Here’s Why You Don’t Have Trader Joe’s In Your City

Go into the search bar on Facebook and starting typing:

Bring Trader Joe’s to…

And you’ll see that those four words alone will bring up page after page of communities begging  for the trendy grocer to come to their city with pleas like:

“We’re in a metro area of more than 200,000 people, we could support it.”

“Your gluten free cookies are to die for, please help a girl out.”

“I’m tired of driving 4 hours to get my favorite peanut butter.”

Why all the love for a grocery store chain that’s been around for nearly 40 years? Beth Kowitt for Fortune Magazine summarizes it well:

“Trader Joe’s is no ordinary grocery chain. It’s 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….A Trader Joe’s brings with it good jobs, and its presence in your community is like an affirmation that you and your neighbors are worldly and smart.”

As of 2015, the grocery store had 451 stores nationwide, but it’s looking for input on where to go next. There is a special page on their website where you can put in your request.

You can fill out the request until the Trader-Joe’s-Organic-Milk-producing cows come home, but that doesn’t mean you’re getting a store.

Trader Joe’s is notoriously tight-lipped about its business and its expansion plans. But experts speculate that much of it depends upon TJ’s distribution network and business model.

Let me explain: Trader Joe’s is quick to point out on its homepage that what sets them apart from other retailers is their ability to buy directly from suppliers whenever possible. Then they buy in volume and pass the savings onto customers. Those products must be kept in one of Trader Joe’s distribution centers.

Sam Burer, a professor of management sciences at the University of Iowa, wrote in a blog post that “choosing the next store location is a critical business decision for Trader Joe’s….It makes sense that a good location would be fairly close to an existing warehouse.”

But one of the problems is that Trader Joe’s is even tight-lipped about where its distribution centers are, so it’s hard to know who the next lucky recipient of a TJ store might be.

Fortunately, Dr. Burer put on his Sherlock Holmes hat and started investigating. He analyzed the locations of every Trader Joe’s location and was able to put them into 22 definite clusters. From there he could speculate about the existence of a distribution warehouse in that approximate area. (He goes into great detail about his methodology in his post).

Elementary, my dear Dr. Burer.

He came up with this very cool map.

Map of Trader Joe's known (green) and suspected warehouses (red) by Dr. Sam Burer, University of Iowa Department of Management Sciences. Stores are in blue.
Map of Trader Joe’s known (green) and suspected (red)  warehouses by Dr. Sam Burer, University of Iowa Department of Management Sciences. (Stores are in blue.)

The 451 stores are in blue, known warehouses in green, and guessed warehouses in red.

For those of us who live in the Dakotas, it appears that our nearest distribution center or warehouse is likely in the Des Moines, Iowa, area. That also appears to be the center that supplies the Twin Cities market, home to 7 Trader Joe’s stores.

So how do we get a Trader Joe’s in Fargo/Moorhead, Grand Forks, or Bismarck? The answer seems to be in getting a distribution center built a little closer to home. If I must speculate – the Twin Cities – for example. Dear Trader Joe’s, I hear White Bear Lake is lovely this time of year.


Or if we want to go completely nuts by looking at the geography, it might make sense to build a warehouse in an even more central location like Pierre, South Dakota, which could then serve the entire Dakotas/Wyoming/Montana region, thus knocking out nearly half of the nine states that currently don’t have Trader Joe’s stores. (The other five states include Alaska, Arkansas, Hawaii, Mississippi, and West Virginia). Of course, Pierre is hardly a major metropolitan area, so getting products in and out of the region might raise some challenges.

But then again, you never know, right?

Perhaps the key is not to start Facebook pages with titles such as Bring Trader Joe’s to insert town name here,” but rather start pages that read “Bring Trader Joe’s Distribution Center or Warehouse Centers to insert town name here.

Hardly a succinct rallying cry, but we’ll do whatever we can for those lime and chili cashews.