SALT LAKE CITY — From the outside, it looks like any other storefront at any other shopping center in the city. But shoppers are already antsy for the grand opening of Salt Lake City’s newest grocery store — Trader Joe’s.
The grocer, based in Monrovia, Calif., is scheduled to open its first Utah location on Friday at 634 E. 400 South, directly across the street from the former location of longtime competitor Whole Foods Market, which has since moved to nearby Trolley Square.
A few would-be patrons on Tuesday strolled by the front sliding doors that were draped in building wrap obscuring the view inside as workers busily tend to the final details of preparing the store for its 8 a.m. opening.
Founded in 1958, the grocery chain includes nearly 400 stores in 34 states, carrying an array of domestic and imported foods and beverages including fresh-baked artisan breads, Arabica bean coffees, international frozen entrées, juices, fresh crop nuts, deli items, and vitamins and supplements, as well as the basics like milk and eggs.
“Anything under the Trader Joe label doesn’t have any artificial flavoring, coloring or preservatives,” said Rory Violette, who has the title of "store captain." “We carry the basics … to the exotic — at a really good value.”
With its homey setting, locally created murals on the walls, handmade signs throughout the store, along with international and comfort foods, Trader Joe's is a corporate chain that's carved out a clever niche in the natural foods marketplace.
A key to its success may be the unique product lines and attractive pricing — and no formal advertising.
It's all a deliberate marketing scheme, according to Westminster College marketing professor Nancy Panos Schmitt.
“People swear by various categories of goods that you can only buy there obviously, so people are very excited about Trader Joe's,” she said.
Bob Harmon, vice president and co-owner of Utah–based Harmons Grocery, said his company has spent tens of millions of dollars on its stores over the past decade in an effort to compete with stores like Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods and Sprouts, which feature organics and grains among other things. He said he is also keeping track of what customers want and concentrating on local products.
“We've really re-engineered what we're offering to the consumer in terms of high quality fresh items, natural, organic,” Harmon said, whose company created its own excitement in February when it opened its downtown Salt Lake City market.
Trader Joe's brings buzz from newcomers to Utah used to finding "Orange Chicken" or other familiar items at Trader Joe's in California or other states.
"Trader Joe's is a really interesting store, and anybody who's into Whole Foods-type stuff would go to Trader Joe's," said George Chapman, a Salt Lake resident who has frequented Trader Joe's locations.
Contributing: Stephanie Grimes, Rich Piatt