Trader Joe's, a California-based, German-owned specialty grocer famous for its "two-buck Chuck" wine, said Tuesday that it is seeking store sites throughout Texas, mentioning the competitive Dallas-Fort Worth and greater Houston regions.
"We're excited about bringing Trader Joe's to the wonderful cities, towns and neighborhoods in and around Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston and beyond," said Alison Mochizuki, a chain spokeswoman. "We are actively looking for sites and we're anxious to identify some great locations and begin hiring crew members."
Mochizuki declined to say how many stores would open or when.
The 365 Trader Joe's stores have built a loyal following for having offered drinkable Charles Shaw-label wines at $2 -- now $3 or more, depending on transportation costs -- as well as gourmet condiments, sauces and high-quality, low-price frozen prepared food, said Jim Hertel, managing partner of Willard Bishop, an Illinois-based retail food consultant. "Two-buck Chuck sets the tone for the whole store," Hertel said in a telephone interview.
"They call themselves a unique grocery store, and I would agree," he went on. "They are limited-assortment stores with affordable natural and organics, and primarily sell their own brands -- sometimes with a touch of whimsy." A line of Hispanic-oriented foods is called Trader Jose's.
Employees are decked out in loud Hawaiian shirts and sometimes hand out free chocolate-chip cookies.
"It's a great place to shop," although the produce section can be uneven, Hertel said.
Hertel and Fort Worth-based retail consultant Vic Gallese agreed that traditional supermarket chains like Kroger and Safeway's Tom Thumb wouldn't be hurt by Trader Joe's entry here. If anyone suffers, they said, it would likely be Central Market, the natural food and gourmet supermarkets owned by San Antonio-based H.E. Butt Grocery Co., and Austin-based Whole Foods.
Gallese speculated that Trader Joe's might locate stores near Whole Foods or Central Market locations because they attract the same sort of shopper. "And they could steal them away with lower prices," he predicted. "They're very sharp."
Typically, Trader Joe's doesn't saturate a market with stores. There are just four in all of Missouri, scattered broadly around St. Louis, with a fifth coming soon across the state in Kansas City. The closest store to Fort Worth is in Leawood, Kan., 455 miles away.
Trader Joe's is owned by the traditionally closed-mouthed Albrecht family of Germany, which also runs the steep-discount Aldi chain. Decades ago the family split its northern and southern European holdings between feuding brothers Karl and Theo Albrecht. Aldi Sued (South), run by Karl until his retirement, operates the chain's U.S. namesake stores. Aldi Nord, run by Theo until his death, acquired Trader Joe's in 1979, and the chain is reportedly still managed independently of the U.S. Aldi stores.
Aldi entered North Texas a year ago. It was joined in the limited-assortment sector in January by Phoenix-based Sprouts Farmers Market, a value-priced natural food retailer.
Aside from independent and small Hispanic-oriented chains, the battle for the food dollar is being waged by such national players as Wal-Mart, Target, Kroger, Albertsons Llc. and Safeway/Tom Thumb, and by regional chains like H.E. Butt's HEB, Market Street United, Brookshire's and Fiesta, putting North Texas among the nation's most fiercely competitive regions. Sav-a-Lot, a banner of the Minneapolis SuperValue chain, also competes here.