New Grocery Stores
11:58 am
Mon July 18, 2011

The Story Behind The Two Buck Chuck

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Many bargain-hunting foodies in Kansas City are rejoicing this weekend. The grocery store chain Trader Joe's has finally opened its doors in two locations: Ward Parkway Mall and on 119th Street in Leawood. For ten years, local customers have been begging the company to open a store here.

Trader Joe's likes to call itself "your neighborhood grocery store" so it seems appropriate that it's moving in right by the future headquarters of "your neighborhood bar and grill," Applebee's. But long before it opened in our neighborhood, some Kansas Citians have been compiling their shopping lists.

Trader Joe's is owned by the massive German company that founded Aldi, the discount grocery store.* The company is notoriously secretive about its business operations: where they get their products, and their profit margins, which are reputed to be double that of most grocery stores.

But none of that seems to carry over into the store's hippy mystique: the enthusiastic employees in Hawaiian shirts, spicy, preservative-free dried fruits and cheap, supposedly decent wine, known by fans as the "Two Buck Chuck" (actually three bucks in the KC area stores).

Despite the secrecy, supermarket industry reporter Len Lewis managed to find out enough about the chain to write a book about it, The Trader Joe's Adventure: Turning a Unique Approach to Business into a Retail and Cultural Phenomenon.

Lewis is clearly a fan, but not everyone is. An article last year in Sustainable Industries criticizes Trader Joe's. Turns out their secrecy over who they buy their products from makes industry watchdogs wonder: Is that organic milk really organic? Are the Turkish apricots really from Turkey? But the secret to this popular chain might be that customers just trust that what's behind the Trader Joe's label is going to be good.

Related articles:
Inside the secret world of Trader Joe's
Something fishy at Trader Joe's

*CORRECTION: The audio version of this story mis-states the connection between Trader Joe's and Aldi. The Albrecht brothers who founded the German grocery chain split the operation in the 1960s into Aldi Nord and Aldi Sud. In the United States, Aldi Nord operates Trader Joe's and Aldi Sud runs the Aldi chain.

This story was produced for KC Currents. To listen on your own schedule, subscribe to the KC Currents Podcast.

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