Convenience, Desire for Exclusive Products Behind Rise of Grocery Free Agents

By Nguyen, Linda | The Canadian Press, July 19, 2016 | Go to article overview

Convenience, Desire for Exclusive Products Behind Rise of Grocery Free Agents


Nguyen, Linda, The Canadian Press


The rise of grocery industry's free agents

--

TORONTO - It's one of Vancouver's worst-kept secrets.

Since 2012, diehard fans of U.S. grocery chain Trader Joe's have been able to get their hands on Speculoos Cookie Butter and Triple Ginger Snaps at a tiny storefront in the city's Kitsilano neighbourhood.

The cheekily named Pirate Joe's, which first opened under the guise of a traditional Romanian bakery, has shelves and shelves of more than 1,000 Trader Joe's products and was the brainchild of owner and founder Mike Hallatt.

After being closed for four months, the store is set to reopen this week at a bigger location.

Hallatt says customers gravitate towards his business because of brand loyalty and a frustration with the choices and prices at his big-box grocery competitors.

"There are people who appreciate the selection that having Trader Joe's products in Vancouver gives them. Right now, with the consolidation of the grocery industry, you're just seeing the usual suspects more and more often," he said.

"The distributors are consolidating and you're just ending up with very few players. What happens is that innovation always, always, slacks off when you have consolidation like that because people are able to raise the prices and drop the selection."

Like many foodies, Hallatt was well aware that Trader Joe's had a cult following, with Canadians flocking to the U.S. on shopping trips and numerous websites dedicated to their favourite products.

In 2012, Hallatt began taking weekly trips to the nearest Trader Joe's in Bellingham, Wash., about 90 kilometres away and stuffed his Honda Element with groceries.

The popularity of the store grew as word of mouth spread. Hallatt soon found himself making more frequent trips south of the border and even hiring local workers -- mostly college students and retired grandmothers -- to do his shopping.

Trader Joe's quickly learned about Pirate Joe's and hit back by launching legal action in the United States.

The U.S. Federal Court eventually sided with Hallatt, ruling that Trader Joe's could not prove that it was suffering economic hardship as a result of Pirate Joe's operations because the U. …

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