The Trader Joe’s Company Analysis


Trader Joe’s is a U.S based retail chain of grocery stores started in 1967 by Joseph Hardin Coulombe. Joseph Hardin Coulombe was born in 1930 in San Diego and began the company with the foundation of a unique product portfolio (Rogers, 2020). Trader Joe’s business model is distinct from competitors as it stocks private label products unique to the stores. Trader Joe’s stores have a small floor space; thus, they stock fast-moving stock in a few batches. The company’s target market is health-conscious, as most products are fresh groceries. The business has been in operation for 55 years but has not changed its business model. Trader Joe’s is relatively small compared to established companies in the retail industry, including Walmart and Safeway (Masunaga, 2020). The report analyzes the nature of the entrepreneur, the business from conception to date, its unique business model, competitive advantages, growth strategies, operational challenges, and sustainability goals.

Nature of Entrepreneur

Joe Coulombe was an innovator and had problem-solving skills and vision. In his autobiography, Coulombe narrates how his innovative skills led him to exploit the various loopholes in the market. The foundation of his merchandising relied on four determinants, high value, high rate of consumption, easy to handle, and products whose prices were adjustable (Coulombe and Civalleri, 2021). Coulombe exploited loopholes and market inefficiencies to bargain product prices. Coulombe was an innovator as he revolutionized how people shop. Coulombe imported products, including wine, at lower prices and set lower prices, thus attracting more customers at a reduced operational cost (Huddleston Jr, 2021). Coulombe did not bow to pressure from retail giants when he launched his convenience store. Coulombe was a visionary entrepreneur as he identified future markets for his product, thus establishing his business to cater to the niche market.

Trader Joe’s Startup Process

Trader Joe’s startup story starts from Coulombe’s days as a store manager. Coulombe was in his 20s when he was employed by Rexall Pharmacies, located in Southern California. In 1958, Rexall expanded the business by launching five convenient outlets known as Pronto Markets and made Coulombe the manager of one of the marts (Cutolo, 2020). The convenience stores failed, crumbling from pressure from the national franchise penetrating the California market. Rexall decided to liquidate the business, but Coulombe was adamant and bought the establishment aiming to rebrand (Tyler, 2018). The fall of Pronto Market inadvertently led to the rise of Trader Joe’s outlets. Coulombe opened the first Trader Joe’s supermarket in 1967 in California (Kelly, 2020). Having worked as a convenience reseller, Coulombe introduced changes to the traditional formula by filling it with basic products and adding unique foods distinct from the conventional hypermarket.

Business Concept and Competitive Advantage

Trader Joe’s is known for its unique business model of regularly generating fresh and authentic products for its customers. Trader Joe’s business concept entails selling food from private labels. Trader Joe’s buys directly from manufacturers and suppliers, thus eliminating the middleman. The company’s inventory is about 2,000 unique products, including food items and wines (Adams, 2020). In addition, most of its products are natural, without artificial ingredients. The unique private label business concept helps the company distinguish itself from other grocery stores by having products that cannot be found in other supermarkets. 80% of Trader Joe’s merchandise consists of private-label products (Rohith, 2021). Because of the perceived worth of the products, Trader Joe’s can charge higher prices on low-cost items. Trader Joe’s has an informal way of decorating its stores as it uses local art to create an environment of a local grocery store (Yohn, 2018). Trader Joe’s business model includes its packaging design, where the company lists all the ingredients, thus establishing customer trust.

Trader Joe’s loyal customer base, which returns to its stores in search of a unique shopping experience, exemplifies customer loyalty derived from the unique offerings. Trader Joe’s competitive advantage includes its extensive distribution network and strong supplier relations. Trader Joe’s has a strong and efficient distribution network with over 400 locations across the United States (Rohith, 2021). Because of the vast distribution network, the company has a greater reach and logistical support, which lowers transportation costs. Trader Joe’s has formed a covert connection with suppliers, ensuring that its products are protected from competition. Because Trader Joe’s is a privately held company, it is not required to reveal its financial accounts to competitors or the general public, thereby preserving the identity of its suppliers (Olsen, 2019). Because its suppliers produce a lower-cost version of products, Trader Joe’s can minimize overhead costs, resulting in larger profit margins.

Current Level of Demand and Competition

Trader Joe’s is the most profitable supermarket in the U.S. and is projected to increase sales. Trader Joe’s product demand is high as people switch to healthier and unique groceries. The change of preference from fast food diet to a healthy diet increases Trader Joe’s demand in the market and challenges established companies in the industry (Martinez et al., 2018). Trader Joe’s has the highest sales per square foot, which is a crucial key performance index in the retail market as it links inventory turnover and company efficiency.

Trader Joe’s is a small company compared to established firms such as Walmart and Costco, Whole Foods Market, Amazon Sprouts Farmers Market, and Safeway, but it competes favorably due to its product’s high demand. Despite its unusual business practices, Trader Joe’s has a massive foothold in the supermarket industry. Trader Joe’s net sales were predicted to be $13.7 billion in 2019, making it the most profitable grocery shop in the U.S., with $1.734 worth of merchandise sold per square foot (Clifford, 2020). The retail market is fiercely competitive due to the low switching cost and undifferentiated pricing. However, Trader Joe’s has carved a niche as its unique products differentiate the company from other retail firms.

Growth and development of the Business

Coulombe’s targeting of a niche market precipitated the growth and development of Trader Joe’s stores. The U.S. market demographics were evolving due to the G.I. Bill of Rights, which led to the development of the middle-class population. The bill provided school grants, hiring benefits, and job training for a vast population in the 60s and 70s. The educated and underpaid working class had developed a preference for healthier foods, a Trader Joe’s specialty. Trader Joe’s target market wanted high-quality food, which they could not afford in the few high-end outlets (Cop, 2018). Trader Joe’s stores changed the eating culture as people thronged the outlet, increasing profits and stores.

Another successful tactic Coulombe used was positioning the store as environmentally sustainable. This led to environmentally conscious manufacturers’ increased stocking of unique healthy foods (McKinnon, 2020). Trader Joe’s had 19 stores when it was sold to Aldi Nord in 1979. Aldi Nord continued Coulombe’s strategy leading to increased stores nationwide. As of 2021, Trader Joe’s has more than 530 locations across the U.S. (Pereira, 2022). The company has a workforce of nearly 10,000 employees across all stores. The company has sustained its original business model with no proliferation of physical stores.

Challenges and Government Intervention

Trader Joe’s challenges in operational efficiency were determined during the COVID-19 period. The company faced two critical issues the surge in online grocery shopping and the lack of floor space for shoppers (Felsted and Halzack, 2020). Trader Joe’s does not have an online platform to sell its goods as it typically relies on physical locations. The COVID-19 pandemic restricted movement; thus, people preferred online shopping. Thus the company lost out on a unique opportunity to expand.

Furthermore, the company’s lack of online stores highlighted its inefficiency of in-home delivery services. Consumers’ preference for a convenience store with various products favored established firms with extensive product portfolios (Wilkinson, 2019). This limits Trader Joe’s profitability as it’s a limited-service grocery shop. Trader Joe’s small floor space limited the number of consumers allowed at the store. This greatly affects its profitability as it relies on low-value transactions with a high volume of consumers. Trader Joe’s product portfolio is limited as it mostly depends on unique seasonal items, thus losing customers at specific times of the year. The government’s review of lockdown laws provided Trader Joe’s temporary relief as consumers could access the physical stores.

Growth and Development Strategies

Trader Joe’s current growth and development strategy includes increasing its product portfolio, curating products, and providing customer service. Trader Joe’s continues to expand its private-label lines, thus increasing its portfolio and customer retention capabilities. The company maintains its niche market targeting the health-conscious and adventurous population to try its new unique offerings. The company maintains a smaller store location that reduces inventory costs. It utilizes a truck-to-shelf system, enabling the company to reduce waste and keep prices down (Miner, 2019). In addition, the company has an intensive curation program that ensures it serves high-quality products, thus increasing brand loyalty. Trader Joe’s employs dedicated staff to improve its customer service. Customer service is key in attracting and retaining customers; therefore, the company ensures its employees’ appearance and behavior reflect its culture (Hance, 2020). The empowered staff assists customers throughout the shopping experience by handing out samples as an after-sales service.

Sustainability Goals

Trader Joe’s sustainability measures majorly affect its packaging. Customers’ preference in the health-conscious world regards information about product ingredients and their source. The company has been indicted for using plastic packaging in most products (Safar, 2021). However, the company’s sustainability goal is to improve packaging by using recyclable materials in its packaging to reduce environmental pollution. The company has a low score on the sustainability index; thus, there is a need to implement more sustainable goals to increase brand loyalty. Firms’ sustainable projects define consumers’ preferences in the contemporary world. Trader Joe’s discloses its items have no artificial flavors and preservatives but fail to disclose the source of the products. Labeling the source of products improves consumer confidence levels; thus, there is a need to print the packaging information.


Trader Joe’s is a U.S based retail chain of grocery stores started in 1967 by Joseph Hardin Coulombe. Coulombe was a visionary entrepreneur as he identified future markets for his product and thus established his business in 1967. Trader Joe’s is known for its unique business model of regularly generating fresh and authentic products for its customers. Trader Joe’s business concept entails selling food from private labels. Trader Joe’s has the highest sales per square foot in the U.S., a crucial key performance index in the retail market. Trader Joe’s had 19 stores in 1979 and has expanded to more than 530 locations across the U.S. The company was faced with two critical issues the surge in online grocery shopping and the lack of floor space for shoppers. Trader Joe’s current growth and development strategy include increasing its portfolio, curating products, and providing customer service. The company’s sustainability goal is to improve packaging by using recyclable materials.


Expansion nationally and internationally and adopting online marketing tactics are all opportunities for Trader Joe’s. Because most Trader Joe’s stores are in California, the company can establish a strong national presence to expand its market share and provide a nationwide distribution channel. Furthermore, Trader Joe’s does not have locations outside the United States. By expanding internationally, the company can grow its market share. Expanding into Canada is the most plausible option because of its proximity to U.S. supply networks and culture (Augustin, 2021). Trader Joe’s can use digital marketing and online retail to reach new customers. The supermarket industry’s fierce competitiveness and substitute products are two of Trader Joe’s main issues. The grocery industry is fiercely competitive, with a few high-profile competitors owning a large portion of the market. Online sales represent 20% of all purchases where consumers spent $870 billion in 2021 in the U.S. (Young, 2022). The company should expand into the online retail market by collaborating with third-party delivery companies to increase its coverage and profits.

Reference List

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Rogers, J. (2020) ‘Joe Coulombe, the founder of Trader Joe’s grocery chain, dies at 89.’ Washington Post.

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Tyler, J. (2018) ‘There is an actual ‘Joe’ behind Trader Joe’s — here’s how he founded the grocery chain.’ Business Insider.

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