Shopkeeper sued for re-selling Trader Joe’s products in Canada
Published Friday, May 3, 2013 5:01PM PDT
Last Updated Friday, May 3, 2013 7:38PM PDT
A Vancouver shopkeeper has been slapped with a lawsuit for re-selling groceries from Trader Joe’s, a U.S. chain popular among Canadian cross-border shoppers.
The suit, filed Thursday in Seattle, alleges Michael Norman Hallatt’s store Pirate Joe’s fools customers into thinking it’s an authorized re-seller by using recycled Trader Joe’s shopping bags and displaying a sticker that says “I [heart] TJ” on the cash register.
The products cited in the lawsuit include Organic Reduced Sugar Raspberry Preserves, Low-Calorie Lemonade, Tea Tree Tingle Conditioner, and Gluten-Free Rice Pasta.
But Hallatt insists his business is legal and lawyer-approved, and he’s made no attempt to deceive anyone.
“It’s very obvious what I’m doing: I’m buying the stuff full-retail, I’m importing it legally, putting French labels on it – you know, playing by the rules up here. So in the Canadian context I’m fine,” Hallatt said.
“I’m not backing down. I’m going to take this to the end,” he said.
The Trader Joe’s chain started in California in the 1950s and has since grown to include almost 400 stores across America, including 14 in Washington state, where Hallatt shops. The stores have yet to expand into Canada, though the chain is in the final stages of approval for a Canadian trademark.
About 80 per cent of the items sold are under the Trader Joe's brand, which attracts Canadians to its Bellingham store because of its high-quality food and low-prices. Trader Joe’s famously phased out imports from China over concerns about the country’s organic standards, and shuns the genetically-modified ingredients common among other grocers.
The lawsuit alleges that reputation is also being harmed by Hallatt’s store, because the Trader Joe’s products are sold at a markup and no longer subject to the company's quality control practices.
But Hallatt said he respects Trader Joe’s quality standards, which are part of the reason he started re-selling their groceries in the first place.
“Once you taste one of their products, whether it’s a can of tomatoes or can of corn or bag of chips, you feel better,” said Hallatt, who says he tells his customers to go south of the border for the full Trader Joe’s experience. “It’s because the quality is there, and paradoxically the prices are really low.”
Lawyer Herb Regehr, an expert on intellectual property rights, said there’s nothing illegal about re-selling Trader Joe’s products in Canada as long as they’re genuine and not counterfeited.
“You paid the price for it, you’re entitled to do whatever you will with that product,” Regehr said. “It happens all the time.”
Several Trader Joe's products are already for sale online, both on eBay and Amazon.
Hallatt said he intends to fight the lawsuit, and has vowed to continue selling Trader Joe’s products as long as he can get his hands on them.
With a report from CTV British Columbia’s Jon Woodward