Pasadena’s Own Trader Joe’s Still America’s Favorite Grocer

With origins steeped in its Pasadena beginnings, Trader Joe's appeals to the "overeducated" with a winning low-cost-for-value formula

Published : Thursday, February 28, 2019 | 5:39 AM

The first Trader Joe’s was opened by Pasadenan Joe Coulombe (pictured above with his wife, Alice) in 1967 at 610 South Arroyo Parkway in Pasadena. It’s still there.

Created in 1966 as a test brand to compete with 7-Eleven, Pasadena-born Trader Joe’s is, today, America’s grocer of preference, according to an outfit that measures such things.

According to the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) Retail and Consumer Shipping Report for 2018-19, released Feb. 26, Trader Joe’s rank rose one percent from last year’s to 86; still number one among all grocery store retailers, including e-commerce outlets.

T-J’s jump went against the trend as customer satisfaction with supermarkets overall dropped by 1.3 percent to a general ACSI score of 78.

Wegmans was runner-up, also registering a one percent uptick to 85. Publix fell two percent to tie with Aldi, which remained unchanged at 84. Costco scored 83 in the annual survey, edging out Amazon’s 82.

Trader Joe’s evolved from a Los Angeles chain of Pronto convenience stores developed by Pasadenan Joe Coloumbe, beginning in 1958.

Coulombe was asked to close the Pronto’s down. He did the other thing, bought parent company Rexall out, and started Trader Joe’s with his first store on South Arroyo Parkway in Pasadena.

It’s still there.

“Scientific American had a story that of all people qualified to go to college, 60 percent were going. I felt this newly educated – not smarter but better-educated – class of people would want something different, and that was the genesis of Trader Joe’s,” Coulombe told the Los Angeles Times in a 2011 interview. “All Trader Joe’s were located near centers of learning. Pasadena, where I opened the first one, was because Pasadena is the epitome of a well-educated town. I reframed this: Trader Joe’s is for overeducated and underpaid people, for all the classical musicians, museum curators, journalists – that’s why we’ve always had good press, frankly!”

In 1979, the Coulombe family sold their interest in Trader Joe’s to a German company, Albrecht Discounts. The brand’s corporate headquarters are now located in Monrovia.

Trader Joe’s boasts 470 stores in 41 states across the country and celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2017.

Since its inception, the chain has claimed to buy direct from growers and suppliers whenever possible, driving hard to bargain the best prices, capping costs, and passing those savings on to customers.

“Every penny we save is a penny you save,” goes the popular tagline to Trader Joe’s website and newsletter, “The Fearless Flyer.”

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