Trader Joe’s and the right-not-to know where your food comes from.

Everybody likes Trader Joe’s. I like Trader Joe’s.  People like it because of the affordable prices for organic foods and eclectic mix of products. But how do we know that Trader Joe’s is on the level about their products? After all, Joe’s is owned by a multi-national corporation that was headed by the 9th richest man in the world, the late Theo Albrecht, who owns the Aldi chain. We hate multi-national corporations, right?

Joe’s has a tight-lipped policy about who their suppliers are. On their website they assure customers they adhere to strict standards when it comes to their suppliers. On their website they claim they require their suppliers to:

…represent and warrant that the goods sold to TJ’s were produced, harvested, manufactured, processed, packaged, labeled, transported, delivered, and sold in compliance with all applicable federal, state, and local laws and regulations of the United States of America and all of its subdivisions and, if applicable, the laws of any other country, state, or international governing body… that the goods sold to TJ’s were not produced, harvested, manufactured, processed, packaged, labeled, transported, or delivered using forced or prison labor or forced or illegal child labor

Great. But there is no way to find out for sure because they won’t release who their suppliers are. Organic consumers want to know where their food comes from. So why do they give Joe’s a pass? What does Joe have to hide? Big noise is being made in California about the right-to-know which foods are GMO. Why don’t organic consumers demand the same from Joe?  Could it be the eco-greenie folks don’t want to know that their beloved Trader Joe might be Traitor Joe? <snark off>

Joe’s fought efforts to force them to be more transparent with their supply chain. Back in 2010, the website Sustainable Industries wrote a lengthy piece on the company’s lack of transparency.

“There are only a few enlightened retailers out there who approach the retail food business in such a way that they’re able to capture value for sustainably produced products and Trader Joe’s is one of them,” says an anonymous source who has experience selling to the stores. “That said, they’re a professional sourcing company—no one does it better—and it’s easy for them to shift from, say, a sustainable product to a ‘like’ product that doesn’t necessarily embrace sustainability, and it’s all private-label so it’s hard to trace that.”

Back in 2007, the organic advocacy group, Cornucopia Institute confirmed that some of Joe’s milk came from factory farms.

Trader’s Joe’s is more than likely on the level. But the issue is not that. It’s about transparency for the people who care about that kind of thing.

In other Trader Joe’s news:

Joe’s is well-known for paying its workers twice the minimum wage, but for years they refused to sign and agreement that would give a penny-a-pound increase to the low paid field workers in Florida who picked their tomatoes. There were protests in front of many of the stores to pressure them to sign the agreement. They finally did sign it this past February. By contrast, chains such as Taco Bell, McDonald’s, Burger King and Whole Foods signed the agreement years ago.

Barry Estabrook, who wrote the book Tomatoland,  told the Huffington Post that when he talked to Trader Joe’s in the fall of 2011, “he found the company’s attitude to be “almost belligerent” when a group of religious leaders tried to present it with a petition in October of last year.” 


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