A Fast Fall from Grace: Lessons from Trader Joe’s Labor Woes and the Power of Twitter

[Editor’s Note: This mini-case study shows how quickly organizations, even those with very good reputations, can find themselves in a PR mess, particularly when leadership seems out of touch with stakeholders and the forces of social media and public opinion become involved.]


The PR tide turned quickly for Trader Joe’s.

Its founder, Joe Coloumbe, died Feb. 28, 2020, aged 89. Obituaries in the New York Times and the Washington Post painted a rosy picture of a management mogul committed to fair compensation and a standout customer experience. The obits touted the grocery chain’s cult status.

An Associated Press story described Trader Joe’s’ employees as “among retail’s best compensated, with medical, dental, vision and retirement plans and annual salary increases the company says range from seven percent to 10 percent.” And retention’s high: Many workers stay for decades.

The pandemic tested the company’s worker-friendly reputation, though. In addition, perhaps the pandemic also tested the longevity of company values after the passing of its owner. At this point, it’s difficult to say.

Early in the pandemic, as supplies flew off shelves and grocery store staff were beginning to enjoy their newfound reputation as ‘essential workers,’ they were worrying about safety.


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