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The Disturbing Truth About How Trader Joe’s Sources New Products

Trader Joe’s doesn’t seem like an evil brand. Their personality-driven backstory offers an irresistible underdog mentality that drives rabid brand fans who celebrate every new product arrival. Unfortunately, a story released this week reveals that many of their ethnic private label products may be blatantly stolen knock-offs of product ideas from small brands who had been negotiating with TJs before being abruptly ghosted.

While the brand’s knockoffs of big brand products (called “dupes”) has been widely known, those are often manufactured by large brands with confidential agreements anyway. In contrast, many food entrepreneurs–particularly those with ethnic food product ideas like Brooklyn Delhi (featured in the article)–have suggested that the brand regularly starts negotiations, lowballs them on wholesale pricing and then goes on to release nearly identical products a matter of months later.

In the food sector, proving theft of IP is notoriously difficult since recipes generally cannot be copyrighted … so the brand will likely face little to no legal repercussions. So, should you stop shopping at TJs? If you’re a brand fan, that’s probably hard advice to follow. But maybe consider skipping the “Trader Jose” or “Indian style” branded items and instead buying ethnic foods like achaar directly from an entrepreneur’s websites at other retailers where these food startups are treated fairly, maintain their brand and can profit off their own inventions. 

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#1 WSJ & USA Today Bestselling Author

Rohit is the author of 10 books on trends, the future of business, building a more human brand with storytelling and how to create a more diverse and inclusive world.


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