scorecardAmazon hired an ex-Trader Joe's employee to access company secrets and replicate products from the grocer: new book
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Amazon hired an ex-Trader Joe's employee to access company secrets and replicate products from the grocer: new book

Lloyd Lee   

Amazon hired an ex-Trader Joe's employee to access company secrets and replicate products from the grocer: new book
Retail3 min read
  • In 2016, Amazon launched a private-label brand, Wickedly Prime, to compete with Trader Joe's.
  • The company hired a former senior manager at Trader Joe's snack division, per a book excerpt in WSJ.
An Amazon team that was developing the online giant's private-label food brand, Wickedly Prime, repeatedly pressured an ex-Trader Joe's senior manager for data that could help the company compete with the popular grocer, according to an excerpt from an upcoming book by Dana Mattioli published in The Wall Street Journal.

According to the book — "The Everything War: Amazon's Ruthless Quest to Own the World and Remake Corporate Power" — in 2016, Amazon launched Wickedly Prime, which sells an assortment of food and snacks, such as roasted cashews and garlic mustard aioli. The project was just one of a few ways Amazon was entering the food space.

According to the excerpt, Amazon appeared to have a model it wanted to replicate for Wickedly Prime: Trader Joe's.

So the company hired a former senior manager from the grocery store's snack foods division. The excerpt says she was told only after being recruited that her role was to help create a product line for Amazon's private label.

Amazon wanted to replicate the top 200 items sold at Trader Joe's, the excerpt continues. Because this data is not readily available, an Amazon manager repeatedly hounded the ex-Trader Joe's employee — who is not named in the excerpt — for six months over data on the store's top products.

Eventually, according to the excerpt, the former Trader Joe's employee gave up the requested data after the manager demanded that she hand over any emails and documents she preserved from her time with the grocer.

The Amazon manager also pressed the ex-Trader Joe's employee for data on the margins for each product. She refused, and the manager resorted to yelling at the employee, "You just have to give us the data!" the manager yelled, according to a source who saw the interaction, according to the excerpt.

The Amazon team soon distributed the data on Trader Joe's top-selling products and thought about how it could take advantage of it, the excerpt continues. But another employee soon reported the use of Trader Joe's data to Amazon's legal department.

According to the report, the employees who accessed the data were eventually fired.

"We do not condone the misuse of proprietary confidential information, and thoroughly investigate any reports of employees doing so and take action, which may include termination," an Amazon spokesperson told Business Insider.

The former Trader Joe's employee's experience gives an inside look at Amazon'sbroader, aggressive efforts to compete with other grocers.

When Amazon was preparing to launch its own line of food and household products around 2015, it filed for trademark protection in more than 20 product categories, from coffee and pasta to razors and cleaners.

Amazon also acquired Whole Foods in 2017 and quickly cut costs at the grocery store, causing almost 10% of Trader Joe's customers to defect to Whole Foods.

The online retailer opened its first brick-and-mortar Amazon Fresh grocery store three years later.

Trader Joe's established a cult following with its customers partly by developing snacks and foods through its private label. But a recent investigation from Taste, a food publication, alleged that the popular grocer may be copying products from small food brands.

Nakia Rohde, a spokesperson for Trader Joe's, told Business Insider in an email that the company's product developers get their ideas for snacks from a variety of sources, "including their travels around the world and the foods they encounter along the way."

"What actually makes it to our shelves is based on a rigorous process that encompasses a range of topics including safety, production capacity, quality, and price," she said.

The spokesperson did not address the report on Amazon's efforts to use Trader Joe's internal company data.

Correction: April 15, 2024 — An earlier version of this story misidentified The Wall Street Journal as the source of the reporting. Though published by the Journal, the excerpt was adapted from the upcoming book, "The Everything War: Amazon's Ruthless Quest to Own the World and Remake Corporate Power," by Wall Street Journal reporter Dana Mattioli.

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