Trader Joe’s Sues Owner Of Store In Canada That Sells Only Trader Joe’s Items

Trader Joe’s has made it known that they want one of their best customers to stay away. That’s because he isn’t buying thousands of dollars’ worth of gluten-free granola and chocolate-covered potato chips for his household in Canada: he’s hauling them across the border to sell at his own shop, called Pirate Joe’s, at higher prices.

Trader Joe’s doesn’t operate any stores in Canada. For some reason, though, they have a problem with this man operating a store that’s decorated like a Trader Joe’s and sells nothing but Trader Joe’s products, which they place in paper bags from Trader Joe’s for their customers.

The company filed a federal lawsuit back in May, alleging federal trademark infringement, unfair competition, false endorsement and false designation of origin, false advertising, federal trademark dilution, injury to business and reputation, and deceptive business practices. In the suit, lawyers for Trader Joe’s explain why they have a problem with the store in Vancouver:

In addition to the re-sale of TRADER JOE’S-brand products in their store, Defendants have engaged in other conduct that misleads and deceives consumers into falsely believing that Pirate Joe’s and/or Transilvania Trading have been authorized or approved by Trader Joe’s. For example, Defendants have placed a sandwich board outside of their retail store containing the phrase “We Sell Trader Joe’s!” A sticker bearing the phrase “I [heart] TJ” is affixed to the back of Defendants’ cash register. Defendants also provide customers with shopping bags from Trader Joe’s, which prominently display the TRADER JOE’S trademark.

According to a recent article on the dispute in the San Francisco Chronicle, the store now has signs up pointing out the unofficial nature of the shop.

The Chronicle reports that stores all over the Pacific Northwest have his photo posted so employees know to kick him out before he can load up his cart with cookie butter. He has resorted to more exotic methods over time, including trips to more distant stores and dressing in drag.

The question is: do customers know the difference? Is everyone who shops at the store aware that Trader Joe’s doesn’t do business in Canada? Do they know the possible risks of buying gray market snacks? Do they care? In the suit, the company alleges that at least one Canadian customer has become sick from eating frozen food that had been hauled across the border by cargo van.

The parent company of Trader Joe’s, Aldi Nord in Germany, may have made a mistake by not suing the store in Canada. The Chronicle discussed the case with experts who pointed out that this case would be a lot easier if the pirate outpost were located in the United States.

Trader Joe’s drags a pirate to court [San Francisco Chronicle]
Lawsuit [PDF Download]