Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > Chains >
Aug 16, 2013 08:55 AM

Trader Joe's drags a pirate to court

Well, this is one way to get Trader Joe's products in places where they won't open:

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. You really can't view it as a matter of where Trader Joe's "won't open," it's more of a "haven't yet opened."

    I know people are critical of Trader Joe's limited scale but that ties into their product availability and favorable pricing. They can only grow so quickly.

    Look at the Fairway stores which recently had an IPO. They have 12 locations in the New York tri-state area and offer lots of specialty and artisanal products at reasonable prices. They are talking about expansion to 300 locations which seems ludicrous given that their sourcing would have to grow massively to keep up and may not even been viable at that scale.

    You can't just open everywhere at once and maintain quality, pricing and variety.

    While this guy's business model may work for him, Trader Joe's has every right to challenge it. For example, trader Joe's is well-known for its liberal returns policy if you don't like something. I doubt he can match that. Also, as noted in the article, not all products travel well if steps aren't taken to protect them in shipping and may ultimately reflect poorly on Trader Joe's. There are any number of valid business reasons why TJs wants him to stop.

    There were a couple of "I'll ship you TJ's products for a fee" businesses over the years which were similarly shut down.

    1. Good for Trader Joe's. While I am not a fan, I fully support their effort to protect their reputation and business.

      And given the exchange rate, I doubt if that is much of a markup.

      2 Replies
      1. re: INDIANRIVERFL

        The Canadian dollar is about the same as the US dollar these days.

        1. re: INDIANRIVERFL

          How does this hurt their business? Pirate Joe is buying the products, not stealing them.

        2. I'm not a lawyer, but I would think the first sale doctrine would allow him to resell the items (although not allow him to use the Pirate Joe's name, which perhaps is a trademark infringement). But the unauthorized importation from one country into another may be a problem (as it was for Costco in this case: ).

          4 Replies
          1. re: drongo

            "First sale doctrine" is an intellectual property concept that doesn't really apply here.

            1. re: ferret

              What other concept does? There's no such thing as "scalping" cans of soup, is there? If Pirate Joe's were actually stealing what they sell, then of course that would be wrong. But the guy is buying products at the full retail price. Where's the beef?

              1. re: John Francis

                According to the article:

                "federal trademark infringement; unfair competition, false endorsement and false designation of origin; false advertising; federal trademark dilution; injury to business and reputation; and deceptive business practices"

                For many purchasers this is their first exposure to Trader Joe's products and it's not being done in a way that provides the full Trader Joe's experience.

                As I mentioned above Trader Joe's encourages adventurousness so you can buy something outside your comfort zone and be sure they'll take it back. They also control their shipping/storage/selling conditions so if Pirate Joe leaves things in a hot van too long and it negatively impacts flavor/quality whose reputation is at risk?

                Trader Joe's has spent tens of millions securing its image and reputation and has a right (and obligation) to protect it.

                1. re: ferret

                  Maybe I've missed something, but Pirate Joe does not sell in the same geographical area or even in the same country as Trader Joe's, so "unfair competition" isn't an issue. The other elements of your paragraph 1 seem also to be irrelevant to what Pirate Joe's actually does.

                  The main thing about the "Trader Joe's experience" is Trader Joe's products, which Canadians can apparently only get from Pirate Joe's without going abroad. Closing Pirate Joe's would deprive them of any part of the "Trader Joe's experience." If that's an issue.

                  No reason why TJ's reputation should suffer because some of its products are sold in a store not named Trader Joe's, any more than that Kellogg's corn flakes are sold in stores not named Kellogg's.

                  As for Trader Joe's protecting its trademark, the name of the Canadian store is not Trader Joe's but Pirate Joe's, which proclaims that it is not a TJ's store or affiliate - to the contrary. The food sold there may carry the Trader Joe's trademark, but so what? It can't be a trademark violation to sell a product in its original packaging. Not to do so would be to deceive the customers.

          2. I can see why Trader Joe's is irate about this, but I can't say that I am.

            1 Reply
            1. re: John Francis

              Ok, why are they? It's a mystery to me.

            2. I'm a big TJ's fan, love most of their products, do most of my shopping there, especially like the way their employees are treated and paid. What I do not like is their dogged insularity and their deliberate opacity - their refusal to allow any employee to be interviewed or to say anything for publication about the company or anything related. And as for advertising any local and/or charitable event, forget that - it's simply not allowed.

              I've always been of the opinion that once I've bought a consumable product, what I do with it is no longer the seller's business, period. Copyright law does not apply to groceries; if I use my loaf of bread and my bologna and the condiments I bought to make sandwiches for sale, I don't owe the market any more than the purchase price I paid. If this man has a clientele that will pay his markup on items he's bought with his own money, in an area with no Trader Joe's markets and probably none soon planned, seems to me that the only harm TJ's can claim is to their reputation if someone hates his seaweed snack or whatever. I've had a couple of items I hated, too, but even if they didn't happily take them back (or if I were up there in Vancouver and couldn't be bothered, or have the nerve!) it wouldn't keep me from getting other stuff there. I think those guys need to un-wad some panties here.

              2 Replies
              1. re: Will Owen

                I agree. It's like all those people who buy up the hot thing at Target and sell it on Ebay--it's theirs, they can do whatever they want with it (although Target may disagree). And I don't particularly think "Pirate Joe's" could be easily mistaken for "Trader Joe's" in a copyright sense--lots of people are named Joe. And why would they be concerned about their copyright or market share in Canada if they don't even have stores there?

                1. re: Will Owen

                  As far as "insularity" is concerned, it really depends on your area's Regional Manager because they are the ones who set the tone in the stores. The Corporate structure has changed in the past few years (when the older German owner died) and things aren't quite as "secretive" as they used to be.
                  Our store (Alameda, CA) has a Community bulletin board where folks can post information about events. We donate food daily to our local food bank and we participate in our local 4th of July parade as well as a Meals on Wheels event at Rock Wall Winery.
                  I think people should rely on their own reputations rather than trying to ride on the coattails of someone else's hard work.