Trader Joe's Sign

Trader Joe’s Charts Its Course for Affordable Sustainability

Retailer is following its own multipronged path to achieve business growth and offer products that meet responsible parameters
Lynn Petrak
Senior Editor
a woman smiling for the camera
Trader Joe's produce bag
Trader Joe's introduced reusable shopping bags in 1977 and now offers compostable bags in the produce section.

While ALDI and Trader Joe’s are completely separate businesses, some consider them to be cousins of sorts in the retail industry. Both operators can trace their roots to the Albrecht family that founded the original retailing business, which later split into Aldi Süd and Aldi Nord.

Part of Aldi Nord since 1979, Monrovia, Calif.-based Trader Joe’s maintains sustainability as a cornerstone of its operations, as does the ALDI USA business of Aldi Süd. Its stores are also smaller than typical supermarkets, and its private label offerings help keep costs and resources down.

[RELATED: ALDI Strikes a Balance Between Price and Planet]

As a privately held company, Trader Joe’s hasn’t recently published the same kind of sustainability progress report that ALDI shares, but the chain does tout its efforts in recyclability and reusability. Indeed, its reusable shopping totes can be considered a fashion accessory of sorts, with shoppers looking forward to the latest designs. (Fun fact: Trader Joe’s is credited as the first grocer to provide reusable bags, way back in 1977.) Additionally, customers encounter compostable bags in the produce department as they stock up on fresh fruits and vegetables, arguably finding them easier to open than the regular plastic bags usually provided in produce sections. 

Another avenue for reducing waste is through food rescue efforts. The company recently reported that through its Neighborhood Program, crew and nonprofit partnerships, it’s been able to share more than 104 million pounds of food to those in need. 

Meanwhile, a big signal of sustainability to Trader Joe’s shoppers — and central to its business — is the high number of organic and natural products offered at its stores. The grocer assures customers that its Trader Joe’s branded products contain no artificial flavors or preservatives, and are made with colors derived only from naturally available products. During the R&D phase, Trader Joe’s asks suppliers to provide documentation that ingredients come from non-GMO sources, and the company conducts random audits of items with potentially suspect ingredients.

That commitment to sustainability extends to Trader Joe’s popular seafood products. The retailer aims to procure fresh and packaged seafood from sustainable sources, dropping items deemed non-sustainable, like Chilean sea bass and frozen swordfish from Southeast Asia, and adding items that align with the Seafood Watch list.

As Trader Joe’s adds more stores — a location in Middletown, N.J., is expected to open this year, and a new site is reportedly in the works in the Nashville market — the retailer is following its own multipronged path to provide price savings for customers, achieve business growth and offer products that meet its responsibility parameters. As for its release of a sustainability progress update this year, time will tell. 

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