For those not familiar with Trader Joe's here's a primer:
- Founded in 1958 in Pasadena, California
- Originally a health food store, the chain evolved to carry more eclectic, specialty items (I remember going to one after school and spitting out a chocolate bar after reading the label and seeing it was actually carob).
- Trader Joe's sells the vast majority of its products under its own brand. They will go to producers and buy a run of their product allowing them to brand it as a Trader Joe's product.
- The company uses various monikers depending on the product. French products like crepes may come from Trader Jacques, salsas may be from Trader Jose's, Italian from Trader Giotto and in a departure, Chinese products are branded Trader Ming's.
- Other products, mainly beer and wine, keep their brand name.
- Everything sold in the stores is prepackaged (i.e. no butcher counters or cheese counters, but heck, we're in Florida and not used to having nice butcher and cheese counters anyway).
- Besides readymade products, there's assortments of olive oils, vinegars, salts, etc. for those that prefer to make their own meals. Their California Garlic Powder is the best garlic powder you didn't know you needed.
- Stores are set up in a vaguely tiki-Polynesian theme. Workers wear Hawaiian floral shirts and are paid above industry standard wages with above-industry standard benefits.
Trader Joe's customers range from occasional to loyal to maniacal. I fall into category #1 because I don't have a Trader Joe's anywhere near me so I can only visit on occasions when I'm in another city and the latter because when I visit a city with TJ's I drop at least two bills on things to take back. There are fan pages, Facebook pages, cookbooks and probably tattoos dedicated to their stores, products and rumors of upcoming stores and products.
Although Whole Foods and Fresh Market, along with grocery sections in Target and Walmart, have recently made significant pushes into South Florida, this area remains a one horse town when it comes to supermarkets. As with the "he who must not be named" character in the Harry Potter series, I abhor this supermarket chain so much that I refuse to use its name. Suffice it to say that I hope Trader Joe's puts a dent in their business and enlightens some Floridians to what they've been missing.
All this excitement about one store in Naples seems premature, but when Trader Joe's goes into a region, they do so with a plan to expand. One store in Atlanta in 2006 has grown to eight in 5 years in Atlanta metro alone (during that time the chain also opened in Raleigh, Charlotte and Chapel Hill, NC). So there's a very good chance that we'll be seeing Trader Joe's across Florida very soon (and this is my my unabashed plea to open one in a central location in Miami) and when that happens, you'll have an even better chance of seeing an expat living in Florida smiling.