Pirate Joe's

The man behind Pirate Joe's is being sued by Trader Joe's, which accuses him of trademark infringement, unfair competition, deceptive business practices, and a host of other charges.

Pirate Joe's is a hit

Yelp reviews are mostly positive, with users thanking them for a "clean store with all the familiar Trader Joe's labels."

Tickled pink

Maybe Trader Joe's should just open a shop in Canada?

Yelp reviews of Pirate Joe's

Customers don't seem to care that the prices are slightly higher.

Meet "Pirate Joe's," The Trader Joe's Bootleggers

Trader Joe's is suing one of its best customers--a Vancouver store called Pirate Joe's, which sells unauthorized imports of Trader Joe's products in Canada. (Why didn't we think of that?)

Trader Joe's offers Americans reasonably priced gourmet food that is, objectively, freakin' delicious. Now the secretive grocery giant is chasing after a brave Canadian entrepreneur who wants his countrymen to enjoy cookie butter and meatless meatballs. You see, Michael Hallatt is a Vancouver resident who runs a store called Pirate Joe's which sells Trader Joe's imports to Canadians at a reasonable markup. He's now being sued by Trader Joe's, which accuses him of trademark infringement, unfair competition, deceptive business practices, and a host of other charges.

Hallatt has cleverly renamed his store "Irate Joe's" since the lawsuit was filed, but customers seem to love the place. Yelp reviews are mostly positive, with users thanking them for a "clean store with all the familiar Trader Joe's labels." In an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, Hallatt said, "Trader Joe's thinks Canadians are too ignorant not to tell the difference between the empire and my little shop on Fourth Avenue." A sign outside the store reads "Unauthorized. Unaffiliated. Unafraid."

The store is stocked thanks to weekly shopping trips across the border that usually end with Hallatt buying $4,000-$5,000 worth of food. Pacific Northwest Trader Joe's locations have been given his picture along with instructions not to let him in the store, so it's been a bit of a cat and mouse game for the businessman. Trader Joe's filed for a Canadian trademark in 2010 and, although the chain does not have any stores in Canada, they do have stores located within a half-hour drive of the Canadian border in many major markets.

[Image: Flickr user Food IQ]

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2 Comments

  • TraderJoesSecrets

    As the author of "Build a Brand Like Trader Joe's", I spent a year working 'undercover' for this fiercely secretive company. Based on what I learned, I'm not at all surprised that they're aggressively going after 'Pirate Joe's'. Those of us who watch TJ's were surprised it took this long. 

    "Will Trader Joe's ever come to Canada?" is one of the most common questions I get. If they did cross the border, it's likely that the Lower Mainland of BC (where Pirate Joe's is) would be the first beachhead. So in one sense, I understand their desire to protect their trademark up there, even though they don't operate there. That said, few legal experts seem to feel that this suit will be the thing that drives Pirate Joe out of business.

    Knowing the company as I do, I don't think this is as much about trademark infringement as it is about sheer pique. Underneath the laid- (or should I say 'lei-d'?) back image, there's a control-freak style to the current senior management.

    If the company's senior management philosophy was true to the public perception of the brand, they would have contacted Pirate Joe and said, "OK. Here's the deal: We'll sell to you out of our Bellingham store as long as you promise to limit yourself to your one current store, and agree to immediately close your store as soon as we open a store anywhere in British Columbia. Then, we'll make you our first Canadian store manager."

    Why make an enemy of a guy who is, effectively, softening the beachhead for the brand's eventual expansion north?

  • Chris J

    That would make sense to me, but then attorneys have a completely different view of things, totally separate from business concerns. PROTECT THE BRAND is their typical view, regardless of the frivolity of that defense in some cases or an action being unwinable in court.

    I love to learn about the hidden underside of business--it helps me make my buying decisions.