Who makes the food for Trader Joe’s is a big topic of Internet conjecture, but there are a lot of other mysteries surrounding the company because it is notoriously secretive and doesn’t do much press. Have you ever seen a big business feature written on Trader Joe’s? Not with the company’s participation, notes Fortune reporter Beth Kowitt in her article “Inside the Secret World of Trader Joe’s,” where she writes that “it has never participated in a major story about its business operations.” But Kowitt went digging, and her story is the culmination of two months of “speaking with former executives, competitors, industry analysts, and suppliers.” Unsurprisingly, Trader Joe’s declined her requests for an interview.

Some of the dirt:

• The chain is actually owned by a German family named the Albrechts who also own the Aldi Nord supermarkets in Germany. They are notorious for not talking to the press in Germany, and Kowitt says they have “passed their tightlipped ways on to their U.S. business.”
• The stores sell an estimated $1,750 in product per square foot, double what Whole Foods makes.
• The people who do make the food for TJ’s have to sign an agreement “which states, ‘Vendor shall not publicize its business relationship with TJ’s in any manner,'” according to a copy of the agreement Kowitt says Fortune obtained.
• The reason the staff is so nice? They aren’t scraping by. “Full-time crew members can start in the $40,000 to $60,000 range … on top of the pay, Trader Joe’s annually contributes 15.4% of employees’ gross income to tax-deferred retirement accounts.”

It’s worth a read while raiding a bag of those peanut-butter-filled pretzel nuggets and drinking a can of Simpler Times lager.

Image source: Flickr member Joe+Jeanette Archie under Creative Commons

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