Trader Joe's and Whole Foods Take Stock Before Opening
Residents want to see one of the grocery chains open in East Brunswick. But each company has its reasons for when and where they open.
There are more than a few vacant storefronts along East Brunswick, and when asked, more than a few residents say they want a Trader Joe’s or a Whole Foods to fill the void.
But it’s not always that simple. Each company has it’s own standards and requirements that have to be met before they expand into an area, and even then, meeting those standards doesn’t necessarily mean the companies will come.
“It’s all laid out on the web,” said Whole Foods spokesman Michael Sinatra. “People always think it’s financially driven, they think it’s about income. But one thing we do look at is the number of college educated people in an area.”
Sinatra said that shoppers with college degrees are often more interested in the type of food they’re putting into their body, creating a demand for natural or organic foods.
Both Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s invite people to visit their websites and suggest areas for new stores. According to the Whole Food’s site, some requirements include: having 200,000 or more people within a 20-minute drive time; a location that’s between 25,000 and 50,000 square feet; that there be a large number of college-educated residents; ample parking for the store’s exclusive use; a stand alone location preferably; easy access from roadways, lighted intersection; excellent visibility directly off the street; and that the location be in a high traffic area either by foot or vehicle.
But even if an area meets all those requirements, Whole Foods may still not come, said Sinatra. The small company is just a little over 30 years old, and only has been in the Northeast for 10 years. The slowly expanding grocery chain expects to open just 20 to 35 new locations nationwide this year—with an eventual goal of 1,000 stores nationwide—with only one to four of those sites in the Tri-State area.
Sinatra said the company could consider opening a location in the area, but not necessarily in East Brunswick, and for now the company is content with its locations in Princeton and the one in development in Marlboro.
“We’re very selective in what we do. We don’t grow fast in that every store is custom built for the community,” said Sinatra.
Like Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s also encourages residents to suggest particular locations for new stores. The grocery chain did not return several calls from the East Brunswick Patch. In addition, several real estate professionals in the area who have worked with Trader Joe's say they are forbidden to speak to the press about the grocery story chain.
However the store has responded to residents in the past. In a letter sent to an East Brunswick resident in 2004, Brandt Sharrock, vice president of real estate for Trader Joe’s, said: “We are currently focusing on more densely populated areas. We only open 12-14 stores per year in the Midwest and East Coast combined, and therefore need to focus on our target markets.
“As we continue to open more stores nationwide, I will continue to track the census data in your area and reevaluate East Brunswick as we determine the need for infill stores in the New Jersey suburbs.”
The chain has about 375 stores and was founded in in the late 1950s. Supermarket Weekly, ranked the chain No. 22 in its list of Top 75 food retailers in North America that achieved annual sales in excess of $1 billion.
Trader Joe’s also has been described by CNN Money as “an offbeat, fun discovery zone that elevates food shopping from a chore to a cultural experience. It stocks its shelves with a winning combination of low-cost, yuppie-friendly staples (cage-free eggs and organic blue agave sweetener) and exotic, affordable luxuries—Belgian butter waffle cookies or Thai lime-and-chili cashews—that you simply can't find anyplace else.
“Employees dress in goofy trademark Hawaiian shirts, hand stickers out to your squirming kids, and cheerfully refund your money if you're unhappy with a purchase—no questions asked.”
In addition, its Trader Joe’s line of foods is sought after by many shoppers, with the coffee, wine, chocolate and veggie burgers among the favorite purchases.
In a story titled Center 18 Business Owners Seek Anchor Store, resident Liti Haramaty and others said they would like to see either chain—Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s—open in East Brunswick.
“Both chains sell high quality food, lots of it 'organic.' Apparently EB residents miss having a high quality food store close to home. Many of us travel to Princeton or Westfield to shop at these chains. Whole Foods is very expensive and would not be my first choice, now that local supermarkets carry a large selection of 'organic' foods. Trader Joe’s has a great selection of prepared foods that don't contain additives such as food coloring and preservatives.”
Despite the reluctance of each chain to move into East Brunswick, residents are not discouraged, with some encouraging others to log on to the companies' websites and request that they move into town.