retail news in context, analysis with attitude

We took note yesterday of a Fortune story that in part questioned whether Trader Joe’s may have lost some of its entrepreneurial zeal as it gets bigger and more corporate.

Which led one MNB user to write:

love Trader Joe's stories because it is a store that I feel I know well (as both a shopper and with a marketing eye...).

I have witnessed many changes, most seemingly happening in the last two or three years.  Yes, more products are under the "Trader Joe's label - although the fact that they are manufactured by others was never a surprise to me - nor in this day and age should it be to
anyone - anymore...  (I mean, come on - do you really think supermarkets have a little factory where they chop, and bake and so forth!!!!)

I am of the opinion that the changes that I see and feel from Trader Joe's is not positive.  First off, the line that states "refunds cheerfully given - no questions...".  My experience in  three of their stores has been just the opposite.  Much like returning a drink at Starbucks.  Either questions...unnecessary, unprovoked 'commentary' about how much EVERYONE else loved the product or just that uncomfortable glance that says, "you are a rare nuisance in our store...".  Not once have I returned an item (and I return items because they are damaged or moldy only...) and had a cheerful experience.

Two, the store employees seem a little less unique and much more generic - again same as Starbucks in recent years.  In earlier years I felt excitement and pride pouring out of anyone in those tropical shirts!  Not so much lately.  I have even had an occasional brooding or rude employee.

Three, the products are not as natural as a few years back  - many products that I have been buying for years have altered their ingredients to cheaper (i.e. pesto with canola and "potato" instead of olive oil and pine nuts...yuk!)

Four, a continued problem is the "sell by" date - easy to let go of in the earlier years when I enjoyed the store so much but really, really bugging me as prices rise and quality falls.

Five:  Okay, Trader Joe's - why has my customer "profile" changed from $150.00 trips every two to three weeks to   $120.00 trips every 4 or 5 weeks?      Prices!   Creep, Creep, Creep...and in some cases just a big leap (think cereal, juices, frozen and dairy) that just made it less desirable to shop there when I can find comparable "organic"/private label items regularly at Stop and Shop and others.

TJ's used to feel fun and bursting with value - sort of my  "Take that sucka!!!" to other stores. Now, I walk around the store feeling as ripped off on many items as I do at the big box supermarkets - so I go a lot less...

Another MNB user wrote:

I am always impressed with how TJs has managed to maintain an image of the small, caring natural foods store since the owners, the Aldi Brothers, own the Aldi chain in the states and are considered the Wal-Mart of Europe.  They are some of the richest men in the world.

A new article in Utne Reader also brings up the issue of the secrecy meaning that their is no trusting whether the product sources are organic or sustainable, since the producer/manufacturer is unknown.

And, on another subject close to my heart, MNB user Tom Devlin wrote:

Watching Lou Piniella with tears in his eyes last night talking about giving up the game and of course the stress of his mom’s condition was very touching. He is one of the reasons why people loved the game of baseball because of his passion for the game. There were no tears of admitting steroid abuse or cheating or contract issues. Whether you rooted for him or against him everyone was behind him. Good luck to his family and  as a fellow Mets fan we would gladly take him next year or when ever he is ready to return.
KC's View: