It’s been nearly a month since Trader Joe’s opened on Merrimon Avenue. Its parking lot and and store aisles are still busy. As the store Captain Collin Carson puts it, “We love foodies, and Asheville has tons of them, so it’s a perfect fit for us.” (Yes, his title is “Captain” not Manager. Carson explains, “We have a nautical theme here at Trader Joe’s. We’re traders on the culinary seas; the title goes along with that.”)
At Trader Joe’s, there are no sales or specials. This low pricing is possible because of an alternative business model. “At Trader Joe’s we keep approximately 90 percent of our products under our private label, the Trader Joe’s label,” said Carson. “Keeping things under the private label allows us to strip away some of the things that you pay for with other situations, like big advertising campaigns.”
This labeling resembles Asheville-based Ingles stocking mostly Laura Lynn products; however, Joe’s goes a step further, claiming that its products contain no GMOs, no partially hydrogenated oils, no artificial flavors and no preservatives.
One of the most revered (and perhaps legendary) items sold at Trader Joe’s is “Two Buck Chuck,” an affectionate name for the cheaply priced Charles Shaw table wine. Pricing varies in different parts of the country, and a bottle sells for $3.99 in Asheville. “It’s one of the big things that we’re known for and people are defiantly over the moon for that.”
A new business in town means jobs, but not all are local. The company’s website states that in new stores, “The management team is selected from existing Trader Joe’s stores and transferred to the new store location.” Carson said, “We have a lot of good people on our staff. Quite a few of them are local Asheville folk, and they have been wonderful.”
What about locally sourced ingredients and supporting local businesses? Carson shared, “We carry 30 local beers from Asheville. … We also have locally sourced artisan breads.” Carson mentioned Asheville Brewing Company as one of the breweries, but declined to name the local bread supplier, as those products are sold under the Trader Joe’s private label.
As to the logistical presence of the store on the already busy Merrimon Avenue, Carson commented, “Whenever a new store opens, the traffic volume does tend to increase. … We hope that members of the community will be patient with us because typically those traffic patterns will die down over the course of the first couple months or years or however it happens. I can’t comment on any further additional plans for parking expansion, but that’s kind of what we’ve seen, that typical spike in traffic. It doesn’t stay that way forever.”
A little background
The Trader Joe’s chain began in California in 1958 under the name Pronto Markets, but in 1967, owner Joe Coulombe rebranded the store and changed the name. Over a decade later in 1979, Trader Joe’s was sold to Germany’s Albrecht family who also owns the global supermarket chain, Aldi. It’s often said that the family is notorious about its privacy, but we do know that the Albrecht family holds significant wealth. Theo Albrecht passed away in 2010 with a net worth estimated by Forbes to be $16.7 billion, and his brother Karl Albrecht, 93, is estimated to have a net worth of $26 billion. He’s ranked as the richest person in Germany and No. 18 worldwide.
The Albrecht family built its legacy on discount grocery chains that discounted prices on unique specialty foods.
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