroad? Are they under the same limitations? What if I buy abroad from a street vendor who has no way to tell me who the manufacturer was so I can seek permission to take it home?

It would be really very restrictive to remove implied licence.
posted by jaduncan at 5:34 AM on August 20, 2013


That's what the States has versus Canada. I've said it in other threads, but my wife, who is from Japan, thinks that shopping in Canada must be like what it was like to go shopping in a former Soviet republic, and I tend to agree.

My wife was born and raised in a former Soviet republic, and tends to disagree somewhat strongly.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 6:20 AM on August 20, 2013 [5 favorites]


I understand why the U.S. court may have jurisdiction, but why not sue in Canada? After all, an injunction from a Candadian court could shut that store down, get the name changed, or force him to change his business practices without any need to domesticate a foreign judgment. Can someone speak to that? Is Canadian trademark law less favorable to TJs?
posted by Area Man at 6:23 AM on August 20, 2013


...see my comment above?
posted by jaduncan at 7:16 AM on August 20, 2013


Ah, no Canadian trademark and the international exhaustion of trademarks would mean the U.S. trademark rights don't really apply cross-border.
posted by Area Man at 7:21 AM on August 20, 2013


That is, the first sale doctrine applies and the trademark holder doesn't get to reassert rights just because the stuff crossed a border.
posted by Area Man at 7:35 AM on August 20, 2013


Pirate Joe's owner Michael Hallatt . . . took the "P" off of the store's sign in reaction to the suit . . .

Takin' the P out of Trader Joe, eh?
 
posted by Herodios at 7:45 AM on August 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


After reading every. single. comment. in this thread I still don't understand whether the suit in the US has merits.

Essentially, as far as the US courts are concerned, this is a guy buying stuff and crossing the border with it. If it's illegal to cross the border with said stuff then it's ICE that has standing and not TJ. (And that's not even counting the whole civil vs. criminal aspect). Of course, the fact that said sales are taking place in the US then it also stands to reason that TJ is more than within it's rights to stop selling to a specific customer for whatever reason they deem... which would, in a rational world, be the end of the story.

If the problem is the reselling then that's being done in Canadia, which is where one would think that TJ would need to file their claims. But my guess is that TJ doesn't have standing in the great white north because they don't exist as an entity there, and thus there's no brand loyalty to protect. Yet.

Of course, the rational world would just have them patent/trademark/copywrite/whatever their brand in Canadia and then proceed as far as their laws are concerned. Again, my cynical mind is just assuming that they're opening the case in the US and hoping for some sort of neanderthal judicial member to kowtow to them because they're 'murican and we're the best and issue some sort of judicial activist edict that really doesn't have legal standing.

The licensing/quality control/responsibility thing is a red herring, because he clearly demonstrated that they were in fact Trader Joes products and he never tried to "repackage" anything. I see nothing in TFA that indicates that the consumers were under the impression that this was an above-the-table operation in any way. Of course, that's me and my poorly guided theory that rational people do exist outside of my mind.

The end result is that none of this comes out well in the wash. And I say that as someone who actually likes Trader Joes.
posted by Blue_Villain at 9:35 AM on August 20, 2013


Speaking of David vs Goliath, Israel's MacDavid's hamburgers vs McDonald's.
posted by zippy at 9:42 AM on August 20, 2013


"After reading every. single. comment. in this thread I still don't understand whether the suit in the US has merits. "

Regarding election law, one of the lawyers on our board once told me, "Sometimes, you don't know whether your suit has merit unless you litigate it."
posted by klangklangston at 9:55 AM on August 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


my guess is that TJ doesn't have standing in the great white north because they don't exist as an entity there

Nope. National courts don't really like accepting cases from international plaintiffs--it's a pain in the ass--but a duly incorporated entity in one country generally doesn't have any problems suing in a foreign jurisdiction. The laws of whatever state in which it is incorporated give it the capacity to sue and be sued. That'll do for standing basically anywhere. Foreign corporations sue (and are sued!) in US courts all the time.

The licensing/quality control/responsibility thing is a red herring, because he clearly demonstrated that they were in fact Trader Joes products and he never tried to "repackage" anything.

That's precisely the problem. Because he's acting as a merchant reseller, under US law, any defect in the product--including one caused by the defendant's misconduct--could theoretically be attributable to TJ's under a theory of products liability. They might be able to win such a claim, but it'd involve fighting with the defendant there. Why not just get it over with and have that fight now?
posted by valkyryn at 9:58 AM on August 20, 2013


I've said it in other threads, but my wife, who is from Japan, thinks that shopping in Canada must be like what it was like to go shopping in a former Soviet republic, and I tend to agree.

Unless she's only been to the parts of Canada where basically nobody lives (which is why there aren't a lot of stores there), and didn't have a car (which is how people who do live in those places get stuff), your wife is really, really wrong.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:11 AM on August 20, 2013


OK, so on shopping in Canada vs the US. Here's my bonafides, for whatever they're worth.

I grew up on the border, in Canada. A small town in Canada (Ontario) and a small town on the US side of the border in Michigan. It's a few minutes drive and $3 in bridge tolls between them. I lived in Ontario for my entire life before moving to California 5 years ago. So I know the two situations as well as someone can who doesn't actually work in retail management.

First, a lot of basic commodities are cheaper in the US for a variety of reasons. No milk board, more competition forcing down prices, the US is a more diverse market and the incremental cost of distributing marginal goods within the country is low. Lower sales taxes generally in the US. So people I knew used to just go buy gas and milk in the US. You could buy a spiral sliced ham at Kroger which may seem like no big deal, but you just can't get a spiral sliced ham in most of Ontario. It's not like one every day but if you want one, you gotta go over the border. And it's like that with lots of things - there's just random odd items that are harder to find in Canadian stores. It's less so now, but still, the average US store has a wider selection than the average Canadian store.

(As a side note, my favourite US thing so far is that at a grocery store in Kentucky they have a refrigerator in the aisle for pre-packaged pudding, so you can get cold pudding right from the store. I guess some people need their pudding right the hell now. heh. Kentucky.)

When I was growing up in the 80's teenager things like CDs and comic books were much more easily available in the US. Even our nearby podunk Michigan town had a decently stocked comic book store. Probably they had a few, but I only ever went to one. There are random restaurants which simply don't exist in Canada - once upon a time Arby's didn't exist in Canada and as a teenager it seemed appealing simply for being different. Living in California we still look forward to eating at Cracker Barrel when we go out east (although it's not because it's somehow great, don't get me wrong. I agree that In'n'Out is over-hyped although I do sorta like Sonic and am annoyed they're not yet around the Bay Area)

Perhaps Americans drove over to Canada to get things, but I can't imagine what. Certainly nothing was cheaper in Canada. The selection was not better. I generally do not hear about Americans eager for their next visit to Swiss Chalet or Harvey's.

Then there's the "American Shopping Experience." Now, Canadian shopping is hardly Soviet, but honestly, Canadian stores did not try very hard until recently. Back when I did my wedding registry at the Bay in the mid-90's my wife and I had to step over boxes cluttering the aisles... in the china department of The Bay! I mean, we're here to sign up to have people buy us stuff and they can't keep the damn floor clear of boxes! And this was the Bay at Sherway Gardens, arguably the nicest mall in Toronto outside of the really fancy places on Bloor St. And Zellers always looked like shit. At Canadian Tire you'd hunt for 10 minutes or more to find a staff person who always ended up being an untrained teenager who ran away once you asked your question.

In contrast, US Target stores are immaculate. Now, I haven't been in every one, but for the most part they are really, really tidy. And they're generally well-stocked. And US store employees are downright aggressive in trying to help you - my Dad and I were laughing in OSH here in California because we got asked 5 times by 5 employees within 5 minutes if we needed help. They were nearly lining up to ask us if they could help us find something. This is inconceivable in Canada. Once as a kid I was told by a store clerk to "look with my eyes and not with my mouth" when I asked them where something was. There are still grocery baggers in the US - I get surprised looks when I go to bag my own groceries here in the US. In Canada they ditched grocery bagger at Loblaws decades ago and the checkout clerk will generally not bag your groceries either. I really can't remember the last time I was at an Ontario grocery store that bagged groceries for you.

The only explanation I have ever heard that makes any sense to me is that Americans are entitled an extremely quick to voice their displeasure, especially with service workers. Canadians are simply more tolerant of bad service and Canadian service workers just don't care as much if you complain about them. Personally I really don't mind how things operate in Canada, but the differences are pretty stark if you know what to look for.

Anyway, on TJs, their products are indeed well-priced and they hit a sweet spot between the daily necessities at Safeway and the haute items at Whole Foods. And they have a really fantastic selection of nuts - I mean, where else are you going to get broken raw cashews to make the white sauce part of your vegan lasagna? Seriously.
posted by GuyZero at 10:57 AM on August 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


Perhaps Americans drove over to Canada to get things, but I can't imagine what.

Kinder Eggs?
posted by BWA at 11:07 AM on August 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Given that Americans are willing to purchase illegal gun ammunition I think they're also willing to simply get their kinder eggs through the mail. I mean, maybe, yeah. But no.
posted by GuyZero at 11:13 AM on August 20, 2013


I find it funny that on the one hand, people love that TJ has not that many options for any given product, but on the other people complain that Canadian stores lack selection.

Perhaps Americans drove over to Canada to get things, but I can't imagine what.

Spa-type products were often much cheaper in Canada than the US when the Canadian dollar was worth 75 cents. I knew people who'd go back with piles of MAC makeup and Aveda hair spray etc.

I agree that in the 80s there was a big difference in shopping in the US -- even with the exchange rate, things were cheaper and the selection was bigger -- but I have found that Canada has generally caught up with selection and is much closer with price. Some grocery stores here bag for you, some don't, though the ones that don't often have kids raising money for something doing it. I get good and bad service in both the US and Canada, but then again I prefer stores where they don't follow you around offering to help. I don't buy things as much in the US, because once you get past the lowest quality stuff, the price difference (before taxes) all but goes away.
posted by jeather at 11:14 AM on August 20, 2013


Maybe not just the lowest quality, but at the level of stuff I buy, there's not that big a price difference.
posted by jeather at 11:15 AM on August 20, 2013


Spa-type products were often much cheaper in Canada than the US when the Canadian dollar was worth 75 cents.

Yes, there was a lot of stuff that was probably a good deal when the exchange rate was lower. These days that's all gone.

Canada has generally caught up with selection and is much closer with price

Yes, thankfully most Canadian stores these days have gotten better. That said, Canadian stores will never have the same selection as the US simply because the US is 10x larger and the marginal costs of distribution within the US are low.

These days the big gap is Amazon - I hardly even need to get off my ass to buy everything I want. Amazon will sell me nearly anything and in the Bay Area Google Shopping Express has brought back grocery delivery. Last week I bought a tube of toothpaste online and had it shipped to my house. For zero shipping cost. It's insane. There isn't even an incentive to make a single big order. I could order 20 individual tubes of toothpaste separately and still pay no delivery charges.
posted by GuyZero at 11:21 AM on August 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


(As a side note, my favourite US thing so far is that at a grocery store in Kentucky they have a refrigerator in the aisle for pre-packaged pudding, so you can get cold pudding right from the store. I guess some people need their pudding right the hell now. heh. Kentucky.)

Just to say, I can't remember a supermarket in the US in the last 30 years where that wasn't true.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:40 AM on August 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Spa-type products were often much cheaper in Canada than the US when the Canadian dollar was worth 75 cents.

I remember being all excited about going to the dollar store in Montreal when I was seeing this girl, and she was all "Why are you so excited?" and I was all... "It's really an eighty-six cents store!"
posted by Nanukthedog at 11:46 AM on August 20, 2013


Just to say, I can't remember a supermarket in the US in the last 30 years where that wasn't true.

I was talking about the shelf-stable pudding, not the Cozy Shack or similar brands which require refrigeration. This was a rogue fridge unit, with nothing but Jello pudding cups in it.

And at least in California, I have never seen shelf-stable Jello pudding cups refrigerated.
posted by GuyZero at 11:49 AM on August 20, 2013


The only explanation I have ever heard that makes any sense to me is that Americans are entitled an extremely quick to voice their displeasure, especially with service workers.

I was waiting in line to get into a diner during the Calgary Folk Fest. A few people from NY (musicians) were behind us and were getting impatient. One of the guys walked to the door, poked his head in and saw that there were two empty tables. He asked us why we weren't talking to the servers about this. My wife replied that maybe they're understaffed, maybe those tables aren't clean, etc. He just shook his head and remarked that we were being really passive and Canadian about the whole thing. Then of course we said "sorry" and everyone had a laugh.

What we didn't say is that talking to the staff would have been pointless. They're not going to hurry up because you ask them to.

I remember waiting to order for, oh, 4 minutes at a Perkins in Montana, and the server coming over and apologizing profusely for taking so long. A rush order would be put in for me right away, "sir". I don't think she realized how low my expectations were.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 12:08 PM on August 20, 2013


This Kraft Food press release indicates that food sellers are required to refrigerate Jell-O Pudding Cups, but that Kraft has other shelf-stable pudding-type snacks if the seller lacks refrigeration. For what it's worth, I live in California and I've only ever seen Jell-O pudding in the refrigerated section of supermarkets.
posted by jaguar at 12:11 PM on August 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


So, is it fair to say that the main reason a business person outside the US would enter into a licensing agreement with a US company to sell the company's good abroad is to pay wholesale prices for said goods?
posted by reenum at 12:13 PM on August 20, 2013


I frequent Canadian vegan forums and a complaint you always hear is when Canadian companies, or hell, ANY companies, release anticipated products first in the US and wait forever to release them here. I have to patiently explain that the US has the bigger market and if you want your product to succeed, you go there first before you come here. (There are many many products I wish to buy but will have to live in Toronto or Vancouver if I want a chance in hell of purchasing them.)
posted by Kitteh at 12:20 PM on August 20, 2013


Canadian stores did not try very hard until recently.

I rather suspect that this is 98% of the answer. Canada has had until very recently very few options in any shopping category, so we get the "big country, high distributions costs" explanation all the damn time. The reality is, I suspect, is that we have generally poor and inefficient wholesale distribution systems compared to the US. That is why a big retailer, WalMart, Target etc... coming into the country causes such heartache. The domestic companies know they they suck and don't, generally, know how not to.

Crossing the boarder, as well as protectionist federal and inter-provincial trade restrictions undoubtedly play a role, but a cozy lack of competition and a well-documented lack of investment in innovation by Canadian companies must take most of the blame. Many brands are also very expensive in Canada because some wholesaler has gotten monopoly distribution rights and is charging much more than the US price on items. This is all too common for clothes, electronics, books or even sports cars.

This is why Ogdensburg has a 5 hour wait at their UPS terminal (which is bigger than some Walmarts) on many weekends.
posted by bonehead at 12:23 PM on August 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


For the past year or so, Shepherd and I have gotten a mail drop in Vermont for items we want to purchase that are much more expensive or unable to be found here. And it really isn't a slight against Canada--I have no intention of moving home--but when you do your due diligence for shopping sometimes (for me, especially books!), it's sort of stunning how much more things cost here.
posted by Kitteh at 12:42 PM on August 20, 2013


Kitteh, which mail drop do you use? There are so many that in the end I never decide on one.

Shipping/online ordering is a disaster in Canada, absolutely.
posted by jeather at 12:45 PM on August 20, 2013


protectionist federal and inter-provincial trade restrictions undoubtedly play a role

Ah yes, another travel flashback.

It was 1992. I was on exchange in university to UTS in Sydney, Australia. I went into the local bottle shop/bar to buy some beer. What did they have? Moosehead. Which at the time was unavailable in Ontario due to interprovincial trade barriers.

Nova Scotia beer was in Australia but not Ontario. Thankfully that changed although Moosehead remains mediocre beer.
posted by GuyZero at 12:47 PM on August 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


The books example is indeed stunning. When Chapters was gobbling all the book sellers through the 1990s, they charged 140% up to double the US list price on many books in Canada. Chapters owns its own wholesaler, Pegasus. They had, at the time, upwards 70% of the Canadian market, essentially everything but the "non-bookstore" resellers like supermarkets and Costco. Yet, even with full control of the wholesale and retail book business, Chapters were unable to get better prices from the big bad publishers, or significantly improve book distribution.

That started to change about a decade ago when people noticed that Amazon, even with shipping from the US and sometimes duty too, was cheaper. Now, Amazon sells roughly as many books as Chapters, and seems to manage with only a 10% to 20% markup in Canada.

Aldi/TJs has the potential to do that in Canada. Loblaws/Weston and Loeb, the two major eastern chains, are known to have inefficient operations, and to have spent $100s of millions on trying to upgrade without much success. Canada is ripe for a TJs to come into Canada and kick the snot out of the domestic grocery chains. Whole Foods and Walmart (which hasn't had a full grocery department here until recently) are both making big pushes right now.
posted by bonehead at 1:05 PM on August 20, 2013


jeather -- We use the Derby Line drop for Kinek. I am sure there is a drop station for your part of the QC/VT border. The cost is $6 per package--which is why we really only use for large grouped orders from Amazon or other places where we can get one large shipment--and I don't know about the other drops, but the only complaint we have of ours is that they are not open weekends.

bonehead -- A variation of Loblaws, Provigo, just dropped a shit ton of money on a brand new store here in Sherbrooke. It is ridiculously posh: cheese cellars, sushi counter, sandwich counter, massive deli case of salads and prepped meals, a coffee bar, in-house boulangerie as well as patisserie. It is part of a new line they want to launch called Provigo Marche. The plan is to seriously upgrade select Provigo stores. I mean, it's nice and all, but it looks very plainly like a grasping version of Whole Foods. There is something slightly off and the prices aren't great.
posted by Kitteh at 1:17 PM on August 20, 2013


I don't think she realized how low my expectations were.

I went shopping at the Bay to buy some sheets. I spent about $150. It's not a small amount of money to me (got kids to feed and car insurance and all that stuff).

No real help finding the damn merchandise, which is not organized particularly efficiently, but on the way out of the store the security alarm beeped.

"Hold on!" someone shouted from a cash register about 20 yards away. The clerk then slowly plodded towards us.

I let her take the bag from my hand for some reason (I was being polite) and she slowly plodded all the way back to the register. She took my stuff out of the bag, stuff that I had already paid for, and then slowly examined the sales receipt. She then removed the tag. And didn't put my stuff back in the bag.

"Security tag wasn't taken off."

No apologies or nothing (we were shopping with our toddler).

I don't blame her. I blame the Bay, which is owned now by an American. Stores don't pay their workers anything, and workers respond in kind towards the customers.

Am I being entitled? Yes. Am I displaying "privilege"? Probably. But I work pretty damn hard to make money to pay for stuff like sheets. It's not a small amount of money to me, and I know how long it takes me to earn it.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:31 PM on August 20, 2013


(and now, Kitteh, by participating in the ritual airing of retail grievances, you are truly one of us. Your membership card is waiting at a the Timbos of your choice.)
posted by bonehead at 1:39 PM on August 20, 2013


BUT THERE IS NOTHING I CAN EAT AT TIMMY'S
posted by Kitteh at 1:45 PM on August 20, 2013


I know, my wife was upset that they got rid of their egg salad sandwiches, which were at least vegetarian. Dumb.
posted by GuyZero at 1:49 PM on August 20, 2013


I agree that In'n'Out is over-hyped although I do sorta like Sonic and am annoyed they're not yet around the Bay Area.

Hayward isn't in the Bay Area? (Hell, we used to drive from Oakland to the one in Tracy every year or two. Made an event out of it.)
posted by Lazlo Nibble at 9:15 PM on August 20, 2013


I have worked at TJs for about a year and a half. Hiddenknives nailed it upthread about what TJs does well and about why Nanukthedog might be bitter.

TJs might be a national chain, but each store is certainly tuned in to their community. During the NLCS last year we listened to each game on the radio instead of the normal Muzak.

Dumpster diving wouldn't be advised (at least at our TJs) since we donate almost all of our spoils. I lived out of dumpsters for two years and i wouldn't take the things that go into our dumpster.
posted by schyler523 at 10:02 PM on August 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


Does your President's Choice have a catchy song?
posted by morganw at 8:25 AM on August 21, 2013


it's nice and all, but it looks very plainly like a grasping version of Whole Foods. There is something slightly off and the prices aren't great.
You just described Wegman's.
posted by MrMoonPie at 8:57 AM on August 21, 2013


Capt. Renault: anyone know when the Buffalo (Amherst) Trader Joe's is opening

According to the Buffalo News, October 11!
posted by troika at 9:11 AM on August 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Canada: I know this started out genuinely funny and totes adorbs, and we all think it is so great when you are so enthusiastic, but, seriously, your coveting of US food... "innovations"... is getting way out of hand, and your friends are thinking of an intervention:

Canadian news outlets are reporting that at least 12 people suffered stomach pain, vomiting, and diarrhea after consuming so-called "cronut burgers" at the Canadian National Exhibition, an annual fair in Toronto.

posted by Bwithh at 1:03 PM on August 21, 2013


You missed the most important part:

One said his wife became sick after eating a cronut burger, seafood chowder fries, ice cream waffles and a smoothie at the CNE.

That beats anything at the Iowa State Fair by a country mile.
posted by Going To Maine at 1:08 PM on August 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Now I must have some
posted by Going To Maine at 1:15 PM on August 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


There are still grocery baggers in the US - I get surprised looks when I go to bag my own groceries here in the US. In Canada they ditched grocery bagger at Loblaws decades ago and the checkout clerk will generally not bag your groceries either.

Ha. In the UK, not only do you bag your own groceries, but supermarkets have installed 'self-service' checkouts where you scan them yourself. Even large branches.
posted by mippy at 9:41 AM on August 30, 2013


Most US groceries and drug stores have 'self-service' checkouts too. I usually avoid them because they never work right and I'm always stuck there with the console beeping and the light flashing, waiting for for a manager to come over with a key to fix whatever the hell the machine was upset about.

Trader Joes doesn't self-service and the cashier will always bag your stuff if you don't want to but if you do, they always say "thank you for your help bagging".
posted by octothorpe at 9:46 AM on August 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


Ha. In the UK, not only do you bag your own groceries, but supermarkets have installed 'self-service' checkouts where you scan them yourself. Even large branches.

Oh, no, we have those in Canada too. They're terrible and almost nobody uses them except when there's a huge line for the human.
posted by Sys Rq at 5:39 PM on August 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Interesting side note, though I'm not sure it's worth its own post: Cutting health insurance at Trader Joe's may be a good thing for their employees.
posted by klangklangston at 6:50 PM on September 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


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