Rarely has a grocery so small garnered such deeply loyal -- some say fanatical
-- followers as Trader Joe's, a California-based chain that is opening its
first Metroplex store at 8 a.m. Friday in Fort Worth.
"There's a lot of buzz," said Yogi Florsheim, whose Yogi's Bagel Cafe is across South Hulen Street from the 12,500-square-foot store, in a space originally occupied by Ronnie's, a wine shop and gourmet bakery. "Many, like me, have shopped there in other states and the rest have heard about it. I really don't think they're going to have enough parking spaces."
Whenever Judie Byrd flies to Phoenix, her first stop is at Trader Joe's to stock up on house-brand shredded wheat, nuts, creamy tomato soup, chicken broth, mango black tea and its famous, budget-priced Charles Shaw wine, aka "Two Buck Chuck." (The bargain-bin cognoscenti recommend the pinot grigio and cabernet sauvignon.)
"We have a list of what we buy each time," said Byrd, founder of the Culinary School of Fort Worth and a food writer. "I love the price point and the quality, but I'm a huge Central Market person, and Trader Joe's won't have that extravagant, holiday atmosphere. It's more utilitarian."
Analysts agree. While they give Trader Joe's the highest marks for executing its strategy -- and say it has yet to fail in a market -- they predict that the chain won't give competitors that much pain. It's difficult to do an entire week's shopping at Trader Joe's because of its limited assortment, said John Rand of Kantar Retail and Jim Hertel of Willard Bishop.
Some 80 percent of its 4,000 or so items are house brands, priced cheaper than national brands. (By comparison, traditional supermarkets carry tens of thousands of items, and only in recent years have those chains emphasized private-label products.)
"It does a wonderful job selling the whole deal," Hertel said. "They kind of romance the whole Trader Joe's brand: Trader Jose's for Mexican foods, Trader Giotti's for Italian and Trader Ming's for Asian. They're very good at generating their image with rustic-looking circulars that make the mimeographed tests we took as kids look good.
"I had to buy a new freezer when they came to Chicago," Hertel said, referring to its frozen main courses. "They have good-tasting food, and it's cheaper than going out. I especially like their crabcakes."
A crowded market
Employees wear bright Hawaiian shirts, and the stores promote an almost self-mocking mythology of, say, traveling up the Amazon to bring back the best Brazil nuts or other exotic products. Yet their buyers spend considerable time and money tracking down new items, looking out for new food trends here and abroad, Rand said.
In 2009, Whole Foods Market CEO John Mackey told The Wall Street Journal that his upscale natural-food chain is mindful of its rival.
"In competing with Trader Joe's, we have a policy that our 365 private label [line] has to match Trader Joe's prices, unless there is a significant difference in quality, in which case it probably shouldn't be a 365 product."
Whole Foods, which has a store in Arlington, aims to open a Fort Worth store next year near Edwards Ranch Road.
Established grocery chains in North Texas expressed no worry about yet another rival in what Central Market's chief called one of the most
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