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Story pick: 'Inside the secret world of Trader Joe's'

"Trader Joe's is no ordinary grocery chain," Beth Kowitt writes near the top of a company profile in Fortune. "It's an offbeat, fun discovery zone that elevates food shopping from a chore to a cultural experience. It stocks its shelves with a winning combination of low-cost, yuppie-friendly staples (cage-free eggs and organic blue agave sweetener) and exotic, affordable luxuries -- Belgian butter waffle cookies or Thai lime-and-chili cashews -- that you simply can't find anyplace else."

And hey, look -- mochi ice cream! And passable carne asada! And bagged mache!

But Fortune's story isn't just about the success of Trader Joe's -- "one of the hottest retailers in the U.S.," with more than 300 stores that logged a Whole Foods-like $8 billion in 2009 sales (but with double that company's sales per-square-foot.) It's also about the mystique and mystery surrounding the "obsessively secretive" company. And really, who doesn't love a good mystery?

"There are no signs with the company's name or logo at headquarters in Monrovia, about 25 miles east of downtown Los Angeles," Kowitt writes. "Few customers realize the chain is owned by Germany's ultra-private Albrecht family, the people behind the Aldi Nord supermarket empire. ...Famous in Germany for not talking to the press, the Albrechts have passed their tightlipped ways on to their U.S. business: Trader Joe's and its CEO, Dan Bane, declined repeated requests to speak to Fortune, and the company has never participated in a major story about its business operations.

"Some of that may be because Trader Joe's business tactics are often very much at odds with its image as the funky shop around the corner that sources its wares from local farms and food artisans. Sometimes it does, but big, well-known companies also make many of Trader Joe's products. Those Trader Joe's pita chips? Made by Stacy's, a division of PepsiCo's Frito-Lay. On the East Coast, much of its yogurt is supplied by Danone's Stonyfield Farm. And finicky foodies probably don't like to think about how Trader Joe's scale enables the chain to sell a pound of organic lemons for $2."

It's pretty tasty stuff, though you won't find it advertised in TJ's Fearless Flyer. Pour yourself a bowl of cumin and chili chickpeas and read on.

By J. Freedom du Lac  | August 25, 2010; 11:05 AM ET
Categories:  Story Picks  
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TJ's is definitely a fun food shopping experience. Still you have to supplement your TJ trips with trips to the supermarket for Angus beef, more fresh produce and staples.

I find that if also go to Super Fresh for my heavy shopping and fill the cart with Premium Gold Angus beef, terrific seafood, outstanding Green Way organics, dairy, and natural cleaning and paper products, along with Via Roma fine authentic Italian pastas, pastries, pizza and extra virgin olive oil, I can then endulge myself with TJ's famous macaroons, frozen entrees, candies, fine fruit preserves and other assortments. Yes, I can have my cake and eat it too shopping both stores.

Posted by: ziggyzippy | August 30, 2010 11:39 AM | Report abuse

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