Miami-Dade County

Trader Joe’s opens its first South Florida store in Pinecrest

A long-awaited cult sensation is arriving in Pinecrest today: Trader Joe’s has opened its first store in South Florida.

Kitchy wall murals, “Two-buck Chuck” wine, and loads of other inexpensive private-label products greeted shoppers when the grocery store known for its affordable prices opened its doors this morning.

“We carry everything from the exotic to the basic, at everyday low prices,” said the new store’s “captain,” Jodi McCullough.

Key to Trader Joe’s popularity – and what has led to its cultlike following — is the predominance of its own branded products. A full 80 percent of the store’s goods are made for the Trader Joe’s label and carry no artificial coloring, flavoring or preservatives, McCullough said.

This is not where you go to buy Kellogg’s cereal, Lay’s potato chips or Coca Cola.

But if you want one of more than 3,000 “unique” products like Trader Joe’s Crunch cookie butter, 14.1 ounces for $3.69; a one-pound bag of pasta for 99 cents; Trader Joe’s tomato basil marinara sauce, 26 ounces for $1.79; or a bottle of Charles Shaw blend wines (Two-buck Chuck) for $2.99, this is your place.

“We’re not a health food store — we carry everything,” McCullough said. “But we pride ourselves on our private label products.’’

Aisle after aisle is chock full of such items: bags of nuts, beans, rices, oils and pastas, soups, coffees and teas and frozen prepared meals.

Five-ounce cans of solid white tuna cost $1.69; 11-ounce packages of frozen toaster waffles, $1.99; 14-ounces of frozen Mac ‘n Cheese, $2.99; and 12-ounce bags of quinoa-and-black bean-infused tortilla chips, $2.69. A variety of 17.6 ounce bars of dark chocolate cost $4.99 each, and 20-ounce bag of Kibble dog food sells for $10.99.

Similar name-brand products can be found for more — as much as double the price — at other grocery chains.

“We buy directly so we’re not paying middlemen,” McCullough said.

In fact, most mainstream brands are nowhere in sight among the store’s shelves. Many of the only non-Trader Joe’s branded items are those that you might find in a health food store, like Kashi and Nature’s Path cereals, Luna and Cliff bars, Emergen-C and Tom’s toothpaste, plus a large selection of name-brand wine — even Veuve Clicquot Brut champagne, $47.99. There are also craft beers, like Monk in the Trunk amber ale, $9.99 for a six-bottle pack, or $1.67 per bottle.

The Pinecrest store, at 9205 S. Dixie Hwy, is Trader Joe’s fifth in Florida. The 13,500 square- foot store, in a space formerly occupied by a Border’s book shop, is typical of Trader Joe’s stores, which run from 10,000 square feet to 15,000 square feet. Already, the store has more than 100 employees, with 80 percent hired locally, McCullough said.

Other Florida locations include Naples, Sarasota, Gainesville and Tallahassee. Stores are planned for next year in Boca Raton and Tampa, according to the company’s website. In all, since its launch in 1958 in the Los Angeles area, the chain has grown to more than 400 stores in 35 states.

Though privately held Trader Joe’s declined to disclose its revenues, Supermarket News estimates the company’s 2012 revenues at $10.5 billion, ranking it as the 21st largest food retailer and wholesaler in the United States and Canada in 2013.

“They have a very unique proposition for the customer because of their wide variety of eclectic and unique product offerings,” said Mark Hamstra, retail/financial editor of Supermarket News, a trade publication based in New York. “They tend to have small stores that are relatively easy to shop, and they appeal to a broad demographic.”

Indeed, Trader Joe’s ranked highest among supermarkets in a survey released in April, measuring customer satisfaction by Satmetrix, based on surveys of more than 24,000 U.S. consumers, Supermarket News reported that month.

Trader Joe’s picked Pinecrest because of all the “foodies” in the surrounding area, which includes the upscale neighborhoods of Pinecrest, South Miami and Coral Gables. McCullough said.

The store has a South Florida vibe, with murals depicting Miami Beach sunbathers, the Miami skyline, a Biscayne Bay bridge and an art deco building. All were painted by Trader Joe’s “crew,” McCullough said.

“We have fun with customers,” she said.

At the back of the store, a “Cane’s galley” sampling kiosk is ready to offer food and wine tastings.

On opening day, expect samplings such as dark coffee, apple cinnamon goat cheese on top of ginger cookies, green plant juice and spiced cider.

Brett W. Lewis, who lives in Fort Lauderdale, plans to make the trek to Pinecrest this weekend. The former New Yorker said he is particularly “attached” to the private label prepared foods and lemon verbena soap.

In fact, Trader Joe’s, he said, is what he has missed the most.

“I like the turkey meat sauce, cereals, frozen burritos, and great frozen appetizers like chicken tacos and little pizzas,” said Lewis, 47. “If there’s an impromptu gathering, it’s a no brainer to heat it up in the oven, and it’s always a hit.”