It is with great sadness that we relay the recent passing of Joe Coulombe, Trader Joe’s Founder and natural foods pioneer. Coulombe is most celebrated for being an extraordinarily smart and accomplished entrepreneur who built a company that introduced something completely different to the grocery retail space. He passed away in Pasadena, California, on Friday, February 28, at the age of 89.
Coulombe opened the first Trader Joe’s store in 1967 in Pasadena. Notably thrifty and insightful, Coulombe went against conventional industry norms at the time, moving away from national brands and introducing Trader Joe’s private label in 1972.
“Joe was the perfect person at the right time for Trader Joe’s,” Dan Bane, CEO of Trader Joe’s, said. “He was a brilliant thinker with a mesmerizing personality that simply galvanized all with whom he worked. He was not only our founder, he was our first spokesperson. He starred in captivating radio ads for years, always signing off with his unique, ‘thanks for listening.’ Joe developed a cadre of leaders that carried on his vision and helped shape Trader Joe’s in the early years.”
This industry leader’s curiosity, philanthropic generosity, and irreverent sense of humor were woven into the fabric that defines Trader Joe’s stores. He retired in 1988, but that culture carried on and is evident in Trader Joe’s stores today. As noted in a press release, Coulombe has said he always believed that it is the people that set Trader Joe’s apart, and we acknowledge that started with Joe himself.
An industry icon to all who followed in his footsteps, Coulombe has truly set a precedent for natural grocers everywhere.
Our thoughts are with the Coulombe family and loved ones during this time of deep sadness.