Skip to main content

Former Trader Joe's president begins new grocery endeavour

Non-profit retail food store Daily table opens in Boston area

Daily Table, one of the first non-profit grocery stores in the United States, opened its doors on June 4 in the working-class Boston neighbourhood of Dorchester.

Now open seven days a week, from 11 a.m to 8 p.m., the store sells groceries and prepared meals made from mostly donated foods at affordable prices.

Aimed at fighting hunger and obesity by making wholesome food available and affordable for even rock-bottom budgets, the concept is the brainchild of Doug Rauch (pronounced row), who retired seven years ago after spending 31 years as president of Trader Joe's.

Canadian Grocer correspondent Mark Cardwellspoke with Rauch on the phone from the new Dorchester store on opening day, which Rauch spent welcoming customers and helping out.

Q.  How is the first day going at Daily Table?

A.  Really well. Actually, I'm a bit shocked at the numbers of people who have been coming in because it was a soft opening. We didn't advertise or promote it, it's just been word of mouth.

Q.  What is the Daily Table concept?

A.   The idea came out of a fellowship I did at Harvard University after I retired. It's called the Advanced Leadership Initiative, and it looks at how to tackle major social issues. I looked at affordable nutrition and food insecurity.

One in six people in the United States is food insecure. That means that 49 million people, including 12 million kids, can't afford to buy the nutritious foods they should be eating. Instead they eat junk food, and that's led to an epidemic of obesity and diabetes, even among young people.

On top of that, 40 per cent of all the food we produce is wasted. It's usually a question of wrong place at the wrong time.  But a lot is ugly food that is nutritiously sound but esthetically unappealing, so it gets thrown away.

Our mission is to recuperate some of that wasted nutrition and sell it at steeply discounted prices to people who need it.

Q.   Why did you choose a retail format?

A.   It offers three distinct advantages.  First, it anchors the community.  Unlike food banks or vans, a store is open when you need it to be.  Second, you get a chance to interact with customers, to answer their questions, give them samples, and maybe nudge to try things (and) get them interested. Third, it's sustainable. Even though we are non profit, we are working to win and maintain our clientele by selling and not giving away food.  If you're giving it away, there's no psychological engagement.  But by selling food, even at a third of price of regular stores, people get to choose what they want. It's a far more dignified experience, and a more lasting solution.

Q.   Where do you get your food from?

A.   We get products from two main streams. One is excess food that is donated by growers, supermarkets, manufacturers, and food distributors.  The other is deeply discounted foods from manufacturers and growers and distributors.

Setting up these streams was quite a challenge. But when you frame the request within the context of taking food that would normally be wasted and making it into something healthy, people in the food business buy into that. They understand that food is a precious resource.

Q.   Who are the store's customers?

A.   They are the kind of people you'd expect: working class and unemployed people that are struggling to get by and to provide for themselves and their families.They are very diverse, from all walks of life.  Many have food stamps, which 44 million Americans receive.

Q.   Are you going to open more of these stores?

A.   We are planning and hoping to open more.  But we have to get this first one right demonstrate our proof of concept. Then we'll look at other potential sites in the Boston area, then New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Baton Rouge–wherever.

Q.   Are there are secrets from Trader Joe's success that can be adopted by Daily Table or any grocer?

A.   Well, I've been gone from Trader Joe's for seven years, so I certainly can't and wouldn't want to be seen as speaking for the company. But I did spend 31 years in the business, and in my personal opinion, Trader Joe's does an outstanding job in two things: one, they focus on the customer; two, they create great relationships with their vendors and supply chain members, who they treat as partners. The result is great and inexpensive goods that create a fun ambiance in the stores and a wonderful customer experience. Daily Table is a very different market and way of doing business, but there are some similarities.

This ad will auto-close in 10 seconds