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Trader Joe’s sues Canada store selling its stuff as Pirate Joe’s

The first Trader Joe's opened in California in 1967. Founder Joe Coulombe got the idea for a South Seas motif while on vacation in the Caribbean, and noticing that Americans were traveling returning home with tastes for food and wine they had trouble satisfying in supermarkets of the time. This is the new Trader Joe's in Ballard. (Linda Thomas photo)

Chunky Guacamole, Mango Ginger Chutney, and Joe’s O’s cereal from a Trader Joe’s in Bellingham become Pirate Joe’s products once they cross the border into Canada.

A Vancouver businessman is stocking a grocery store with items he purchases from Trader Joe’s and resells.

Canadians apparently love Trader Joe’s but the California-based chain doesn’t have any of its grocery stores there. Businessman Michael Hallatt saw a market that wasn’t being satisfied.

After watching residents of Canada drive across the border to Washington to shop at the Trader Joe’s, he decided to open his own grocery store under the name Pirate Joe’s.

Lately, the “P” is missing from his name making him “irate Joe’s” as he has to respond to a lawsuit Trader Joe’s filed against him in U.S. District Court.

The complaint, filed May 1, claims Hallatt’s actions “have caused harm to Trader Joe’s in the state of Washington.”

The large chain says the Vancouver store is engaging in unpermitted use of trademarks causing “irreparable injury” to its brand.

The company says it’s protecting its copyright, and has filed suits before including one against a knock-off store called Trader John’s in New York.

Hallatt told a Vancouver news agency, The Province, that he will fight the lawsuit. He admits to reselling Trader Joe’s products but maintains he is not breaking any laws. People commonly buy products and resell them online and this is no different.

“Everyone gets what we’re doing. We’re earnestly supplying a good product at fair prices. Pirate Joe’s – as cheeky as it is – isn’t misrepresenting Trader Joe’s. Their name is right on the product,” he told The Province. “My right to resell their product is stronger than their right to protect their brand.”

The court will sort out that statement. Do you agree with Hallatt or Trader Joe’s on this?

Hallatt has a commerce license to bring the supplies across the border to Canada. He says his prices are higher because he adds in the costs incurred from gas, travel and border waits.

What is it about Trader Joe’s that’s so special?

“It has the feel of a small neighborhood store. I don’t like most grocery shopping but here I don’t get lost. The selection is a cut above too,” says Brian, a shopper at the Ballard Trader Joe’s.

“I like the organics, no preservatives, no artificial additives, and in general everything tastes healthier at Trader Joe’s compared with a regular supermarket,” says a shopper named Susan. “It’s also cheaper than other gourmet grocery stores.”

I’ve shopped at Trader Joe’s “cheaper” is not how I’d describe their foods, but they do have a more unique selection than my standard trips to Fred Meyer, Safeway or QFC.

While the larger stores typically stock around 50,000 items, Trader Joe’s carries a selection of about 4,000 items.

The company says about 80 percent of their products have the “Trader Joe’s” brand name on the label.


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