Trader Joe’s Marketed the First Reusable Shopping Bag
By Kaye Nemec
About 20 years ago, groceries were often carried in brown paper bags.
One day, someone realized that we were wasting too many trees, so many grocery stores changed to plastic bags. Then somebody realized that plastic bags didn’t decompose in landfills. Now, we’re finally transitioning to reusable bags. These bags cost at least $1 each, sometimes more, and you can re-use them for a long time.
They are an excellent solution to the shopping bag dilemma, at least when you remember to bring them in the store with you. They don’t rip like paper bags and they hold much more weight than plastic bags. But, be careful, you should wash these bags regularly since they can be a breading ground for bacteria.
It turns out that Trader Joe’s was the first super market to offer reusable bags in 1977 with their “save-a-tree” canvas grocery bags.
Most of our international readers and even many of our US readers may not have heard of Trader Joe’s. They’re extremely popular in Southern California and they have stores in about half of the other states. Even if you haven’t heard of Trader Joe’s, you’ve likely heard of their owner, German supermarket giant, Aldi.
Aldi is a global supermarket brand that has been around since 1961. They have over 8,200 stores and operates in 18 countries. Aldi was started by the Albrecht brothers and that’s where the name Aldi comes from — it means, “Albrecht Discount.”
The first Trader Joes was opened by Joe Coulombe in 1967. In 1979 Coulombe sold the company to Theo Albrecht, who created the trust that owns Trader Joe’s to this day.
Despite the relationship, Trader Joe’s and Aldi are very different – Trader Joe’s is a bright, island-themed store filled with hard-to-find, unique and upscale food selections at a great value. In addition to their innovative selection, Trader Joe’s also offers a wide variety of organic, natural, vegetarian, gluten free and vegan selections. In fact, in 2007 Trader Joe’s eliminated all added Trans fats from all of their private label products. Trans Fats were just the next thing to go in a list that already included artificial colors, flavors, preservatives and genetically modified ingredients.
At Trader Joe’s at least 10 new items can usually be found in the stores each week. You’ll usually have no problem finding an employee to help you with product questions and to ring you up and bag your selections for you. Shopping at Trader Joe’s is an experience, an event, it makes grocery shopping fun.
Like Trader Joe’s, shopping at Aldi is an experience, although in a much different way. It too has a small store format and limited selection with very low prices, but the store looks more like a warehouse – no frills, no decorations and certainly no “character.” Most of the products are stacked in cardboard boxes on pallets instead of actual shelves. Their slogan, “Honest to Goodness Savings,” sums up their philosophy, which is to bring their customers high quality food at the lowest possible price. Aldi only carries around 1400 of the most frequently purchased household and grocery items and 95% of them are store brand – not name brands you’ll recognize.
At Aldi you have to work a little harder for your savings. With only one register open most of the time, customers are moved through the line quickly and they’re responsible for bagging all of their own groceries at a separate counter to make space for the next guest. Looking for a cart to put your purchases in? You must deposit a quarter in order to get a cart and you’ll get your quarter back when you actually return the cart to the store instead of leaving it in the parking lot.
Domestically, a number of vendors create products under both labels – so some products you find at Aldi may be the same things you find in different packaging at Trader Joe’s. Since Trader Joe’s does not exist in the European market, some of their store brand products have begun to pop up on Aldi shelves there.
The next time someone asks if you want paper or plastic, thanks to Trader Joe’s, you can say “neither.”