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zoramargolis

Uh Oh Trader Joe

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Trader Joe's is a subsidiary of a multinational grocery company that also operates Aldi. That liberals and urbanites have adopted Trader Joes as something akin to Whole Foods has made me laugh since I discovered the ownership overlap. Aldi's is a bulk grocery chain that specializes in good old fashion generics (i.e. remember the black and white cans when generics were new, before store brands?)

It is not a touchy feely company, we just want it to be!

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Trader Joe's is a subsidiary of a multinational grocery company that also operates Aldi.

It's actually more complicated than that. Karl and Theo Albrecht split Aldi into two separate companies decades ago, with Karl taking Aldi Süd and Theo taking Aldi Nord. Both companies operate stores in Europe under variants of the Aldi name. In the US, Aldi Süd operates the Aldi stores, which in my experience are dreary places similar to Save-a-Lot (not just generics, but merchandise piled in stacks on the floor), while Aldi Nord operates Trader Joe's. (Aldi is short for Albrecht Discount.) Theo Albrecht died last year; Karl is still living and is the richest man in Germany, and the 12th richest in the world, according to Forbes.

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It's actually more complicated than that. Karl and Theo Albrecht split Aldi into two separate companies decades ago, with Karl taking Aldi Süd and Theo taking Aldi Nord. Both companies operate stores in Europe under variants of the Aldi name. In the US, Aldi Süd operates the Aldi stores, which in my experience are dreary places similar to Save-a-Lot (not just generics, but merchandise piled in stacks on the floor), while Aldi Nord operates Trader Joe's. (Aldi is short for Albrecht Discount.) Theo Albrecht died last year; Karl is still living and is the richest man in Germany, and the 12th richest in the world, according to Forbes.

It's even more complicated than that. TJ is owned by a foundation owned in turn by the Theo Albrecht family, but legally and operationally is separate from Aldi Nord.

BTW Aldi is better than you suggest. Yes it is mostly their own store brands, but their stuff is pretty good. The stores are very Spartan, which is all part of how they do everything as economically as possible. Their prices are unbeatable, and the quality is decent. Very limited selection. Their chocolate, for example, is as good a deal as you are likely to find.

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I'd add just two things to the discussion:

1. Not to defend large, faceless corporations blindly but there are examples of some, though multi-billion and publicly traded, who have serious, funded and sincere social responsibility efforts whether organic or in the wake of acquisition. This isn't to say those same corps don't also do harm or pursue profit before any other goal--they often do. But, sometimes, they are more complicated than simply good or evil whether from a parent corporation level (e.g., Starbucks, Herman Miller, Whole Foods) or after acquisition (e.g., Unilever's Ben & Jerry's unit--interesting NYT piece on this here).

2. The tomato worker tragedy behind the Immokalee/CIW's Fair Food initiative is a largely unknown but incredibly important story for the general public to learn. Tomatoland, a new book by Barry Estabrook featured extensively on NPR, is a great and eye-opening piece of work that I'm reading now. To me, it's cut from the same creative cloth as some of the best documentary films: it will change minds and behaviors. Back cover testimonials include:

- "With great skill and compassion, Estabrook explores the science, ingenuity, and human misery behind the modern American tomato. Once again, the true cost is too high to pay." -- Eric Schlosser

- "In my ten years as editor of Gourmet magazine, the article I am proudest to have published was Barry Estabrook's 'The Price of Tomatoes'....If you have ever eaten a tomato--or ever plan to--you must read Tomatoland..." -- Ruth Reichl

- "If you worry, as I do, about the sad and sorry state of the tomato today, and want to know what a tomato used to be like and what it could hopefully become again, read Barry Estabrook's Tomatoland..." -- Jacques Pepin

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Thanks for the reminder about Tomatoland. I remember reading "The Price of Tomatoes" and agree with Ruth Reichl. That was one of the most disturbing pieces of investigative reporting I've ever read. I haven't bought a grocery store tomato since.

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I too appreciate the reminder about Tomatoland. I heard the author speak on FreshAir and it's on my reading list. I have already decided not to eat tomatoes out of season based on what I heard on the show!

Additionally, I love the additional information I have learned about Aldi's ownership of Trader Joes.

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BTW Aldi is better than you suggest. Yes it is mostly their own store brands, but their stuff is pretty good. The stores are very Spartan, which is all part of how they do everything as economically as possible. Their prices are unbeatable, and the quality is decent. Very limited selection. Their chocolate, for example, is as good a deal as you are likely to find.

My experience with Aldi in the US is limited to a single store in Wilson, North Carolina. I certainly stand by my characterization of "dreary" with respect to that store. The selection was so limited on my one visit to the store that I couldn't find a single thing that I wanted to buy, and left empty handed. I don't eat chocolate; if I did, maybe my impression would have been better.

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