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An action plan on Trader Joe’s

Idahoans are vigorously courting Trader Joe’s, the natural foods retailer with about 400 stores around the country.

The Facebook page dedicated to attracting a Trader Joe’s to Boise recently hit 4,000 “likes.” The developers of the 500,000-square-foot CenterCal project in Meridian have been promoting their development to the retailer. They say they’d be honored to have Trader Joe’s move in.

But like a shy maiden, Trader Joe’s coyly deflects direct questions. Representatives for the company, which is based in Boston and California, won’t reveal anything about Trader Joe’s take on Boise (if there is one) except to say the Treasure Valley is not in the company’s two- to three-year plan.

This hasn’t deterred Jared Buff, 35, from trying to find out more. Buff keeps the Facebook campaign strong, stoking the hopes of Treasure Valley-ites who share their Trader Joe’s stories on the page. An association manager by day, Buff hopes all the love on Facebook will kindle Trader Joe’s interest in Boise.

What is it about Trader Joe’s, anyway? Why are Boiseans practically begging for a store?

I think it’s the air of giddy delight that permeates the company’s marketing. Trader Joe’s is a large corporation with grocery stores all over the United States, but you wouldn’t know it to walk through one. Products come in creative packaging, with fun names like “reduced guilt guacamole.” Labels and guides (“for the culinarily curious”) are illustrated with lighthearted sketches bearing a Monty-Pythonesque irreverence.

The food itself exotic, imaginative, artisanal, often organic, vegan, kosher, or gluten-free.

But great artisanal food can be found in the Treasure Valley’s ever-growing collection of health food and specialty food stores, such as the Boise Coop, Rosauers, and Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage. As most foodies are now aware, Whole Foods is opening a store downtown this year.

What Trader Joe’s has, and those stores don’t, is a quirky air of fun. Sure, the air of fun is carefully calculated – the kind of fun that has been tested in front of focus in a corporate office, but it still makes rolling a cart through the aisles something of an adventure.

But it’s time to face the fact that Trader Joe’s isn’t interested in Boise. Perhaps we just don’t have the critical mass of foodies they need – or the critical mass, period.

So forget Trader Joe’s. Someone else needs to start a quirky market that offers intelligent and humane nutritional and cooking narratives on its website. It’s time for someone else to introduce a substitute for the famed Two Buck Chuck, a perfectly respectable wine beloved by many Trader Joe’s fans. It’s time for someone else to create a food store with labels and prose that appear to have been written by humans, not an office full of corporate communicators.

And it’s time to stop talking about Trader Joe’s on Facebook and bring that talk into the real world.

Find those Trader Joe’s Facebook friends. Find out what they want that they’re not getting at the other Boise-area food stores. And then start planning your store.

Future Boise store developer, wherever you are, you know you have your critical mass. Trader Joe’s has organized that part for you.

Anne Wallace Allen is managing editor of Idaho Business Review.


About Anne Wallace Allen

Anne Wallace Allen is the editor of the Idaho Business Review.


  1. Two Buck Chuck is disgusting and not even a real wine, grape musk is used to make the factory produced non wine product somewhat palatable. Trader Joe’s has great food for great prices, nothing like Whole Foods and nothing local stores could compete with. They make exclusive secret deals with food producers worldwide which is how they offer amazing products for good prices. Stay away for the two dollar wine, stick with the Simpler Times beer ;)

  2. It’s all about the price, amazing quality and quirky products. I was introduced to TJs in Chicago when a TJs moved into a building that was vacated by a grocery store chain. So my first visit was as if I was going to buy groceries and I was so disappointed. My TJ savvy friend made me go back and this time with a ‘tude…touch, taste, sniff, sample, imagine and be dazzled. And I’ve been blissfully addicted ever since. PLEASE come to Boise! I need my fix!!! Sorry Justin.

  3. @ Joan Wallace- I am glad that you can support the Co-op and I dearly love Whole Foods but the first few comments about price are totally right on. I am addicted to a certain body soap that I used to buy at TJ’s and was surprised that the exact same thing (size and all) was nearly double at the Co-op and 1/3 higher at one of the more fancy big chain grocers.

    The Eugene comparison that Justin mentioned does not work because they also have stores in Bend and other surrounding areas (which means that distribution to multiple locations in an area is more cost effective. But, on the bright side Justin, once they get one here, it will be easier for them to open a couple more (given our population base that you mentioned.

    @ Boisebluegirl, hook a brother up, yo.

    As for me, when it comes, I will rejoice. And then I will drive to where ever it is, until it spreads.

  4. Have to admit that while I love TJ’s…if they build in Meridian, I will rarely go. When I can shop the Co-op and this November, Whole Foods, I wouldn’t make a special trip to Meridian to shop Tj’s. Now if they land somewhere in Boise, it would be a place I would frequent. Once they trumped Whole Foods for wine…but no longer. I also think Whole Foods has excellent meat and fish departments. Finally, having lived near both, I can say that Whole Foods makes as big a contribution to the community as TJ’s. I remember once going to them for help with feeding 300+ for a playground build in an urban area and they contributed breakfast for the entire crew…

  5. I have long hoped that Trader Joe’s would come to the Treasure Valley. It just doesn’t make sense from the outside looking in. For example, Eugene has a Trader Joe’s, and the Boise-Meridian-Nampa MSA (620,000) dwarfs the Eugene-Springfield, OR MSA (about 380,000). I think there must be something else going on here. I now hope that Trader Joe’s stays away. Boise is too cool of a city to beg. If Trader Joe’s doesn’t want us, then to heck with them.

  6. Trader Joe’s will be here soon enough. They are currently building a distribution center to service the Northwest. They cannot service Boise properly without it. Stay tuned…patience is a virtue.

  7. It’s always exciting when Trader Joe’s comes to a new market. But what fascinated me was how Trader Joe’s built one of America’s most valuable brands while spending almost nothing on advertising. One thing’s for sure, they won’t tell you… It’s also one of America’s most secretive companies. That’s why after 20 years in the ad business, I had to take a $12/hour job there to research my book, “Build a Brand Like Trader Joe’s” (available on Amazon). For more info about this fascinating company, hit my blog,

  8. I too was surpised when reading this article that price was not mentioned. Yes, the stores are folksy and the products are unique. It’s definitely a great place to shop for holiday goodies and picnics. But the TJ’s experience for me is all about the price! I live in Boise but frequently work out of Seattle. TJ’s is across the street from my office and I never come home without stocking up on delicious, healthy, inexpensive treats. Basically, it’s a kitchy world-market vibe with Winco prices! The hipster staff are friendly and knowledgable. Best of all, TJ’s is deeply committed to the community. From donating thousand of meals to displaying the work of local artists and students, they feel more local than chain. Patiently waiting in Boise, TJ’s!

  9. You forgot to mention the price point of Trader Joe’s, whom none of the stores above that you mentioned can touch. And no local business that you’re hoping for will be able to match it. Never really understood the comparison between TJ’s and places like Whole Foods anyway. Yeah, there’s health food stuff, but I’ve always seen it as more of an alternative grocery store with higher quality and cheap prices than some niche health food place. Much of what I get there could certainly not be construed as health food.

    TJ’s has actively looked to place a store here. There was an article back in 2007 that mentioned they were looking at property. 3-4 years ago a rep and I were on the same plane flying into Boise and who told me verbatim that they were looking at property. And more recently I know someone whose husband/boyfriend had some business dealings with them. I think the original plans that were to place it in Eagle fell through, but point made. They’ve been here and they’ve been looking where to put it. I think it’s inevitable they’ll be here at some point, so I would say to not forget TJ’s and just wait this out. Their two-year plan is their stock response, but they defied that timeline with their upcoming SLC store (announced it in June, opening it by the end of the year). Maybe we’ll be on the fast track too.