March 06, 2009

Trader Joe, meet Trader John

I worked in New York’s Union Square for 5 years. If I needed a loaf of bread or a gallon of milk, I had 6 grocery stores to choose from: D’agostino, Gristedes, Whole Foods, Food Emporium, Garden of Eden, and Trader Joes.

So what could possibly be newsworthy about another grocery store opening on West 14th street?

It’s the name. In January the store affixed its new awning and on it were the words: “Trader John’s”. Yes, you read that right. John’s. Trader Joe’s, unsurprisingly, has filed a suit against the operator of the new store, suggesting the name infringes on their trademark. The CEO of Gristedes Foods, who owns Trader John’s, says that his name is John, and therefore he has a right to name one of his chains after himself.

So where is the line drawn between borrowing equity, and stealing it? I can’t help but be reminded of a
scene from the movie Coming to America, where the owner of a fast-food copy-cat explains, “See, they’re McDonald’s… I’m McDowell’s. They got the Golden Arches, mine is the Golden Arcs. They got the Big Mac, I got the Big Mick.”

Sure, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but not when you are competing for the same customers, in the same neighborhood. Although I think Trader Joe’s will prevail, there are certainly similar brands in other markets (such as Century 21 and Forever 21, both clothing stores in the New York area) that I never thought would coexist. This one may surprise us.

Contributed by: Maghan Cook

One Comment

  1. Mrs. A.M. Nettles   March 24, 2009 3:09 pm / Reply

    Of course these copy-cat brands can and do coexist. Usually there is an ever-so-slight difference between the competing brands–both fulfilling the needs of the consumer–as in the case of Kellogg’s Rice Krispies and Kroger’s Crispy Rice. Pour the milk on Rice Krispies and you’ll hear, snap, crackle, pop. Pour the milk on Crispy Rice and you’ll hear snap, crackle…thereby satisfying those breakfast eaters who wish not to be annoyed by unnecessary cereal noise.

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