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John Mackey, Whole Foods CEO no longer December 31, 2009 9:00 PM   Subscribe

I nearly missed the news myself, but I was happy to see that Ayn Rand / Ronald Reagan fan John Mackey (of Whole Foods) has finally been forced to step down from his post as CEO, largely due to the public damage his really stupid comments about health care in Wall Street Journal op-ed caused.

The subject was covered here on MetaFilter some months ago.

The Austin Chronicle (scroll down a bit) is where I heard the good news.

In the same issue of the Austin Chronicle, US Rep Lloyd Doggett is quoted as saying "As one of his sharehodlers and regular customers, I think John should stick to Whole Foods, because he certainly offers no formula for Whole Health Care Access."
posted by Dee Xtrovert to MetaFilter-Related at 9:00 PM (84 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

Ah, no, he's stepped down as chairman of the board of directors, but he will remain CEO.
posted by jedicus at 9:06 PM on December 31, 2009


I do agree that he should be fired for his comments - not because of his opinions per se, but because as a CEO he caused his business to lose customers by voicing an opinion that flies in the face of his customer base. That's just business - I would bet most of his largest shareholders would agree with his opinions, but, nevertheless, him voicing them was a liability to the business.

On the other hand, I'm not sure how the people here would react to the opposite situation - for example, the CEO of a gun company being fired for voicing support for gay rights and causing the company to lose the redneck business.
posted by qvantamon at 9:12 PM on December 31, 2009 [7 favorites]


Puffins for everyone! :)

What exactly does this mean as far as his influence on company policies and direction is concerned?
posted by zarq at 9:13 PM on December 31, 2009


Re: Gun CEO getting fired for being pro-gay rights: I'd just sigh, sit back and think "Stupid gun nuts."

I imagine the guys at Free Republic are probably saying the same thing about us LIEbruls.
posted by mccarty.tim at 9:14 PM on December 31, 2009


It's not like he's some hired gun CEO. He was one of the founders back in the '70s. If you think his politics affects the company's direction, then you really should never have liked the company.
posted by smackfu at 9:17 PM on December 31, 2009 [9 favorites]


Also, don't forget when he posed as his wife to promote himself and Whole Foods stock, while bashing Wild Oats pre-merger, on Yahoo Finance. The FTC declared it anticompetitive.

To be honest, I'm feeling a lot of shaudenfreude not because I believe Mackey has no right to his opinion or that he's a bad person by any stretch of the imagination. I just feel like his business is ultimately flawed. I think sustainable economies and environments need small, local agents, like farmers' markets rather than supermarkets that make a bunch of compromises to be slightly "greener." It's true I do still go to a supermarket for my non-produce, but at least the local Shop Rite is honest about what it is, and it doesn't fly in produce from South America just for the Organic sticker when it can be had domestically.

It's kind of robbing Peter to pay Paul. We need real solutions, not glitzy supermarkets that sell the idea of "green."
posted by mccarty.tim at 9:22 PM on December 31, 2009 [6 favorites]


The company was having financial problems way before Mackey shot his mouth off about universal health care. They had expanded too quickly and opened too many stores without thinking strategically or planning for a possible economic downturn. There were also financial issues stemming from their acquisition of the Wild Oats brand.

Their biggest profit margin is in perishables: fruit, veggies and meat. But those items can be obtained at lower-level supermarkets for less money. So, the recession hit them hard, because their customer base turned to cheaper sources.

Mismanagement remains a bigger problem for them than the fact that their CEO is a right-winger.
posted by zarq at 9:28 PM on December 31, 2009


On the other hand, I'm not sure how the people here would react to the opposite situation - for example, the CEO of a gun company being fired for voicing support for gay rights and causing the company to lose the redneck business.
posted by qvantamon at 11:12 PM on December 31


You mean like what happened to the Dixie Chicks when they said they were ashamed that George W. Bush is from Texas?
posted by Daddy-O at 10:29 PM on December 31, 2009 [2 favorites]


Wooo
posted by The Whelk at 11:52 PM on December 31, 2009


I can't understand how my fellow hippie libruls could ever become so attached to a fucking brand. Shop with your feet and look into some local farmer's markets.
posted by bardic at 11:53 PM on December 31, 2009 [11 favorites]


So, the recession hit them hard, because their customer base turned to cheaper sources.

For the first time ever, I believe, WF now offer coupons. Very shocking stuff.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:25 AM on January 1, 2010


We need real solutions, not glitzy supermarkets that sell the idea of "green."

and

I can't understand how my fellow hippie libruls could ever become so attached to a fucking brand. Shop with your feet and look into some local farmer's markets.

I live in a town loaded with varieties of grocery shopping experiences and farmer's markets. It's lovely. Also, I grew up in Sarajevo, where this was largely the norm (and still is.)

But I've also lived in places in America where there was not only no place to buy (for instance) organic food or local produce from *any* source, and I've lived in places where the farmer's market operated for only a few months a year, and I've seen occasions where not one farmer showed up on a market day! So when a Whole Foods rolls into town, in many places it's a legitimate cause for celebration - easy to get attached to when there are no good alternatives.

Mind you, I'd rather not shop at places like Whole Foods. But farmer's markets in America have many disadvantages that don't exist in Eastern Europe, where such places are open daily, carry a much wider range of things, tend to be located centrally and in permanent or canopied buildings - not a bunch of folding tables set up for only four hours on Saturday morning.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 12:30 AM on January 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


I can't understand how my fellow hippie libruls could ever become so attached to a fucking brand.

The same way a lot of people are conservatives because they were raised that way or came from a "red" state - there's a ton of people on the left like that too. It would be nice to think every liberal puts deep and careful thought into their beliefs, but a lot of people just fall into it because it's comfortable, and their beliefs stay on a very superficial level. You see this a lot in L.A., where conservative = social pariah in almost all circles, even very wealthy ones.

I think the guy has a right to his opinion on health care, even though I disagree. But the union-busting, coupled with outrageous prices? Fuck that.
posted by drjimmy11 at 1:05 AM on January 1, 2010


As someone who doesn't identify with any particular party, I think the whole furor surrounding Mackey was hilarious.
posted by thisperon at 2:01 AM on January 1, 2010


One of the best parts of coming home for the holidays is visiting Chick Fil-A. Those Republicans make a goddamn great chicken sandwich.
posted by mullacc at 3:13 AM on January 1, 2010 [17 favorites]


Organic food is 50 percent scam.

Whole foods' markup must be near 50 percent on many items.

Burt's Bees is owned by Clorox, Tom's of Maine by Colgate-Palmolive.

Don't fall for green hype.
posted by fourcheesemac at 4:25 AM on January 1, 2010 [14 favorites]


mullacc, you are so right about the Chik-Fil-A. I was so excited when I realized I wasn't getting in on a Sunday; I could have some right away.
posted by that girl at 4:30 AM on January 1, 2010


And Dr. Bronner's is part of the Hemp-Industrial Complex. WAKE UP, SHEEPLE!
posted by mccarty.tim at 4:37 AM on January 1, 2010 [16 favorites]


Just to defend Burt's Bees--Clorox bought it quite recently after a couple decades of it being a successful independent business. Burt's Bees is still based here in Durham and still operates as a small, funky, independent business that treats its employees well and still does things like donate expired almond oil to the local biofuel coop.

Whole Foods on the other hand really sucks, especially the Durham one.
posted by hydropsyche at 4:45 AM on January 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


I will drive halfway across the state to get Chick fil A in Quaker Bridge. Perhaps I should suggest that in the Warren NJ thread down the hall.

Yes, it's an hour, but it's really good Republican chicken!

Beats Carlyle Coffee.
posted by mccarty.tim at 4:46 AM on January 1, 2010


As someone who doesn't identify with any particular party, I think the whole furor surrounding Mackey was hilarious.

I don't understand. The furor was about his comments regarding whether or not we need health care reform. If you think that's a partisan issue then you do, in fact, at least identify with the Republican framing of the issue.
posted by OmieWise at 5:04 AM on January 1, 2010 [4 favorites]


The "Fast Company Curse(TM)" strikes again.
posted by drezdn at 5:35 AM on January 1, 2010


This seems like an odd post for the gray.
posted by JanetLand at 5:40 AM on January 1, 2010 [4 favorites]


It's a follow up to a post that has since closed due to the passage of time.
posted by Atreides at 6:25 AM on January 1, 2010


Think of it as composting.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 6:33 AM on January 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


At one time, I was sad that there was no Whole Foods near me. Thanks to John Mackey, that sadness has ended. Thanks, John!
posted by DU at 7:16 AM on January 1, 2010


That was one of the most idiotic statements any CEO has given. Once you get to that level, the job is hugely political. You are the face of the company. Here was some capitalist just laughing in face of all his hippie customers who were formerly duped into thinking that this corporation was somehow different.
posted by caddis at 7:19 AM on January 1, 2010


operates as a small, funky, independent business

...funky?
posted by adamdschneider at 7:57 AM on January 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Just to defend Burt's Bees

and Burt's Bees actually started in a farmer's market.

Here in Raleigh we have a great Farmer's Market and 2 Trader Joes so we are spoiled! But I still pop into Whole Foods once in a Blue Moon for the Vosges candy bars and the higher-end beer selection.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 7:57 AM on January 1, 2010


Whole Foods on the other hand really sucks, especially the Durham one.

The advantage of the Whole Foods is that it is really close to Duke, and just across the street from East Campus. For students who don't have cars, it's really the only option unless we want to bug a friend with a car to drive us to Kroger or something.

I just found out that Duke has a farmer's market. I should probably look into that when I get back. Also, I really wish we had a Trader Joe's closer to Duke. My life would be complete, I think.
posted by pecknpah at 8:00 AM on January 1, 2010


Clorox carefully maintains that impression. Come on, people -- Clorox? Funky?
posted by fourcheesemac at 8:01 AM on January 1, 2010


Here's an excellent article on all the funky brands owned by major food and chemical corporations.

Burt's Bees, Tom's of Maine, Naked Juice: Your Favorite Brands? Take Another Look -- They May Not Be What They Seem
By Andrea Whitfill, AlterNet. Posted March 17, 2009.

posted by fourcheesemac at 8:06 AM on January 1, 2010


I guess people will have to elsewhere for their Purina Yuppie Chow.
posted by jonmc at 8:16 AM on January 1, 2010 [4 favorites]


I recommend the article in The New Yorker (1/4/10) about this (online version). An excerpt:

“I was so viciously attacked for two reasons,” Mackey told me. “One is that people had an idea in their minds about the way Whole Foods was. So when I articulated a capitalistic interpretation of what needed to be done in health care, that was disappointing to some people.” He begrudges the extent to which people have projected onto Whole Foods an unrealistic and idealistic vision of the company. “The C.E.O. of Safeway, Steven Burd, wrote an op-ed piece in June advocating, basically, market solutions to the health-care problem, and nobody gave a shit,” he said.
posted by bingo at 8:38 AM on January 1, 2010


JanetLand: This seems like an odd post for the gray.

Atreides: It's a follow up to a post that has since closed due to the passage of time.

Very insightful. Still weird. Follow-ups to closed posts should only be made if they're blue-worthy, IMLonelyO, and then posted there. MetaTalk isn't MeFi Junior.
posted by carsonb at 8:47 AM on January 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Hahahahah.

What an idiot.

By the way, none other then Lanny Davis, uber-sleaze from the Clinton Campaign/Lobbiest was involved in this. Davis encouraged Macky to write the article.
[Lanny] Davis' history is as long and consistent as it is sleazy. He was recently hired by Honduran oligarchs opposed to that country's democratically elected left-wing President and promptly became the chief advocate of the military coup which forcibly removed the President from office.
Hell of a track record for that dude.
posted by delmoi at 9:10 AM on January 1, 2010


Burt's Bees is owned by Clorox, Tom's of Maine by Colgate-Palmolive.

And Ben&Jerry's is owned by Unilever.
posted by delmoi at 9:17 AM on January 1, 2010


I'll say this for Whole Foods: their ready meals are hella better than *anything* available in the chain restaurants that cluster around Disney and other public attractions. And cheaper, too.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:17 AM on January 1, 2010


In that New Yorker article Mackey refuses to discuss his sex life with the reporter (who had apparently not asked) - to which I said THANK YOU! He came off even worse then his usual press in that.
posted by cestmoi15 at 9:44 AM on January 1, 2010


Tons of organic brands are owned by nasty big companies, but many others aren't. It is possible to learn which is which and consume accordingly. It doesn't have to be a scam.
posted by thirteenkiller at 10:23 AM on January 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


This just reminds me how spoiled I am living in San Luis Obispo, California, where there are over a dozen Farmer's Markets every week (including a Thursday Evening 'market-turned-block-party'), THREE Trader Joes, several local 'mini-chains' of 3-6 stores, including New Frontiers, which owns its own farm in the area and is moving into an empty Circuit City (another, Spencers, isn't organic-oriented but has private-label goodies including reasonably-priced sausages to die for!), and NO Whole Foods within 75 miles (you can keep it, Santa Barbara). And every time Ralphs/Kroger, Vons/Safeway or Albertsons/SuprValu closes a store in the area, one of the locals move in and improves it. But then, local Agriculture is, more than ever, the centerpiece of the local economy (you may be eating our avocados, strawberries or broccoli... enjoy).

So I'm on solid ground as a Whole Foods Hater. Neener neener neener!
posted by oneswellfoop at 10:24 AM on January 1, 2010


"I don't understand. The furor was about his comments regarding whether or not we need health care reform. If you think that's a partisan issue then you do, in fact, at least identify with the Republican framing of the issue.
posted by OmieWise at 5:04 AM on January 1 [+] [!]"

Actually I support universal health care, a far more liberal position than that of many Dems. You were saying?
posted by thisperon at 10:27 AM on January 1, 2010


How many of the people at these farmers' markets are actually farmers, and how much of the produce actually comes from their farms?

I don't like Whole Foods for a lot of reasons, but not because the CEO has an opinion. Seems kinda silly to blame some dude spouting off because I mistakenly believed the giant store in the fashionable part of town was some kind of hippie co-op.
posted by gjc at 10:57 AM on January 1, 2010


So when I articulated a capitalistic interpretation of what needed to be done in health care, that was disappointing to some people.

Articulate was not the verb I'd have used.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 11:48 AM on January 1, 2010 [3 favorites]


I don't really understand the objection to buying otherwise natural/organic/green/whatever products that are owned by conglomerates. Natural/organic/green/whatever is never going to have any kind of impact whatsoever unless it's practiced on a large scale. So when the marketplace catches on and it suddenly becomes economically viable to go natural/organic/green/whatever, suddenly it's no longer ok to buy that product because the owner of it isn't natural/organic/green/whatever enough? Seems to me that falls under the category of cutting off your nose to spite your face.
posted by headnsouth at 12:22 PM on January 1, 2010 [3 favorites]


Yeah, while I am personally pro-universal health care, I had no illusions about Whole Foods being some kind of benevolent non-profit. I mean, they wouldn't let me take a photo inside the store, which I think really says something. But I don't actually care at all whether or not the founder agrees with me about health care. I mean, Whole Foods is not a health care provider.
posted by bingo at 12:31 PM on January 1, 2010


Tons of organic brands are owned by nasty big companies

I may be an outlier here, but although I do like supporting small local businesses, I have no problem with buying organic, fair-trade, etc., items from GigantoCorp. The important thing for me is how the food was produced (, shipped, etc), and the company's behavior in the world, not the semi-mystical small-farmer aura.

How many of the people at these farmers' markets are actually farmers, and how much of the produce actually comes from their farms?

In my city, they're required to only sell stuff they grew (or fished, or bee-kept, or whatever). I haven't noticed anyone flagrantly breaking this rule.
posted by hattifattener at 12:33 PM on January 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


I like the phrase "Bee-kept". It can mean so many different things - from making honey to being the pet of large anthropomorphic bees.
posted by The Whelk at 12:45 PM on January 1, 2010 [4 favorites]


or the Bees finally cutting out the middle man, buying the property themselves, and paying humans to carry the honey to market "I work, I'm Bee-kept". They mostly just need us to keep bears away and plant more sweet, sweet lilacs.

Or they make a killing in custom candles - Bee Spoke candles.

Bee-Kept! A word of many uses.
posted by The Whelk at 12:52 PM on January 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


I like Whole Foods all right, but my question as a card-carrying hippie liberal is why the hell I should be so impressed with Trader Joe's? We just got a few around here and I really cannot figure out why I'm supposed to be so head over heels, except they have this one kind of wine I really like.
posted by Medieval Maven at 12:53 PM on January 1, 2010


"And lot number 20, 40 acres of orchard and meadow SOLD to the Swarming Mass Of Bees in the back."
posted by The Whelk at 12:54 PM on January 1, 2010 [3 favorites]


why the hell I should be so impressed with Trader Joe's?

The crab cakes are good, and affordable. The wasabi mayo is tasty as well.
posted by jonmc at 1:03 PM on January 1, 2010


Medieval Maven - their stuff is cheap, usually not terribly full of crap and they treat their employees well. I prefer a mix of TJ's, Wegman's and the farmers' market over Whole Foods because WF costs too much and Mackey's an ass.
posted by youcancallmeal at 1:13 PM on January 1, 2010


Sometimes I think I'm a liberal, then I read a thread like this and realize I'm not even close.
posted by Bookhouse at 1:14 PM on January 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


they treat their employees well.

There's a Trader Joe's two blocks from where I work. Numerous times, when stopping at my bar for an after work drink or two, I've met several TJ's night shifters drinking their lunch. FWIW.
posted by jonmc at 1:22 PM on January 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Come on, people -- Clorox? Funky?

I heard they might be doing a cross-promotional tie-in with an underground psychedelic punk outfit from Philadelphia. Racy stuff.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:22 PM on January 1, 2010


why the hell I should be so impressed with Trader Joe's?

I used to like them, but they sell so few gluten-free items that we never shop there any more, except for their olive oil, which is excellent and very reasonably priced, and their salty English Coastal cheese, which I can't find anywhere else.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:24 PM on January 1, 2010


Secret Life of Gravy: I work at this chocolate shop just over the way in Asheville. If you are willing to stop going to Whole Foods for Vosges bars, I will gladly mail them to you. We have 10 different kinds at our wholesale booth.
posted by lazaruslong at 1:39 PM on January 1, 2010


Trader Joe's has treated my uncle really well over the 15 years he's worked for them. He started out as a cashier at the Venice Beach location, and now he's managing several stores in St. Paul. He raves about their employee benefits even at the grunt level.
posted by lazaruslong at 1:41 PM on January 1, 2010


jonmc - I think that TJ's is an exception. That place is a hellhole and no matter how awesome the company is, that's got to be a rough job. I even hate shopping at that one.
posted by youcancallmeal at 1:56 PM on January 1, 2010


Actually, employees from most of the retail outlets in the neighborhood are drinking lunch there. It's comes with the territory.
posted by jonmc at 2:02 PM on January 1, 2010


I like Whole Foods all right, but my question as a card-carrying hippie liberal is why the hell I should be so impressed with Trader Joe's?

I mostly like them because their food is tasty and I think there's a wider selection of food to pick from. The Whole Foods in Durham, NC is tiny and I'm tired of paying so much money for food that doesn't taste better than getting it at Kroger. I really don't know much about how they treat their employees, though every employee at Trader Joe's has been nice to me, as opposed to the Whole Foods employees.
posted by pecknpah at 2:07 PM on January 1, 2010


This is really timely because I'm right now, at this second, trying to figure out if I can stomach (morally and hangover-ly) going to Whole Foods, which is the only nearby grocery store that's open tonight. If Mackey's a little less powerful and a little more embarrassed, does that mean I can go buy dinner without having to donate more money to Planned Parenthood to offset the damage?

Being a privileged liberal's really hard guys.
posted by oinopaponton at 3:35 PM on January 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


Trader Joe's also happens to very competitively priced compared to Whole Foods. Whole Foods prices are consistently high no matter what the item is; even conventional store-brand products (ex: 365 Brand Orange Juice) is going to be way, way more than some store brand orange juice from a regular grocery store.

There are certainly some expensive products at Trader Joe's (produce section, I'm looking at you) but there are a lot of items that are a better value for your money than at the grocery store, especially gourmet items.

I can buy Hersey's Cocoa Powder (which is not very good) for $5 at Jewell-Osco and feel like a corporate shill, or I can buy organic Trader Joe's brand cocoa powder for $2 and have the cute hipster putting away shopping carts tell me they like my bike when I'm loading my purchases into my basket. What's not to love?
posted by Juliet Banana at 4:41 PM on January 1, 2010


I only recently started shopping at Trader Joes. Not for produce (too much plastic wrap) but because I realized that their prices are often cheaper than those at Jewel (which is the big local chain in the Chicago area/owned by Kroeger). I was surprised to find that TJ's was owned by Aldi, which is a no frills, incredibly cheap alternative (but, unfortunately, impossible for me to get to these days).

I can't afford to shop at Whole Foods anymore, and have to wonder why I ever did (if I'm honest with myself I will admit it was probably for the lighting). They were great for anyone in the 90's who was vegan and needed alternatives, but it's no longer impossible to find such ingredients, and I guess I got sucked into thinking that this was somehow less guilty a choice.

I'm all for supporting the little guy/small neighborhood stores, but then I had to move to the suburbs, and was amazed to find that there were none near me (I don't drive).

Famers markets = yes, but in Chicago that is a seasonal thing. When I visted my brother in LA I was blown away by their farmer's markets (which had the best produce I've ever seen, and a near-festival vibe with lots of wonderful live music).
posted by marimeko at 5:17 PM on January 1, 2010


does that mean I can go buy dinner without having to donate more money to Planned Parenthood to offset the damage?

It's a radical suggestion, I know, but your personal consumption habits may or may not be saving or condemning the world.
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:18 PM on January 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


...(Grass-fed organic) hamburger?
posted by oinopaponton at 5:44 PM on January 1, 2010


my question as a card-carrying hippie liberal is why the hell I should be so impressed with Trader Joe's

They treat their employees very well, including health benefits for part-timers.

(Also, they have more interesting food choices, although I suppose that depends on what your definition of interesting is. Our other supermarkets around here still look like they did ten or twenty years ago, with the ethnic section consisting of La Choy and packaged taco mixes.)
posted by smackfu at 5:55 PM on January 1, 2010


I love love love Trader Joe's, but (in my experience) their produce goes bad in the car on the way home from the store, and I learned the hard way to be wary of some of their precooked products that contain meat*.

*I became a quasi-vegetarian for a week after eating precooked beef from TJ's. Eurgh.
posted by pinky at 6:09 PM on January 1, 2010


(in my experience) their produce goes bad in the car on the way home from the store

Yeah, that. And we buy a lot of produce. The times I've stopped in to get whatever we needed to do dinner, and if I don't use it all, it's bad the next day. Drives me crazy.

As for the rest of it, I'm glad they treat their employees well, and they do have some things that I like to get there (like vitamins, and the aforementioned particular wine). Perhaps next time we are out of weird stuff that we don't often run out of (Cocoa powder?) I'll check those things out. I've just always been sort of burned stopping in there for produce.
posted by Medieval Maven at 6:18 PM on January 1, 2010


So does TJ's produce go bad because it is old, or because it is organic?
posted by five fresh fish at 6:40 PM on January 1, 2010


I'm fond of NY/NJ Area regional chain Wegmans, but because of quality of the store, employee benefits, and the high quality generics. If you want some borderline fancy ingredient, they're the place for it. The basics cost a bit more there, but it's generally a very pleasant place to shop. They pretty much have an entire Crate and Barrel style kitchen supply store built in. Plus, they're the only nearby place I know of that stocks (HFCS-free) Mexican bottled Coke and Cafe Bustello Chill canned coffee.

They do have an organic section, some local produce, and all that, but it's not their main draw. This may just be my reptillian brain responding to branding, but I really respect a company that makes few promises and delivers on them, rather than a company making one big impressive set of promises (We're green! Our food is all good for the environment! We promote a sustainable economy!) that it generally falls short of.
posted by mccarty.tim at 7:09 PM on January 1, 2010


fff, I don't have the same problem with WF or produce from our farmer's coop delivery. Around here, I'm guessing that it's old; TJ's is pretty new in our area and I'm guessing people don't buy the produce up as quickly as it needs to be.
posted by Medieval Maven at 7:16 PM on January 1, 2010


*I became a quasi-vegetarian for a week after eating precooked beef from TJ's. Eurgh.

I got norovirus from a TJ's tofu noodle bowl last year. Bad food safety cuts across all dietary choices, it seems.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 9:34 PM on January 1, 2010


I'm impressed by all the love for Trader Joe's, basically a means for the massive German food conglomerate Aldi to segment its market in the US between its ghetto and boho locations. TJ own-label brands are often sold in Aldi superstores in Europe as "premium" choices in the foofier sections of the Aldi stores. I am waiting for a similar Spar invasion-by-stealth...
posted by meehawl at 11:47 PM on January 1, 2010


I'm guessing that it's old; TJ's is pretty new in our area and I'm guessing people don't buy the produce up as quickly as it needs to be.

I think it is old when they get it. My TJ's produce/bread/meat section is always picked fairly clean by dinnertime.
posted by pinky at 10:48 AM on January 2, 2010


I like Whole Foods all right, but my question as a card-carrying hippie liberal is why the hell I should be so impressed with Trader Joe's? We just got a few around here and I really cannot figure out why I'm supposed to be so head over heels, except they have this one kind of wine I really like.

Hey, don't shop there. You "shouldn't" be anything. I love it because all their frozen stuff is pretty cheap, pretty healthy and really easy to make, and you can combine them in lots of fun ways. I haven't shopped anywhere else in two or three years, but I'm not sure why you're asking other people to convince you to shop there. If you don't like it, don't shop there. Simple.
posted by adamdschneider at 11:20 AM on January 2, 2010


I don't really understand the objection to buying otherwise natural/organic/green/whatever products that are owned by conglomerates. Natural/organic/green/whatever is never going to have any kind of impact whatsoever unless it's practiced on a large scale. So when the marketplace catches on and it suddenly becomes economically viable to go natural/organic/green/whatever, suddenly it's no longer ok to buy that product because the owner of it isn't natural/organic/green/whatever enough?

+

I may be an outlier here, but although I do like supporting small local businesses, I have no problem with buying organic, fair-trade, etc., items from GigantoCorp. The important thing for me is how the food was produced (, shipped, etc), and the company's behavior in the world, not the semi-mystical small-farmer aura.

There are two reasons why I try to avoid organic brands from huge non-organic corporations. First, yes, in short, they are not natural/organic/green enough. I don't want to buy natural/organic/green Odwalla juice while Coca-Cola is still participating in the whole-sale corn rape of our ecosystem, for example. I don't want to buy Horizon organic milk while Dean Foods continues to sell conventionally produced milk. I don't want to buy Back to Nature Organic Stoneground Wheat Crackers while Kraft is still selling Lunchables. Disgusting. Good for all of them for putting some money into healthier foods, but it's not enough for me until they clean up their entire corporation. Why buy Kraft's organic crackers when there are other organic cracker companies with a much clearer commitment to environmental sustainability?

Second, I suppose this is what is meant by "semi-mystical small-farmer aura" but, even just from an economic standpoint and setting aside environmental and health concerns, I think it's important to support good independent companies. I don't want food manufacturing business to be concentrated in a multi-national corporate oligarchy.

Now, if the independent company's product is outrageously expensive or if there isn't one available or the Kraft product is someting I really really really really want, then I'm not going to beat myself up about getting it. My personal choices really don't have that much impact on the structure of the food economy and I don't feel like I have to be a personal martyr for global food sustainability. I also recognize that I am incredibly privileged to have enough wealth to indulge in these preferences. However, my personal consumer choices and especially my advocacy about this stuff to other people CAN have some small impact, and by putting my money into the good food market I can encourage growth and competition which may translate into greater accessibility for poor people.

So, that's why.
posted by thirteenkiller at 12:18 PM on January 2, 2010 [3 favorites]


Actually, Trader Joe's is owned by Theo Albrecht, who owns Aldi North. His brother Karl Albrecht owns Aldi South, which operates the Aldi stores in the United States.

While they started Aldi together, the brothers Albrecht split up their business into two halves over cigarettes, and compete against each other now, in spite of sharing the same brand name. So, technically, Aldi in the U.S. and Trader Joe's are competing with each other, rather than being market segmentation of a single company.
posted by MythMaker at 12:19 PM on January 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


MythMaker: "Aldi in the U.S. and Trader Joe's are competing with each other, rather than being market segmentation of a single company"

Given their respective choices of retail location and demographic stratification in the USA, one can hardly accuse one of competing with the other. Given that I did actually link to the rather bland Wikipedia article, believe me that I am aware of the official corporate history of this privately held, multi-headed conglomerate. Both aspects of Aldi, the Two-in-One Beast, often negotiate and operate jointly with suppliers and distributors. I am therefore skeptical of claims of complete independence and even rivalry. I think of Aldi's main binary division as a final, drastic corporate firewall within a diverse, private, and peculiarly comlicated German chaebol, originally implemented to reduce the probability of a default risk propagating through the entire structure. You want a political model? Think Diarchy.
posted by meehawl at 4:36 PM on January 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


So does TJ's produce go bad because it is old, or because it is organic?

Their produce goes bad because most of the food in their store is old food that's about to expire that they've bought up and slapped a Trader Joe's label on. The place is basically Big Lots for food, although it's better-branded.
posted by EarBucket at 7:17 AM on January 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


Their produce goes bad because most of the food in their store is old food that's about to expire that they've bought up and slapped a Trader Joe's label on. The place is basically Big Lots for food, although it's better-branded.

I do not think this is so. I mean, many of their food products are unique to Trader Joe's and thus unlikely to be leftover food from elsewhere (although I have always instinctively avoided their sketchy produce).

Also, Big Lots does have food, and it is very very clearly old.

Hey, don't shop there. You "shouldn't" be anything...I haven't shopped anywhere else in two or three years, but I'm not sure why you're asking other people to convince you to shop there. If you don't like it, don't shop there. Simple.

I guess his point, which is what was on my mind the first few times I was at Trader Joe's, was that the products did not seem to be that excellent, nor did the price seem that competitive compared to prices elsewhere. I've since been a few more times and have managed to figure out which sections do tend to have somewhat good deals: cheese, some frozen vegetables and fruits, rice pasta, etc. But the truth is depending on where you live, there are options for better and cheaper items at a local store. For example, buying frozen fish at Trader Joe's is silly when I can buy better fresh fish at the Italian Market for less. I certainly can't imagine doing a majority of my shopping there, let alone all of it. People who are TJ fans tend to rave about it, which is part of the mental disconnect. If people were saying, "Yeah, it's a pretty good place to buy some things." then I could be like, "Okay, I get that." But when people act like it is the most amazing store ever, I end up feeling a bit stupid when I go there, because all I can think is, "I don't get it. Am I doing something wrong? Am I missing something? It seems okay, but that's about it."

It may simply be a matter of location. I'm a 8 minute walk from a Co-op with very reasonable prices. Neither of the nearby TJ locations are particularly convenient for me. If I'm going to trek into the city with my car, I may as well go to the Italian Market and the Asian supermarkets along Washington Ave. I'm sure the fact that I'm not very familiar with frozen foods plays a part too. The worst of it, though, is that PA requires wine to be sold in a liquor store, which means that TJ's apparently famous wines are not available for sale in Philly.
posted by Deathalicious at 10:25 PM on January 3, 2010


To me, at least, the reason that I like Trader Joe's is that for certain things, they are better and cheaper than the alternatives. For wine, there's nowhere else you can get good wine for $1.99 a bottle. For vitamins, there's nowhere else at that quality level and that price point. For prepared foods, absolutely fantastic. Etc.

Trader Joe's has a smaller inventory, and products that you can't find elsewhere. Their buyers find the good stuff, and that's what makes it to the aisles. Plus, there is a certain je ne sais quois about Trader Joe's. Look at the Fearless Flyer, for instance. Their ads are like a kind of quirky newsletter. The people who work there are cool, kind of artsy people who love their jobs and can talk with passion about the products being sold. You go to many regular supermarkets (particularly cheaper ones, and TJ's is definitely cheaper) and the people there clearly hate their jobs, and seem to be marking time until their deaths. That's not the vibe at TJ's.

How about these things (all from Wikipedia, of course):
The May 2009 issue of Consumer Reports ranked Trader Joe's the second-best supermarket chain in the nation, after Wegmans.[9]

In June 2009 MSN Money released its third annual Customer Service Hall of Fame survey results. Trader Joe's ranks 2nd in customer service.[10]

Trader Joe's was named one of the most ethical companies in the United States by Ethisphere Magazine in 2008 and 2009.[11][12]
...
Many of the company's products are environmentally friendly.[8] In October 2007, Trader Joe's began to phase out foods imported from China amid concerns that standards on "organic" products from the country aren't as stringent as they should be. Between February 2008 and April 2008, Trader Joe's phased out single-ingredient products from China due to concerns over tainted goods.[13]
Trader Joe's maintains low prices by having smaller and plainer stores, using plainer packaging, and carrying a smaller variety of products and getting more turnaround on products they do carry, which enables the purchase of larger quantities of perishable items closer to the expiration date at better prices, knowing that they can be sold within shelf-life parameters.[14]
...
Trader Joe's promises that anything with a "Trader Joe's" logo contains no artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives, contains no MSG or trans fats, and is sourced from non-genetically modified ingredients.[18]^
Ethical, great customer service, environmentally friendly, second best supermarket chain in the nation? These are third parties that are pretty impressed by what TJ's does.

From what I understand, while the chain is owned by Germans, it is run by Americans, and the Germans are relatively hands-off about the whole operation.

Even the employees barely are aware that they are owned by Germans:
I thought of all this when I ran into a friend who used to work at a Trader Joe’s. I asked her if she knew who owned the chain. She said no, then thought about it, and suddenly remembered: “Oh yeah, some Germans!”

She knew this only because some Aldi executives came to look at her store a few times, and as she recalls it, her management asked all the employees to not speak to the Aldi executives. It was unclear why this was necessary.

Then she remembered something else: “The carts we used to wheel boxes up and down the aisles, we called them U-boats, because they were shaped like a U. We were told to definitely not call them U-boats whenever the Germans were visiting.”^
posted by MythMaker at 11:51 PM on January 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Dammit people I just came in here to read other people mocking Whole Foods. Now I'm craving a Chick-fil-a #1 combo and missing Trader Joe's peanut butter pretzels. Thanks a lot.
posted by Kimberly at 10:26 AM on January 4, 2010


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