Trader Joe's Name Was Picked for a Specific Reason

CNN digs into Joe Coulombe's brainchild
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted May 14, 2022 1:50 PM CDT
Yes, the Man Behind Trader Joe's Was Named Joe
Some Trader Joe's favorites.   (Getty Images)

Even Trader Joe's devotees might not know this part of the grocery store's origin: It was indeed started by a man named Joe. CNN reports that LA convenience store owner Joe Coulombe saw an opportunity to cater to travel-minded shoppers who had a taste for more sophisticated items than what supermarkets tended to offer. And when he opened his first location in Pasadena, California, in 1967, it had the broad type of selection you'd expect at a supermarket. Food, yes, plus also pantyhose, books, and photo services. It also had a name that Coulombe hoped would invoke the South Seas. The Hawaiian-shirt-as-uniform has been standard since the beginning.

Also standard: The alcohol that Trader Joe's is so well known for. Coulombe eventually came upon the "loophole in California's Fair Trade laws" by which he could import good wine from France and undercut his competitors' prices. That drew in wine buyers who he figured would also soon jump on the burgeoning health-food craze. His store started with private-label granola and then expanded to vitamins, nuts, fresh-squeezed OJ, and cheese. It took a big leap toward the Trader Joe's you know today in 1977 by getting rid of many of its non-food items and embracing private-label products and much more. Coulombe sold Trader Joe's in 1979 but stayed on as CEO until 1988, at which time it was doing $150 million in sales. In 2020, the year Coulombe died, those sales were estimated at $16.5 billion. (Read the full story.)

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